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Equal penalty for all
In May, the Government began a series of legal moves to address matters of alleged corruption that were very much a part of the podium rhetoric of the People’s Partnership when it campaigned for office. Legal action was announced in May as pending against the former board of Petrotrin in the matter of the failed World GTL project, against the former board of UTT regarding the construction of buildings undertaken by the university and against Calder Hart, pursuant to investigations into the contractual arrangements made for the construction of the Brian Lara Cricket Academy and the bid process for the construction of the Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower.
In the Calder Hart cases, the Government is seeking damages of at least $65 million for breaching his duty to exercise skill, care and diligence in the management of the affairs of Udecott and the recovery of at least $400 million in cost overruns. On Thursday, Mr Hart failed to appear in court for the presentation of the case and Justice Andre Des Vignes ordered the former Udecott executive chairman to pay Udecott’s costs in the sum of $16,800 and to return to Trinidad and Tobago to respond to the case against him. The next hearing of the matter is scheduled for December3.
The question of the presence of Calder Hart in Trinidad and Tobago to answer the many questions have been raised since he left the country. Mr Hart left the country suddenly in March 2010, soon after Justice Mira Dean-Armorer ruled that the report on the construction sector by Professor John Uff should be made public.
That report highlighted significant procurement consistencies at the stadium in Tarouba and in the awarding of an $885 million contract by Udecott to Sunway Construction, a matter singled out by Professor Uff as demanding a full-scale investigation. That investigation has finally led to a case that Mr Hart, the favoured construction czar of former Prime Minister Patrick Manning, is being called to answer.
The dissatisfactions associated with those issues led to the collapse of the PNM Government midway through its term, provided a rallying point and live wire talking points for an ascendant People’s Partnership political party and generated a surge of expectation that after a costly commission of inquiry into the construction sector, that someone in authority, finally, would be called to account for lapses that cost the country millions of dollars while they held public office.
The absence of Mr Hart at last week’s hearing and the lack of any defence offered by his legal team to the pre-action protocol letter filed since October 2011 raise the question of whether Mr Hart intends to return to this country to answer the serious questions raised by the investigations into his time in office at Udecott and to settle these matters to the satisfaction of the public and the legal process.
Depending on what month it is, it seems, Calder Hart is either off the government’s radar and cannot be found or is accessible and available at the nation’s discretion. The accused has, further to that, mounted no response or defence of any kind (due since mid-July) to these considerable accusations, which either points to supreme confidence, to which he is entitled, or a commitment to remaining absent, which would be intolerable.
Given the prevailing mood of the day, with a public galvanised to consider the poor rate of convictions in white collar cases, the Government would do well to ensure that Mr Hart is properly served with court papers and his position made clear. The prospect of serving jail time in Trinidad and Tobago must face all who are accused of crime with equanimity, regardless of their wealth or social background or it should not be a penalty for anyone at all.
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