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CoE unable to wind up because of Hart

Published: 
Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The closing date for the Las Alturas Commission of Enquiry has been extended as attempts are still being made to secure the long-awaited evidence of former executive chairman of the Urban Development Corporation of T&T (Udecott), Calder Hart.

Officials have confirmed that the extension was as a result of the long holiday season, coupled with the non-submission of Hart’s witness statement.

Revealing that they were yet to receive the statement which had been promised within ten days of a request by his attorney for additional documents on February 24, commission officials said up to yesterday they were still awaiting word from Hart’s attorney Tecla Duncan.

The enquiry was due to officially conclude tomorrow. 

During the last hearing on February 24, commission chairman Mustapha Ibrahim pointed out the time constraints they faced and instructed that Hart’s statement be submitted within seven days of the request by Duncan. Contacted yesterday, attorneys and commission officials were unable to say if a new closing date had been decided upon.

One official said, “We have one in mind but it is yet to be finalized.” Duncan had requested certain documents before submitting Hart’s witness statement.

Legal minds close to the enquiry said it included some of which they “did not have in hand yet.” Pressed to reveal what documents these included, officials declined to answer.

Asked if it was possible that the commission would schedule a seventh evidence hearing for this week, in order to accommodate Hart, officials said while this was not on the agenda, if it was done it would definitely be “short” compared to the other sessions.

The official went on to explain that the hearing would be to allow Hart to submit his witness statement and be cross-examined by the attorneys for the various parties appearing before the commission. 

It is expected that Hart would be grilled by attorneys via video link, as he currently resides in Florida.

Prior to the close of the last session, Ibrahim had also instructed all attorneys to file their written submissions within ten days of the commission’s ending, in order to aid the three-member team in their review of the evidence before them and for them to submit recommendations based on the findings.

The Commission of Enquiry was appointed by President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Anthony Carmona, on December 2, 2014.

AT A GLANCE

The Commission of Enquiry was set up to investigate “the entire process which led to the construction of the Las Alturas Towers at Lady Young Gardens, Morvant, and all other acts, matters or decisions done or undertaken incidental to and including the construction” of the project, which include the procurement process.

Two multi-storey units of the Las Alturas housing project began falling apart after construction and the $26 million towers were earmarked for demolition. 

They were part of a larger project, which was originally budgeted at $65 million and then rose to $90 million. 

The commission is chaired by former Justice of Appeal Mustapha Ibrahim. The other members include civil engineers Dr Myron Wing-Sang Chin and Anthony Farrell. 

Attorney Laraine Lutchmedial is the secretary. They were appointed by President Anthony Carmona in December 2014. 

In September 2014, former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar recommended an enquiry into the project after raising concerns about the two towers.

Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley, who was a former housing minister under the PNM, and Emily Gaynor Dick-Forde who succeeded him, have both denied blame in the matter. At the time, Rowley said though he welcomed the probe, it would be another waste of taxpayers’ money.

The commission’s attorneys include Senior Counsel Pamela Elder and Jagdeo Singh, instructed by Alvin Pariagsingh. 

Queen’s Counsel Vincent Nelson and Larry Lalla are appearing for the HDC.

Kathryn Denbow and Brendon Sullivan are appearing for Udecott. Vinda Maharaj and Kirt Walrond are appearing on behalf of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. 

Justin Phelps instructed by Anabelle Sooklal is appearing for Geotech Associates Limited (GA).

Emerson John-Charles is appearing on behalf of Civil Engineering Management and Services (CEMAS) and Steve Kistow Engineering Services. Colin Kangaloo, instructed by Danielle Nieves, appears on behalf of Udecott’s chairman Noel Garcia. Tecla Duncan appears on behalf of Calder Hart.