Canover Watson

Opposition members spent most of Thursday morning’s Legislative Assembly session asking government officials about what they have done to address deficiencies in the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority procurement system, which led taxpayers to spend $1.5 million for nothing during the CarePay contract debacle between late 2011 and mid-2012.

Bodden Town MLA Chris Saunders also asked whether any Health Services Authority board members or civil servants have been sanctioned in relation to the scandal.

In response, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, who is head of the civil service, said an audit conducted last year by the Internal Audit Unit found no misconduct or corruption in the civil service. Therefore, no one has been reprimanded other than former Health Services Authority Chairman Canover Watson, who was convicted of corruption in 2016 for his involvement in the scheme, and is serving a seven-year prison sentence.

Watson lost his appeal against conviction in September this year.

The audit referenced by Mr. Manderson found last year that government spent $1.5 million on a fraudulent plan to roll out a healthcare patient swipe-card system to private sector doctors and insurers.

Not only was there no existing contract for the expenditure, the entire basis for the payment – made in two tranches between late 2011 and mid-2012 – was a “letter from the former Health Services Authority Board chairman [Canover Watson] to the [then] Minister of Health [Mark Scotland],” according to the report.

Rollout nonexistent

The audit attributed the payments for the nonexistent “national rollout” of the CarePay system to a “lack of an expected standard of care and professional skepticism in the payment of invoices totaling CI$1.5 million by the Health Services Authority.”

Mr. Manderson said on Thursday that in response to the report, the Cayman Islands government had issued an anti-fraud policy and framework and a whistleblower policy that is in alignment with the Whistleblower Protection Law, which will take effect in February next year.

In addition, he said, government passed the Public Authorities Law earlier this year, which establishes strict disclosure rules for statutory board members to avoid conflicts of interest.

The Procurement Law 2016 is also set to take effect in May, he said.

Current Health Minister Dwayne Seymour added that the Health Services Authority chairman used to be in charge of the department’s procurement process.

“That’s not happening anymore,” he said.

RFP evaluation team

Minister Seymour also said that an evaluation team has been established to review all Health Services Authority requests for proposals to make sure they are in compliance with proper procurement procedures, and that the Procurement Department consults with health authority officials.

Finally, there is a purchasing committee that submits a formal report with recommendations for the CEO before the Health Services Authority purchases any goods or services, he said.

But this did not satisfy Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller, who asked Mr. Seymour what was the underlying cause of the scandal.

“After reading the report … from what I can tell, it was because the [HSA] chairman has so much control over the procurement process, he was able to circumvent the system,” said Mr. Seymour.

Mr. Saunders disagreed, noting that “the person in jail isn’t the person who signed one check,” and further asking how the CarePay system was approved in the first place when its flaws were so obvious.

However, Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush said at that point he would not allow any more follow-up questions on the matter.