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Sunday 24 March 2019
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Lawyers: Las Alturas inquiry findings sound

Former Udecott Executive Chairman Calder Hart.
Former Udecott Executive Chairman Calder Hart.

FORMER Udecott chairman Calder Hart’s challenge of the Las Alturas Commission of Inquiry’s findings in its report on the controversial housing development cannot be sustained, attorneys for the commissioners have submitted.

Richard Clayton, QC, lead counsel for the commission and the two remaining former commissioners, said yesterday the findings of the specialist tribunal were unimpeachable. In response to Hart’s lawsuit, Clayton said the commission's findings were based on evidence.

The report, which was laid in Parliament in September last year, said Hart should be held responsible for the failed $26 million towers.

While the report advised that no criminal action should be taken against anyone, Hart was singled out under the heading “civil liabilities.” The report said, “Mr Calder Hart was clearly the mind and the management of Udecott with respect to this project. He failed to do that which a prudent buyer would have done in the purchase of the land.

“He was required to do an inspection of the land before purchase and if he had done that he would have seen all the facts that operate against its suitability for the project.

“He, therefore, should be held accountable and liable for the losses sustained in the execution of the project.”

Hart says the report was not fair and labelled it “procedurally flawed” and “defective in substance.”

But, Clayton said the commission did fulfil its responsibilities to Hart, by giving him an opportunity to be heard – either by submitting a statement or testifying in person.

Hart said he repeatedly – over a three-month period from January 2016 – asked for critical documents, which he said he would not have had in his possession some eight years after his involvement in the project. He also said he would be willing to appear via video link, but needed documents, including contracts, correspondence, board submissions and minutes, staff and consultant reports and witness statements.

However, Clayton countered that it wasn’t the commission’s responsibility to source the material, although it did exercise its statutory powers by making requests of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) and Udecott. He said both organisations wrote back to the commission to say, despite all efforts, the documents could not be located.

“The commission could not disclose what it did not have,” Clayton argued. “He must have known…He is an intelligent man. He took a risk by declining to give a statement and the commission was rationally entitled to conclude he was not going to come.

“Some might say he’s claiming a right, but he took the risk. At the end of the day, it is for the commission to run its processes and make a decision in the public’s interest.”

Clayton added that it was not for Hart to subvert the conclusions made by the commission.

“For him to say it (the inquiry) was unfair unfortunately doesn’t reflect the reality. He was given a full opportunity to be heard, but did not avail himself to that. It would be disquieting to say the commission failed to discharge its duties,” the commission’s lawyer said, adding also that while Hart’s complaints were ambitious, they were unsustainable.

Hart’s trial began before Justice David Harris at the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain, on Monday, in his absence. Hart has lived in Fort Lauderdale in the US, since his resignation in 2010.

The commission 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 included the procurement process.

Two multi-storey units 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 was chaired by former Justice of Appeal Mustapha Ibrahim and included civil engineers Dr Myron Wing-Sang Chin and Anthony Farrell, both of whom were in court again yesterday. Ibrahim died in June 2017.

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