Noel Garcia not willing to testify

Nelson said though there were board minutes recording that important deliberations took place by the HDC board in relation to the doomed housing project, those minutes did not record details of the discussions of the board members, and there were large gaps in the records of the HDC in relation to its own project. He said while lawyers at the inquiry, acting on behalf of Udecott have stated that state agency handed-over a package of documents to the HDC in 2006, the HDC has no record of such handover documents.

Nelson said it was Garcia who was the central figure in relation to variations for the project, but it was “unclear” whether those variations ever reached the HDC board. He said more recent efforts to contact Garcia – who was said previously to be residing in Ghana – have failed as the HDC has now lost contact with the former corporation official.

“I am told that we have lost communication with him at the moment,” Nelson told the commissioners sitting at the Caribbean Court of Justice, Henry Street, Port-of-Spain. “There is some difficulty as he is outside of the jurisdiction. It does not appear at the moment that he has an inclination to come and give evidence. The position is that there is a large gap in the knowledge.”

The QC said he would have expected a former managing director to want to testify. The chairman asked whether the HDC had offered to pay Garcia’s airfare. Nelson said that could be undertaken.

Nelson suggested the entire former board of the HDC could be summoned to give evidence. He noted board meetings took place and minutes state that “discussion” of important matters relevant to the project was noted. However, “the details of the discussion are not recorded.”

In relation to variations for the project generally, Nelson said Garcia was the one discussing these in correspondence on record.

However, “it is difficult to determine the extent to which that went to the board.” The inquiry has heard of variations totalling $28 million in relation to the project, which was contracted to the China Jiangsu International Corporation (CJIC).

Nelson said the HDC was of the view that CJIC was contractually liable, and two related parties sub-contracted by CJIC had been negligent. He expressed the view that CJIC had breached its contract with the HDC when it refused to demolish the towers in 2012 under a remedial works clause in the governing contract. However, while a legal letter was issued by the HDC to CJIC in 2012, to date no formal legal action has been taken, almost three years later. Nelson said the HDC was awaiting the outcome of the inquiry, which was announced last year.

Garcia was not the only potential witness who is out of the country who was mentioned yesterday. Another was former Udecott executive chairman Calder Hart.

Inquiry chairman Justice Mustapha Ibrahim noted the Las Alturas project was at one stage under Udecott’s control. When Nelson — lawyer for the HDC – discussed potential witnesses, Ibrahim asked whether he would seek to have Hart testify.

“The newspapers have carried reports from time to time that he was willing to come back to testify,” Ibrahim said. Nelson said Hart is understood to have “exercised considerable power in terms of decision-making” at Udecott. Udecott lawyers did not address the chairman on the issue.

The chairman asked one witness, an independent engineer hired by the HDC in 2011 to review the project, whether Udecott had exercised great care and diligence in contracting CJIC to design and build the project. The witness, Andrea Abel, managing director of Trintoplan, said she had no knowledge of Udecott’s contractual arrangements. On why the project was moved from Udecott to the HDC, Nelson said his understanding was that the project was moved when the HDC was first formed, given the HDC’s mandate in relation to housing.

The HDC was formed by statute in 2005, a year before the 2006 handover. While the HDC was formed in 2005, it was a re-moulding of what was known as the National Housing Authority, an entity which was formed by the Housing Act of 1962.

The inquiry continues today.


"Noel Garcia not willing to testify"

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