Minutes after saying former executive chairman of the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott) Calder Hart was not guilty of anything, Prime Minister Patrick Manning announced the appointment of Chief Executive Officer at the Housing Development Corporation, Jearlean John as the new chairman of Udecott, replacing Hart, who resigned last week. Manning told a hastily-arranged news conference at his St Clair office yesterday that despite the many allegations against Hart, the former Udecott boss was not guilty of anything. He took questions on the issue involving Hart, who resigned from Udecott last week after publication which claimed that Hart was related to two directors of CH Development (now Sunway)–a company which was awarded a $368.9 million contract by Udecott to construct the Ministry of Legal Affairs Towers. Hart denied while on oath in the Uff Commission of Enquiry into the Construction Sector that he was related to the officials.
Manning said he was told by Attorney General John Jeremie last Friday that Hart may have a case to answer. He said he subsequently met with Hart, who then tendered his resignation. Manning said for that reason and also because of certain public disclosures, he had a conversation with Hart. "Following that conversation with Mr Hart, he decided that the best thing to do in all the circumstances would be to step away, allow the investigations to go on and to give him a chance, at the appropriate time, to clear his name, which I imagine he is now in the process of seeking to do," the Prime Minister said. The PM said it was not necessary to ask Hart to resign. Manning was asked if he felt Hart was hounded out of office, a claim made by Planning, Housing and the Environment Minister Dr Emily Dick Forde.
He responded quickly: "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see what has happened. When I read the newspapers, sometimes I wonder what is the crime? I would like somebody to tell me of what is Mr Hart guilty as of now? Would somebody be kind enough to tell me? He is guilty of what? I would like to know right now. The PM said it was not for him to determine innocence or guilt in the matter involving Hart. He said the Government was seeking to establish a new order in the construction sector, via Udecott. "In that capacity (objective) Udecott has stepped on the toes and corns of some very powerful people in this country," he said. Manning said the Government understands that "the battle is not always what it appears to be but there may well be other agendas in this matter." He said he was not getting value for money from the local construction sector.
Manning confirmed that he was aware of the criminal probe being conducted on Hart by forensic accountant Robert Lindquist, since September last year. He said such an investigation, which was commissioned by AG Jeremie "was a routine thing." Asked why he continued to speak favourably about Hart in public despite the fact that he was aware of a probe, Manning said it would be a major error to accept that someone was guilty before it was proven by the authorities. "I was acknowledging the contributions of Mr Hart in terms of national development," Manning said. "The statements which I made are statements by which I stand," the PM said. Manning said the entire matter involving Hart was not over and it may not be the appropriate time for anyone to claim victory.
He was responding to claims that citizens may now feel that sacked trade minister Dr Keith Rowley should feel exonerated because of the latest developments with Hart. Rowley had said he was fired because of his call for Cabinet oversight for Udecott. Manning responded: "Well if that is the view of the public, that is the public's view. But let's see, remember what I have said before, one has to await the evening in order to determine how splendid the day has been, it's not evening yet."