Cayman Islands Health Services Authority Chief Executive Lizzette Yearwood said she was “shocked” by certain email communications from former HSA board chairman Canover Watson, some of which she said showed a “direct conflict of interest” with regard to various public sector contracts for the local healthcare system.
Ms. Yearwood’s statements were made Monday during court testimony in Watson’s criminal trial.
Watson, who served as chairman of the Health Services Authority’s board of directors between 2010 and 2013, is charged in six counts alleging he defrauded the public sector in the award and implementation of the CarePay patient swipe-card contract for the public hospital system. Watson’s former personal assistant Miriam Rodriguez is also charged with one count alleging that she helped her former boss in the transfer of criminal property, namely funds from the CarePay contract.
Ms. Yearwood, who agreed to the payment of the first US$686,000 for the swipe-card contract in December 2010, told jurors she could not remember if she had read the agreement before authorizing payment. However, upon reading it in court, Ms. Yearwood said she recalled having some concern about the manner of payment used for the contract. She testified that board chairman Watson sought to allay her worries about the CarePay contract payments at that time.
The Crown alleges that Watson and his business partner Jeffrey Webb had personal interests in the local company that eventually won bids for the CarePay contract, AIS Cayman Ltd., and that Watson helped direct business to AIS and its Jamaican partner while he served as board chairman.
Jurors heard that as early as August 2010, internal HSA documents regarding previous HSA patient systems contractor Cerner were sent to Webb by Watson.
Asked whether Webb, who is also charged in the case but not present for the trial, should have had access to those records, Ms. Yearwood replied: “Absolutely not. I had no prior knowledge of this.”
As testimony continued Monday, another contract that sought to provide a computerized tracking system for the Health Services Authority’s pharmaceuticals was brought into the discussion. Officials with AIS Jamaica were also interested in bidding on that contract in early 2011, jurors heard.
Initially, the HSA’s technical committee that reviewed competing proposals for the pharmacy contract selected Cerner, from the U.S. ahead of AIS Jamaica.
This seemed to anger Watson during a HSA meeting on the subject, and it was eventually agreed to send the pharmacy proposal back to a technical evaluation committee for further review.
Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran said Watson appeared to have been involved in the preparation of the AIS Jamaica pharmacy bid and to have arranged to send that bid to Ms. Yearwood. Mr. Moran also alleged that, according to email evidence obtained by the Crown, Watson had sent a copy of Cerner’s cost proposal for the pharmacy system to Douglas Halsall, the owner of AIS Jamaica, which was competing against Cerner for the contract.
“This is a direct conflict of interest,” Ms. Yearwood said.
Mr. Moran presented further emails sent by Watson to Webb and other individuals suggesting they had a plan, with Mr. Halsall, to open a pharmacy in Cayman.
“I’m shocked, to say the least,” Ms. Yearwood said. “I’m seeing this for the first time, I’m becoming aware of this for the first time.”
Ms. Yearwood further testified that she believed the owner of AIS Cayman Ltd. to be Mr. Halsall from Jamaica and that she was unaware of any involvement in that company by either Watson or Webb, the latter of whom she did not even know.
Defense attorneys had not had an opportunity to cross-examine Ms. Yearwood’s testimony as of press time Monday.
In opening statements Friday, lead defense counsel Trevor Burke, QC, questioned why the pharmacy contract entered into the prosecution’s case at all.
Any decision Watson was or was not going to make regarding opening a pharmacy had nothing to do with the charges presented by the Crown in this particular case, Mr. Burke said.
Further, Watson never would have benefited personally from the opening of the pharmacy because it was proposed to be the government’s pharmacy, Mr. Burke argued.
“Why [the issue] was raised, I don’t know,” he said during speeches Friday.