T&T seeks to recover TT$400M over Brian Lara Academy

(Trinidad Guardian) Two years after former executive chairman of the Urban Development Corporation of T&T (Udecott) resigned from the state agency—civil proceedings are set to be initiated against Calder Hart in relation to the controversial Brian Lara Cricket Academy this week.

Sunday Guardian has learnt that the claim is expected to be filed in the Port-of-Spain High Court and is aimed at recovering approximately $400 million incurred on cost overruns. The move, legal sources revealed, is the first of other civil proceedings that are expected to follow in relation to other Udecott projects.

Hart shockingly tendered his resignation on March 6, 2010, following the court ruling by Madam Mira Dean-Armorer that allowed the Prof John Uff Report to be made public. Since its conceptualisation in 2003, under the former People’s National Movement administration, the controversial construction project has been plagued by a combination of cost overruns, compounded by shoddy work.

Taxpayers are now saddled with a $1 billion debt and an eyesore that is no closer to being completed. The academy was expected to host the 2007 Cricket World Cup in Tarouba. The original price of the stadium was estimated to cost $272 million. The controversial project formed a major part of the Uff Report that condemned the breach of proper procedures at the academy.

In his report, Prof Uff called for a police probe into the former executive chairman and a full-scale investigation into the awarding of an $885 million contract by Udecott to Malaysian-based CH Development Ltd, now Sunway Construction (Caribbean) Ltd, to build the academy.

The report also questioned the $368 million awarded to Udecott for construction of the Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower. However, to date, investigations into whether criminal proceedings would be initiated against Hart are yet unknown. Up to yesterday, a lead detective in the matter, when contacted by Sunday Guardian, only said: “Investigations into Hart are still ongoing. The matter is very sensitive at this stage.”

Asked if Hart can be located if he is called upon to answer charges, the investigator said: “We would do what needs to be done.” It was Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley that first raised the issues at Udecott, calling for Hart’s removal. Contents of the report identified various infringements of the 1998 rules of Udecott.

Citing a possible breach or abuse of the procurement rules, the report stated the following findings must be considered:
• Excessive and unfair use of sole selective tendering powers leading to a breach of obligations as to free and fair competition as well as transparency.
• Misuse or manipulation of tender and tender—review procedures leading to the inappropriate and potentially corrupt award of contracts. This observation applies particularly in the case of the awards in respect of the Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower and the Brian Lara Stadium.
• The internal organisation within Udecott, which has dealt with financial administration for the Brian Lara project, has given rise to serious alarm, the deficiencies identified by Mr McCaffrey being nothing short of scandalous.

This raises the equally serious question as to how such a state of affairs can have been permitted to arise. Hart fled the country days after he resigned from Udecott and subsequently placed his Cascade mansion on the market. He was last spotted in the company of his wife, Sherrine, in the United States.

 

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