Trinidad is no stranger to scandals, corruption, thievery and incompetence but lately they have all been converging into a miasma that hangs low over several politicians and state agencies. Chief of these is UDECOTT and its Executive Chairman Calder Hart. This institution is tasked with overseeing the billions of dollars in construction projects that are the obsession of the current PNM regime. It is also seen to be above any semblance of transparency as it is protected vociferously by the PM himself. A stadium that was supposed to be finished in time for the 2007 Cricket World Cup but is still not finished though close to $1 billion has been spent, cost overruns on just about every other project - these are but piffling concerns for the PM.
Any attempts to criticize Calder Hart or his minions have been met with censure, firings, legal threats and much glaring from Mr. Manning. The now completed UFF Commission that looked into UDECOTT was a traumatic expose of incompetence, wastage, missing funds and questionable tendering processes that played out live on our televisions. Through it all Mr. Hart continued to operate with impunity and with the overt blessings of the PM. This transplanted Canadian with an uninspiring and slightly murky past was spending taxpayers money in T&T with not a check or balance in sight. Today things changed.
Over the last week revelations have been made with full documentation that at least one of the companies receiving huge contracts from UDECOTT was directly connected to Hart’s Malaysian wife. It only escaped being brought up in parliament because a petulant cabal of disgruntled losers on the Opposition bench failed to vote with the rest of the party. The matter was going to come up again next week , though, and in a fairly unexpected development Mr. Hart resigned from all of the state boards he was on ( including UDECOTT) with immediate effect. Great for news but it is surely just the beginning as a lot of stuff is yet to hit the fan.
What prompted him to resign? There could, I suppose, be any number of reasons. He might think the evidence is impossible to refute, the entire thing might be untangling around him, the PM might be cutting back on his insulation of him, he might be just fed up with the constant scrutiny and being regarded as a thieving pariah. We may never know as he gave no reason but I suppose if we see him packing garbage bags full of cash and heading to no-extradition Malaysia we might jump to a few conclusions. Time will tell but we certainly haven’t seen the end to the repercussions of this matter.
It might be time for the PM to fire his prophetess ( who didn’t see this coming or the Chilean earthquake for that matter) and invest in a few ‘coming clean’ lessons.
(published on globewriter.com April 25, 2008 )
I have just spent the last few hours rearranging furniture and generally beating out any trace of dust in my place. There is something about cleaning house that is enormously satisfying even though in a few days things will be pretty much back to the way they were…Swiffer Wet Jet or not. It seems our illustrious PM also decided to change around his political house a bit by casting his Minister of Trade, Dr. Keith Rowley onto the ever growing pile of victims of his wrath. According to the PM in his Post Cabinet briefing today he took the action because Dr. Rowley behaved in an indecorous manner during a recent meeting with other ministers and the head of UDEcoTT, Mr. Calder Hart. The PM was not at the meeting himself but several little birds apparently chirped the details in his ear. Dr. Rowley, no stranger to outbursts but usually always quick to admit to them immediately thereafter, denies any such behaviour on his part and is calling on his accusers to have the decency to make their accusations in public.
I am no fan of politicians but I have always had a grudging respect for Dr. Rowley. He tends to operate like a crazed steamroller driver in an effort to get things done and is normally unapologetic if a few feet get run over in his quest. I would agree with most that he could stand a few lessons in the finesse department but I would also say that unlike the majority of his former colleagues he tends to get things done and rather efficiently at that. I am not the only person who thinks that had Dr. Rowley been given the National Security portfolio we would most likely not be in the mess we are in today as a result of the ineffective and bumbling current minister. Frankly, were I a person with criminal ideas on my mind I would think thrice about doing anything knowing Rowley was going to come after me.
What happened to Rowley is just another symptom of the PM’s unwillingness to countenance anyone around him who does not follow his leadership with few or no questions. In the particular matter that apparently got Dr. Rowley into the hot water, he dared to question the actions of Mr. Calder Hart who is the PM’s point man for implementing all his grandiose construction schemes. Many of these projects are undertaken with little scrutiny and often using foreign contractors and labour ( primarily Chinese ). Mr. Hart apparently washed up on these shores a few years ago from Canada and nobody is quite sure about his bona fides. Despite many reasonable questions about his credentials the man’s background remains a closely guarded secret. Everyone is entitled to their secrets, of course, but when the person in question is spending billions of dollars of tax money and getting a salary that a Saudi Crown Prince would be reasonably happy with – the matter is somewhat different. My gut feeling is that Dr. Rowley’s dismissal has more to do with him questioning the spending and methods of Calder Hart and daring to upset the PM’s blue eyed boy than any outburst he may or may not have engaged in during a meeting. Whereas Brown and Blair managed to distrust each other and engage in numerous backroom disagreements our elected leader tends to have adopted a more Peronist approach…sans blood.