THE Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT) has climbed down from its original position, which appeared to be inconsistent with the decision of the Government to carry on with the Commission of Enquiry into UDeCOTT and the construction sector.
In a release issued yesterday, the beleaguered State enterprise made it clear that its decision to file for judicial review against the Commission of Enquiry in no way represented an attempt "to challenge or undermine" the Government's decision to establish the Commission of Enquiry into the construction sector.
UDeCOTT said, however, that it was seeking to defend its right, as would any other citizen or company, to be treated fairly and impartially by the Commission of Enquiry.
Ironically, UDeCOTT, which has been former minister Dr Keith Rowley's biggest nightmare, has likened itself to Rowley and claiming as justification for its action, the precedent set by Rowley in his action against the Integrity Commission.
Rowley took action against the Integrity Commission in 2007 and won on the grounds that the Integrity Commission breached the principle of natural justice, acted in bad faith and was guilty of malfeasance in public office in its dealings with him.
"Therefore, on Friday, 18th September 2009, UDeCOTT initiated a Judicial Review of the Commission of Enquiry seeking a declaration that the proceedings of the Commission of Enquiry have been vitiated by bias," the company stated.
If successful at the court, the action would have the effect of declaring the proceedings of the Commission null and void and of no effect.
UDeCOTT stressed that its action was not in any way intended to challenge the action of the State to validate the hearings of the Commission of Enquiry thus far. The Government, on September 11 and then September 14, gazetted the Commission, with the President giving a directive to the Commissioners to use documents and records taken since September 9, 2008.
"Having examined in detail the conduct of the Commission, UDeCOTT's legal counsel have advised that certain of the Commissioners have exhibited bias against UDeCOTT, such that UdeCOTT believes it has been deprived of a fair and impartial hearing," the release noted.
It added: "UDeCOTT is committed to a fair, transparent and unbiased review of its activities, as long as they are without political motivation, bias, prejudice and or a breach of UDeCOTT's constitutional rights."
UDeCOTT said its action was not unprecedented and was "not dissimilar" to that taken by a Cabinet Minister (Dr Keith Rowley), who in 2007 took action against the Integrity Commission "to protect his rights, while remaining a member of the Cabinet".
"Like any other company or citizen, UDeCOTT is entitled to equal treatment and fair-play. UDeCOTT is entitled to take any steps open to it, at law, to uphold its legal and constitutional rights," the company stated.
UDeCOTT stressed that it has never taken issue with the establishment of the Commission of Enquiry. "Indeed, during the course of the Commission of Enquiry, UDecOTT has assisted and cooperated with the Commission in the discharge of its mandate," it said. (See Page 12)
However, an examination of UDeCOTT's application before the court and yesterday's release suggests that there has been a modification of UDeCOTT's position and that the release represents a stand-down from the original claim before the court.
In its application, UDeCOTT referred to the non-gazetting of the Commission of Enquiry (until September 11 and 14), the non-passage of the Validation Act, as well as the alleged bias of former commissioner Israel Khan and current Commissioner Kenneth Sirju and the favourable treatment accorded to the testimony of witness Carl Khan as grounds for its action.
Its release, however, states categorically that it is not challenging the actions taken by the State to validate the hearings thus far. This suggests that UDeCOTT is no longer taking any issue with the late gazetting of the Commission of Enquiry on September 11 and 14 and the proposal to bring to Parliament the Validation Act, but it simply pursuing a bias claim against the commissioners.
UDeCOTT said yesterday's release was in response to reports in the media, beginning Sunday, September 20.
Rowley, in an article in Monday's Express, had called UDeCOTT's action an "outrage", saying that its action flew in the face of the Cabinet decision that the Commission of Enquiry should not be derailed, and the Attorney General's statement to Parliament that Government was committing to protecting and saving the Enquiry.