Sunday Newsday investigations have established that while public outcry mounted in the wake of disclosures at the Uff Commission of Inquiry that Hart and the Udecott board awarded multi-million-dollar contracts at the State entity to a company with ties to his family, Hart and his chief operating officer, Neelanda Rampaul, moved to address the issue of Udecott’s image by hiring a public relations firm.
According to its website, Sanitas International is “a strategic communications, public affairs, digital media and political advisory firm” based at Washington DC. Sanitas said it “develops innovative strategies and high-stakes solutions for a broad range of clients located in some of the most challenging environments around the world”. The firm also “develops strategies for clients looking to influence legislation and public opinion both in Washington, DC, throughout the United States and in specific markets abroad”.
Udecott sources last week disclosed that from February 2010 to June 2010, Sanitas was paid US$ 492,957.18 (TT$3,105,630.23) for bills for work done. Additionally, two Sanitas officials had a stay at the Hyatt Regency sponsored by Udecott in November 2009.
The sources said the firm was hired by Hart, then the executive chairman, and Rampaul. Hart resigned in March 2010 and Rampaul departed Udecott in April 2010. The Uff Commission of Inquiry ran from late 2009 to April 2010.
By February 2010, the two Sanitas officials had apparently already become familiar with Trinidad and Tobago.
In November, 2009, the two officials stayed at the plush four-star Hyatt Regency in Port-of-Spain, a favoured haunt of some Udecott staff. The trips were at least part-funded by Udecott and came ahead of the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
By email dated November 9, 2009, Rampaul’s executive secretary, Patricia Rajcoomar, wrote the Hyatt, booking the stay for Sanitas co-founder Christopher Harvin (a former Capitol Hill communications advisor) and Sanitas employee Scott Feldmayer (an army veteran).
According to documents obtained by Sunday Newsday, Harvin’s expenses came up to $22,740, inclusive of a dinner at the Hyatt lobby bar on November 21, 2009, which cost $2068.28; a lunch costing $950; and thousands in international calls.
Udecott classed these expenses as “office expense”, with one staff member asking in a note scribbled on a Hyatt Bill Summary, “Are we supposed to pay for long-distance telephone calls?” Another official later scribbled, “okay to pay”. Harvin’s stay was from November 18, 2009, to November 26, 2009.
Feldmayer’s stay, from November 21, 2009, to November 30, 2009, cost Udecott $10,032.83 in Hyatt expenses. These costs exclude the cost of airfare and any allowances.
According to one internet profile, Harvin has reportedly served the White House and has held senior advisory positions with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Members of Congress and in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. He has also “represented multiple Heads of State and governments in emerging markets and developing countries in areas such as the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean”.
In an online profile at the website IdeaMensch, Harvin is said to have done work for “the Government of Trinidad and Tobago”.
“Mr. Harvin regularly provides strategic communications, crisis/reputation management, public affairs and political counsel to governments, corporate CEOs and a variety of high profile clients around the world,” the profile reads. Harvin also says he did work for “the Government” in relation to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held from November 27, 2009 to November 29, 2009.
Questions sent to Harvin, Feldmeyer and Sanitas on the scope of the work the firm did for Udecott between February 2010 and June 2010 went unanswered. Calls to Hart’s mobile phone also went unanswered. However, sources say the firm was hired to manage marketing aspects of the company’s operations.
Last week, Udecott once more returned to the public limelight when Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced in Parliament that the State will be pursuing a civil case against Hart. Also last week, Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal said in Parliament that Rampaul and Udecott officials racked up a $3.2 million “office expenses” bill at the Hyatt for dinners and drinks.
Sunday Newsday understands that the planned lawsuit against Hart, which was first reported exclusively in Sunday Newsday of June 12, 2011, will focus on two main projects: the $368 million Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower at Port-of-Spain and the $1 billion Brian Lara Stadium project at Tarouba. The lawsuit was approved by the Udecott board on October 14, 2011.
In relation to the Legal Affairs Tower project, the lawsuit will argue that Hart breached statutory and fiduciary duties by inviting Malaysian firm Sunway to bid for the project while concealing its links to his family even through the Uff Inquiry.
On the Brian Lara Stadium project, the civil action will note that Hafeez Karamath Limited (HKL) was awarded Package 2 ($144 million) and other packages totalling $379 million. The awards came after HKL owner and founder, Hafeez Karamth, had been arrested and charged in the Desalcot matter. They also came notwithstanding information in relation to HKL’s capacity which had been submitted to Udecott. The State will argue that the contract awards to HKL, in context of this, proved a breach of fiduciary or statutory duty on Hart’s part.