It's rare, if not unprecedented, for a commission of enquiry to have travelled the complicated route that the Uff Commission has, in conducting its investigations and compiling references for its report on the Trinidad and Tobago construction industry. The commission was assembled in 2008 with a mandate to investigate issues arising from the boom in local construction over the last ten years, with an emphasis on reviewing the methods being used to initiate large-scale construction contracts, the quality of delivery, and the transparency of the processes in use in Trinidad and Tobago. Along the way to the commission's first sittings, other matters were tacked on to the inquiry process, most notably the review of the Cleaver Heights contract and delivery process.
After the inquiry began and hundreds of hours of testimony taken, a startling error appeared to be on the verge of derailing the entire investigative process, when it was revealed that the convening of the Uff Commission had not been published in the Gazette, as required by law. On Friday, Justice Mira Dean-Armorer cleared the final hurdle standing between commission leader John Uff's delivery of the final report of the inquiry into the construction sector when she decisively responded to Udecott attorney, Devesh Maharaj's, request that the report be blocked. "You have not shown me any good reasons why I should do so," Dean-Armorer said.
It is unlikely that Udecott will halt its efforts to neuter the Uff Commission's work at this point. The state company has proceeded with tactics to stymie the commission's work–and now its report–despite the stated desire of its principals, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, that the commission's work should be completed and properly circulated to the public. Public circulation of this report would mark a stark departure from the existing modus operandi for such revelations, which tends to be articulated in responses to questions put to the Government by the Opposition or independent Senators during sittings in Parliament. Government and its Minister of Works and Transport, Colm Imbert, are quick to dissemble and deny accusations of less than exemplary process and procedure in the award, review and approval of large government contracts and issues raised regarding its tendering processes.
In a letter to this newspaper, in response to our Tuesday editorial, Minister Imbert sought to portray our sensible suggestion that local professionals in the construction industry should be more fully-engaged in the process of national development as some kind of professional baby-sitting. In other developing countries and in nations which have successfully raised their internal capacities for production, one price that foreign firms operating within the country must pay is a requirement for knowledge transfer. Clearly, there is a need for review and reform of procurement systems being employed by the Government, particularly through its primary agency of construction, Udecott, and a rethinking of our entire strategy of national development through construction.
The public is entitled to expect, particularly from a commission of enquiry which has been subject to previously unheard of levels of scrutiny, a document that is published for public viewing in a timely manner. Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago are also entitled to expect the Government to respond decisively and visibly to the recommendations and findings of the Uff Commission, and to demonstrate a commitment to real change in the construction sector by actively implementing its suggestions. In the face of the shameless burial of previous reports tendered by prior commissions and the nearly perfect record of the Government in ignoring the suggestions of detailed reports, such as the Gaffoor Report Into The Health Sector, this might qualify as unwarranted optimism, but development of one of the largest sources of employment in Trinidad and Tobago deserves our best and brightest hopes.