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Ex-manager gets $.2M payment

By Andre Bagoo Sunday, January 19 2014

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WHILE THE State has aggressively pursued legal action against former Udecott chairman Calder Hart over his tenure at that State company, the Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company Limited (TTMF) has quietly settled a separate, private lawsuit brought by a former (TTMF) employee who challenged Hart’s management at the TTMF by alleging wrongful dismissal and fraudulent misrepresentation.

One of the many portfolios Hart held under the PNM was that of chairman of the TTMF, which is a State company set up to help citizens buy houses.

In February 2007, former TTMF finance manager Nandalal Balroop sued the TTMF, then chaired by Hart, alleging wrongful dismissal and fraudulent misrepresentation.

Balroop, a chartered accountant who served as finance manager at the TTMF for 15 years, was fired by the Hart-chaired TTMF. The fired employee claimed he was “a fly in the ointment” at Hart’s TTMF.

Balroop claimed his dismissal came after he raised objections to a series of million-dollar transactions under Hart.

Checks by Sunday Newsday have revealed that the case was quietly settled in 2011 before High Court Judge Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh. Officials disclosed this month that case CV 2007 - 00535 was settled on October 25, 2011. The parties agreed that the State, the TTMF, would pay Balroop $200,000 “in full and final settlement of all and any claims that the claimant may have.”

Legal sources familiar with the case stated the settlement came about reportedly after it became clear that Hart was “unavailable” to take the stand to defend the matter on behalf of the TTMF in his capacity as its former chairman. The TTMF Balroop case is the first reported instance of litigation involving Hart in his public capacity which has been completed.

A lawyer for Balroop this month said, “Yes it was settled. But you shouldn’t bother with that. It is best to let that matter die.”

The Balroop settlement is not specifically disclosed in the TTMF’s financial statements for the year 2011. The settlement has to date also not been disclosed by the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Hart fled Trinidad in 2010, after resigning abruptly from the TTMF and Udecott as well as a host of other state entities which he chaired, days after a Commission of Inquiry Report condemned his management of Udecott and called for him and the former board of the State enterprise to be placed under probe by law enforcement authorities.

In untested court documents in the case, filed in February 2007, Balroop, deposed a tale of constant tension with the Hart-chaired board.

“The claimant often found himself in conflict with management and the board on account of his recommendations and the positions he took,” one document reads. “The management of the (TTMF) and the board came to regard the claimant as somewhat of a fly in the ointment and showed dislike, ill-will and hostility towards him and took steps to unlawfully dismiss him.”

Balroop outlined what he regarded as questionable issues at the TTMF under Hart which he reportedly had problems with. These included:

*getting funds from the Home Mortgage Bank (HMB) at interest rates of eight percent when cheaper funds were accessible from the National Insurance Board at a rate of four percent;

*the use of a software system, called Foresight Software, at a cost of $2 million by the TTMF, when that system was later “found to be unsuitable and was aborted” by the TTMF after they ignored the objection;

* the decision of the board to ignore his recommendation regarding the placement of insurance cover for the TTMF’s billion-dollar mortgage portfolio which had been endorsed by the board’s own insurance consultant;

* the failure of Hart to have published a notice informing the public that Balroop, whom Hart had suspended but then cleared of wrongdoing after an investigation, had been absolved of wrong doing following the investigation.

Hart, in a defence filed in 2009, while the Uff Commission of Inquiry was ongoing, denied Balroop’s claims. In a sworn affidavit, Hart said, “as to the alleged objection to the Home Mortgage Bank funds, the truth of the matter was that the National Insurance Board (NIB) was not prepared to give the Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company Limited funding. This I arranged myself with NIB even at the lowest cost of funding. The average rate was around six percent, never four percent.”

According to Balroop, he was first suspended by the TTMF in January 2003. Subsequently, after he wrote Hart on the issue of his suspension, Hart wrote him by letter dated March 24, 2003 asking him to answer, “serious questions that are being raised about financial matters which occurred at the TTMF”.

Balroop responded and then, by letter dated May 7, Hart wrote Balroop informing him that a full audit investigation was completed and “as a result of its findings you are hereby reinstated.”

However, Balroop was fired in May 2004 while on vacation leave after being told he was redundant, with a company official saying, “your services are surplus to our requirements.” Yet, one year later, the TTMF advertised the post of finance manager in the press. Thus, Balroop argued, he was a victim of misrepresentation and wrongful dismissal.

Hart, in his 2009 affidavit, claimed Balroop was first investigated due to his failure to check for supporting documents for expenditure incurred by the then TTMF chief executive officer. However, he said, “there was no proof that his dereliction of duty in relation to the improprieties of the chief executive officer had benefitted him.”

“As for Mr Balroop’s alleged objection to the use of the Foresight Software, this was a decision taken by the previous board,” Hart added.

He pointed out that the new board came in 2002 and in 2004 a decision was taken to pursue action against the software suppliers.”

“Similarly, as to the insurance cover for our mortgage portfolio, we went to the insurers directly,” Hart said.

“We prepared a request for proposals for all the major insurance companies. The result was that we received lower rates and we were able thus to reduce insurance premiums to mortgagers.”

The TTMF claimed Balroop’s employment was terminated because he was surplus to requirements and argued that his performance was lacking.

It is understood that none of these claims and counter-claims have been subject to cross-examination in the case. No findings of fact have been made. What is clear, however, is that the TTMF has agreed to settle.

In Parliament this month, Sport Minister Anil Roberts attacked former Prime Minister Patrick Manning extensively over his ties to Hart when the San Fernando East MP resumed his seat in Parliament two weeks ago. Roberts criticised Hart’s management of Udecott.

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