The departure of Calder Hart from all of the public offices he holds and, apparently, Trinidad and Tobago, stands in sharp contrast to his steady, implacable 24-year rise through the ranks of civil government and his eventual anointing by the Prime Minister as construction czar in the Udecott era. Long before the formal announcement by Udecott on Saturday afternoon, the nation was abuzz through social networks and text messages about Hart's resignation. Unquestionably, Calder Hart's stewardship of Udecott during the most vigorous expansion period of that state corporation's existence has been a key element in all of the questions that have been asked about the local construction sector during the last two years. Those questions have become increasingly more pointed and personal, since Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj noted in Parliament that there were familial links between Sunway Construction and Hart's wife, Sherrine.
After Mrs Hart's ex-husband, Carl Khan, provided evidence supporting Maharaj's claims, Cabinet awarded Sunway a $300-million contract for the Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower, a project which has since been subject to sharp cost increases. Recently, documents obtained by Congress of the People have surfaced, providing what appears to be more evidence of such links, and raise the possibility that Hart lied to the commission under oath. But these are not the only examples of poor judgment demonstrated by Calder Hart during his tenure as, inarguably, the most powerful man in the local construction sector. Calder Hart has never satisfactorily responded to accusations that a fax number for Sunway was answered in his home, nor has he explained how he came to sell his yacht to the president of a company bidding for Udecott contracts.
Beyond Hart's personal misjudgments, there is the weight of evidence against Udecott as an organisation and its failure to implement proper contract review on a number of projects it awarded. The most notable and humiliating of these is the Tarouba Stadium, which has been under construction since 2006. Scheduled to open in 2007, the stadium is still to be completed. Despite the rigour of the Prime Minister's defence of his construction czar, the sudden departure of Calder Hart can only be traced back to his executive influence.
That decision, in the face of the party's refusal on Friday to debate issues related to the Udecott chairman, raises even more questions about Hart's de facto leadership of the local construction industry.
Trinidad and Tobago is owed, by no less than Prime Minister Patrick Manning, a full explanation of the circumstances of Calder Hart's resignation and the measures that the government will be taking to assure review of the works he has been responsible for, and the succession continuance planning for his now-vacated responsibilities. The Udecott board must acknowledge the need to thoroughly investigate the legacy of Calder Hart's tenure, and given their unstinting support of their chairman and their stated commitment to the honest execution of their duties; they should do the honourable thing and demit office. More critical even than the investigation of Udecott is the more wide-ranging need to reform the systems of procurement utilised by state corporations, particularly the new "special purpose" state enterprises, in light of the ease with which even existing measures were flouted under Hart's reign.
Early in its assumption of administrative responsibility for the nation's affairs, the Government put out a White Paper on procurement, but that document never became policy. In light of the evidence offered to the Uff Commission on the construction sector and the likely content of the report to be tendered to the President, there is clearly need for a new discussion on State procurement and a real need for new policies to be put in place, with appropriate penalties for bypassing these sorely-needed safeguards.