Jurors in the criminal trial of former Health Services Authority board chairman Canover Watson want to hear from former Cayman Islands government Minister Mark Scotland in the case.
However, they were told Tuesday by Grand Court Judge Michael Mettyear that they might not get such an opportunity.
The veteran judge broached the issue after reading a written question passed to him from a member of the six-woman, one-man jury that has been hearing the corruption case since late November.
“It’s a good question, a sensible question,” Justice Mettyear said, explaining that Mr. Scotland was not called as part of the Crown’s case, which is now completed. Justice Mettyear said he was not certain whether the defense intended to call him as a witness. It was believed that Watson would be the only defense witness called to testify.
Mr. Mettyear indicated that he intended to direct the jury in his summing up of the case at the end of the trial not to speculate about why certain individuals were not appearing as witnesses or “what they would have said if they had been here.”
“You’ve got enough to think about with what you have heard,” he told the jury.
Mr. Scotland’s name, along with a number of other high-ranking former and current government officials, has come up through the course of the two-month trial.
The second count of the Crown’s indictment against Watson alleges that he and business associate Jeffrey Webb defrauded the government by tricking officials into believing that funds had been set aside for the CarePay system expansion when they actually had not.
Watson’s attorney Trevor Burke, QC, has argued that such a claim is “nonsense” and that former Minister Scotland and many others were well aware of plans for the expanded system.
Watson testified last week that behind-the-scenes negotiations on the five-year, US$13 million deal were still occurring just hours before the CarePay patient swipe-card contract was signed.
Although Watson brokered the talks on Dec. 21, 2010, he was not privy to a telephone conversation that day between Mr. Scotland and CarePay system contractor, Jamaican businessman Douglas Halsall.
Watson said Mr. Halsall wanted former Health Minister Scotland to “guarantee” the eventual expansion of the hospital patient swipe-card system to private sector insurers in the Cayman Islands. When it was first implemented, the CarePay patient card system was activated only for the public hospital system. Watson – the chairman of the Health Services Authority at the time the CarePay contract was signed – testified that Mr. Halsall and his company, Advanced Integrated Systems of Jamaica, were keen to ensure their system would also be used by Cayman’s private sector healthcare providers as well.
Watson testified that then-Minister Scotland refused to agree to such terms because he did not want government to be seen as forcing the private sector into accepting the deal.
Watson said he put Mr. Halsall directly on the phone with Mr. Scotland and the two discussed it early on Dec. 21.
Watson testified that Mr. Halsall told him that Minister Scotland gave a commitment that the then-United Democratic Party Cabinet backed the CarePay system expansion, even if it did not currently have the funds in the government budget to support it.
“Based on the minister’s commitment, [Mr. Halsall] was prepared to go forward,” Watson testified.
Neither Mr. Scotland nor Mr. Halsall has appeared as a witness at the trial and could therefore not verify Watson’s testimony about their discussions.
During cross examination by Crown prosecutors Tuesday, Watson testified that he had “instructions” from the former United Democratic Party government that Mr. Halsall’s technology was the one government wished to approve.
Watson testified that he received this word as early as Aug. 12, 2010 – four months before the CarePay contract was signed by government officials and AIS Jamaica owner Douglas Halsall.
“Are you suggesting that the government told you Halsall’s solution was the only solution in the world?” Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran asked Watson. “Did the government tell you this was the only solution in the world?”
“The government gave me a mandate to try and deliver the system that they wanted,” Watson said. “The fact of the matter is clear, Mr. Halsall’s presentation [to government officials on Aug. 11, 2010] triggers this request for proposal.
“[The instruction] was clearly to bring Mr. Halsall’s system on board.”
Mr. Moran asked Watson whether request for proposal documents released later in 2010 were “lying” and if a technical review committee formed to review bids submitted by proposers “had quite a different mandate” than the one stated.
“The intention was always to bring the system that we saw in the presentation on Aug. 11  into existence as quickly as possible,” Watson said.
Evidence presented earlier in the trial indicated that a number of potential bidders for the hospital’s patient claims management system did exist. Former hospital IT director Dale Sanders told jurors that some half a dozen companies expressed interest in bidding on the project. One local company, Brac Informatics, also stated it wished to bid but ended up not doing so as the deadline approached.
Watson stated his belief during testimony Tuesday that AIS Jamaica owned the only system “in the world” at the time the bids went out that could both verify a hospital patient’s insurance coverage and “adjudicate” the patient’s claims – determine how much the insurance company owed and how much the patient owed – immediately.
Watson said there was no reason to go through the request for proposal process to get other bids on the contract, because Mr. Halsall’s system was the only one that could do what government wanted for the hospital system.
Mr. Moran suggested that Watson had done no research to verify that at the time government decided in August 2010 that AIS Jamaica’s system was the one it wished to use. “You have no idea, do you?” Mr. Moran asked Watson, referring to his claim that AIS
Jamaica was the only company that could provide real-time patient claims adjudication.
“What you said to the jury is not true.”
“It is still my belief … to this day,” Watson said, adding that the AIS-CarePay system was a solution that “everyone in the room” felt would solve the hospital’s problems.