However, Sunday Newsday yesterday confirmed that Hart flew out of the country, mere hours before Udecott issued a press release announcing his resignation. Sources indicated that John, Sherrine and Jean Hart, left the country on Caribbean Airlines flight 480 for Ft Lauderdale, Florida, United States, shortly after noon. Calder Hart’s first name is John.
Hart’s resignation was announced by Udecott in an unsigned faxed press release which was issued at 5.11pm yesterday.
“The executive chairman of the Udecott, Mr Calder Hart, today resigned effective immediately,” the two-page release read. “Mr Hart has also tendered his resignation with respect to all state boards and subsidiaries to which he had been appointed.”
Hart stepped down as chairman of the National Insurance Board, the Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company, the National Insurance Property Development Company Limited and the Home Mortgage Bank. He also stepped down as a Udecott board member.
Hart had served on the Udecott board since its inception in 1994, became its chairman in 2002 and appointed as executive chairman in 2006.
His resignation came after Newsday last week published a series of documents which appeared to disclose clear links between his wife, Malaysian born Sherrine Hart, and a company the Udecott board awarded $820 million in contracts to. The documents, birth and marriage certificates tying Sherrine to two men who served as directors on Sunway Construction Caribbean Limited, emerged after being obtained by the Congress of the People in the course of a six-week investigation.
Hart’s resignation also came one day after High Court Judge Justice Mira Dean-Armorer shot down an attempt by lawyers acting on behalf of Udecott to stop the submission of the final report of the Uff Commission of Inquiry. The judge rejected Udecott’s arguments that the inquiry, which saw damning evidence of corruption and mismanagement emerge, was illegal. (See Page 5)
The two-page press release was an about-turn for the state corporation which had, only one day earlier, issued a press release claiming vindication by the ruling of Dean- Armorer.
Sunday Newsday understands that Hart initially had no intention of resigning. However, he was asked to do so by Prime Minister Patrick Manning after receiving advice from the Cabinet. As such Hart yesterday handed in his resignation to the Cabinet hours before Manning flew out of the country bound for London to attend Commonwealth Day observances. (See Page 4)
COP political leader Winston Dookeran yesterday said, “this resignation is an admission that the Government has hidden information from the people and the Prime Minister must now account to the nation for the undermining of our democratic rule in our country and also for protecting what allegedly may have been corruption yet to be uncovered.”
He lamented that it has taken so long for Hart to resign in the face of compelling cause for him to do so and criticised the State for not acting to remove Hart at an earlier stage.
“The country should take note that this Government’s handling of this matter has exposed the fact that they are not fit to govern the nation. Additionally, the focus has now got to be on accountability for what has taken place at Udecott and not the mere fact of Hart’s resignation,” he warned.
Hart’s resignation reversed a trend which saw him and the Cabinet stone-wall repeated calls for his removal, calls which began since 2008 in the wake of the sacking of Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley. It was when Rowley was sacked in April of that year after he raised the issue of Cabinet’s oversight of the powerful special purpose state enterprise and its billion- dollar portfolio of mega projects that intense public scrutiny fell on Udecott.
In the wake of his sacking, Rowley called on the Government to conduct a forensic probe into Udecott, a call which he was joined in by the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute as well as the Joint Consultative Council of the local construction industry and other civil groups. The Government ignored these calls and, behind the scenes, continued to allocate work to the state enterprise.
It was only after Tabaquite MP Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, on May 23, 2008, first revealed the family links between Sunway and Mrs Hart which was this week conclusively demonstrated that the Prime Minister agreed to establish a Commission of Inquiry into Udecott.
“This resignation is long overdue,” Maharaj said yesterday. “When I disclosed the facts on the certificates which were recently produced in the Parliament, Mr Manning was forced to call the commission of inquiry. But he defended Mr Calder Hart from then to now.”
“The entire board of Udecott should resign. If they do not resign they should be fired,” he said. “Calder Hart’s resignation should not be regarded as an exoneration of the Prime Minister’s failure to do his duty since 2008 and throughout the course of evidence that has now emerged in the Commission of Inquiry.”
He added, “Mr Manning must not allow Mr Hart to get away from the legal consequences of his actions. And since Manning has defended Calder Hart in spite of all of the evidence, Mr Manning should consider resigning as Prime Minister and head of the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago.”
In the face of damning evidence that emerged during the Uff Commission of Inquiry, which conducted more than a year of hearings, the Cabinet repeatedly defended Hart at state functions and more notably at post-Cabinet press briefings. Prime Minister Patrick Manning defended Udecott in Parliament, most notably in Parliament on October 21, 2009, when he said, “They want to get Calder Hart but let me tell you it is not Calder Hart you know...They want the Prime Minister.”
While Carl Khan, the ex-husband of Sherrine, came forward in May last year to provide evidence which largely corroborated Maharaj’s claims in the Parliament, the Cabinet went forward with awarding Sunway a $300 million contract for the fit-out of the Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower. The Udecott board, too, held several press conferences defending Hart even in the face of evidence which emerged in the inquiry.
Such evidence, details of which were published in Newsday, included: a fax trail linking Hart to Sunway; Hart’s admission that he sold his private yacht to the president of a company in line for Udecott contracts as well as questionable procedures on the $800 million Brian Lara Stadium project at Tarouba.
Yesterday word of Hart’s resignation spread even before Udecott issued its press release. At about 4.45pm, the Minister of Information Neil Parsanlal hastily called a press conference for 6pm at Nicholas Towers in Port-of- Spain, only to cancel the press conference half an hour later.
Things were quiet at Hart’s home at 6 De Lime Road, Cascade, yesterday afternoon, with two cars parked in the garage at the front of the house.
However there were reports that throughout last week, the Harts had been removing furniture from the house.