“When I was minister with responsibility for UDeCOTT, I acted decisively. The Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar cannot show me that in her Government,” Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said yesterday, as he responded to statements from the Prime Minister that he sat in the People’s National Movement (PNM) government and remained silent in the face of “rampant corruption”.
“And when I was a member of the Cabinet and UDeCOTT was not being properly supervised, I demanded supervision and I was fired. That was the issue of 2008,” he said.
Rowley said UDeCOTT (Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago Ltd) was one of over 60 State enterprises and it was the only one where there was an issue in front of the public in the last government. “However, today every State enterprise has a scandal and a problem under this Government,” he said.
He added the Prime Minister is leading the most corrupt Government in the history of the Caribbean Commonwealth and the population understands that.
Rowley recalled he was minister with responsible for UDeCOTT when Calder Hart attempted bid-rigging. “I stopped the project—the Customs Building project—and had it retendered in 2002. When information came to me that Calder Hart and the Tenders Committee (at UDeCOTT) was bid-rigging in an attempt to give the project to Hafeez Karamath, I intervened and I had it stopped. I wrote Hart and it was retendered,” he said.
Rowley said in 2003 there was a Cabinet reshuffle after that, and he no longer had responsibility for UDeCOTT. He said however in the meantime, a proper tender was entered into and a proper award was made. “That is my record in dealing with bid-rigging,” Rowley stated.
Rowley, who then became housing minister, said he was fired from the Cabinet five years later “for observing that the Cabinet did not have sufficient oversight with respect to UDeCOTT and that laid the foundation for wrongdoing in UDeCOTT”.
Rowley said he promptly asked for an investigation into UDeCOTT and promised that if the investigation showed there was no cause of concern or wrongdoing in UDeCOTT, he would resign his seat in the Parliament and leave public life. He said the public joined that call for an enquiry.
Rowley said the enquiry showed things had gone awry at UDeCOTT and that Hart, in one instance, had awarded a contract to members of his family.
He said he was asked at the Rotary meeting on Thursday how he would have handled the Udecott and Calder Hart situation. He said he responded the Hart/UDeCOTT matter was a “major aggravating issue” in the election campaign.
He said he stated at the Rotary function that had the Prime Minister chosen to fire Hart and board, “especially in the light of the (Prof John) Uff enquiry where it was found that there was a major problem with the board, had the prime minister shown humility then, the population might have reacted differently”.
He said the record showed the key spokespersons in the Government, namely the then prime minister and the then minister of planning, defended UDeCOTT and said nothing was wrong, even after the commission of enquiry and “even after the whole country had seen enough” of Hart and the UDeCOTT board.
Rowley said fortunately the public record of what happened and his stance on the issue was there for all to see.
“The Prime Minister is looking for a horse to ride... The Prime Minister is taking advice from [her] political handlers and is making a fool of herself with these statements,” Rowley said.
He added this Government had provided no supervision of State enterprises leading to scandal every Monday morning, while the recommendations of the Uff enquiry were still to be implemented.