The conviction of former Health Services Authority chairman Canover Watson for fraud and breach of trust answers one question about the public hospital system’s CarePay scheme, but raises a legion of others about corruption, complicity, indifference and incompetence in the highest levels of the Cayman Islands officialdom.
Careful readers will note that Mr. Watson’s conviction on five of six criminal charges included two charges of “conspiracy to defraud.” One cannot conspire among oneself. Others, by definition, had to be involved.
At trial, Mr. Watson’s lead attorney, Trevor Burke, QC, repeatedly referred to “others” – most notably former Health Minister Mark Scotland – who were never called to testify.
Mr. Burke’s assertion of Mr. Scotland’s ministerial blessing of the CarePay contractor was bolstered by witnesses who did appear, comprising a menagerie of yes-men and -women, drowsing watchdogs and look-the-other-way bureaucrats.
In totality, the testimony paints a picture of dysfunction within the halls of government, with a broken system of ineffective public servants and appointed board members who deliver neither checks nor balances (unless, of course, one is referring to the three checks, totaling nearly US$2 million, that were hand-delivered by HSA staffers to Watson’s private business offices, which augmented the balance of bank accounts shared by Watson and alleged co-conspirator Jeffrey Webb, the now-disgraced Cayman football official).
For example, HSA CEO Lizzette Yearwood agreed to the first payment of US$686,000 in December 2010 for the swipe-card contract; in court, she initially said she could not remember if she had read that agreement before authorizing that payment. In regard to the later US$2.4 million CarePay “expansion” to the private sector, Ms. Yearwood apparently had contented herself with assuming a contract existed, “but I never had sight of it.”
Greg Hoeksema, HSA’s former medical director, said he wasn’t comfortable with CarePay arrangements but didn’t lodge a formal objection because “I knew this was a battle that I could not win … This was not going to be stopped.”
Former CINICO chairman Scott A. Cummings and CINICO CEO Lonny Tibbetts, as well as Dr. Hoeksema from HSA, weren’t given copies of the US$13 million, five-year CarePay deal until Dec. 20, 2010 – one day before it was due to be signed. Mr. Cummings said, “At the time, it did not seem like a big deal. We were assured we did not need to review it, that someone else would review it.”
That “someone else” wasn’t the appropriate entity – the solicitor general’s office – but then-HSA board member and Maples law firm partner Wanda Ebanks, who was asked by Mr. Watson to peruse the contract. At the time, Ms. Ebanks noted, “It’s even worse than Cerner” – the U.S. firm that had previously provided those services to government.
And yet, the CarePay contract was signed, and government funds (that is to say, taxpayer funds) flowed outward.
Two witnesses who did raise red flags about CarePay, former public hospital IT director Dale Sanders and former Health Ministry Chief Financial Officer Carrol Cooper, appear not to have been rewarded for their vigilance. Quite the contrary – notice the word “former” preceding their titles.
We would be remiss not to congratulate the steadfast and faithful seven-member jury of Caymanians for their diligence, clarity and, yes, courage during this long and complex trial. Aided by the sage guidance of Justice Michael Mettyear, the jury arrived at what appears to be a just result. We echo Justice Mettyear’s praise of Cayman’s Anti-Corruption Unit, particularly Inspector Richard Oliver and Sergeant Anthony Hill.
Make no mistake, Mr. Watson’s conviction was a good day for Cayman. The bad day was when he first got the idea to risk his reputation (and ours) for the sake of “easy money” at taxpayers’ expense. More than being a good day, the guilty verdicts were a good start.
Which leads us to the most important question of all: “Who’s next?”