(CNS): Canover Watson’s involvement in the day-to-day affairs of AIS (Cayman) Ltd was because someone needed to keep the important CarePay project on track, the jury heard Friday, not because he was taking a cut. The defence attorney representing the local businessman and former chair of the Health Services Authority Board, who is charged with multiple corruption related offences regarding the AIS contract with the HSA, said everyone involved in this project, including the then health minister, Mark Scotland, “enthusiastically endorsed” the system that was heralded as the answer to the hospital’s massive bad debt and collection problems.
Trevor Burke QC, who is representing Watson, said that the money for the national roll-out was officially authorised by the minister and had always been part of the plan.
He told the jury to “be in no doubt” that it was the government’s intention from the very beginning that this apply across the board and not just for the hospital and CINICO.
As he spelt out for the jury the issues they would need to look out for in the trial that demonstrated his client’s innocence and the difference between the case against him claimed by the crown and Watson’s own position, Burke said that the crown’s opening statement was not evidence. He pointed to a number of issues regarding people missing from the case who were either not there to defend themselves, like Jeffrey Webb, or others not charged and not appearing as witnesses. Burke said the prosecution was not able to say what role many played or who the rest of the conspirators were.
Raising questions about who was really doing what, Burke painted Watson as a scapegoat against the backdrop of an investigation where everyone was trying to distance themselves from the contract at all costs. Not only was this because of the whole thing going wrong and the fear of a corruption investigation but because the investigation came in the wake of the corruption scandal and trial of former premier McKeeva Bush.
Although the crown took more than four days to open the case against Watson, Burke spent just a few hours talking to the jury about his client’s position and confirmed that he would be taking the stand.
The defence attorney focused heavily on the wide support in the beginning for the CarePay contract before it went wrong, and then no one wanted to cooperate, as he pointed to his client’s efforts to try and keep the project on track, which explained his day-to-day dealings with AIS (Cayman) Ltd. Burke said he “busied himself with the affairs” because no one else was there to do it and help keep AIS happy and on board.
Burke did not directly address the allegations about the cash that prosecutors claim lined Watson’s pocket but he spoke about the chaotic situation that he inherited and his best efforts to resolve the problems at the Health Service Authority on behalf of the Cayman people. He said his client was appointed as the chair of the hospital board because he had a reputation for getting things done and the minster had asked him to sort out the mess. He was asked, Burke said, to “turn things around, and turn them around quick”, as the hospital was hemorrhaging cash at around $1 million a month.
Burke described the catalogue of problems at the HSA, from the more than $55 million in bad debt to the problems created by the former service providers at the hospital, which held all of the medical records but refused to cooperate in the transition period. All of this, he said, served to create massive problems for the CarePay project.
However, Burke said that Scotland was very supportive because the introduction of the CarePay system was meant to address the UDP government’s manifesto promises to tackle the hospital troubles. He pointed out that Scotland, an engineer before he was elected to office, was dependent on Watson and his civil servants since he had come to the ministerial position with no experience in the healthcare sector.
Making a number of football analogies, Burke also said that Webb, a former vice president of FIFA and Watson’s co-defendant, was likely to be “kicked around” during the trial by the prosecution because he was not there to defend himself, and he urged the jury to call on their sense of “fair play” and consider Webb innocent until he had chance to answer the charges.
The trial continues Monday with the first of the crown’s witnesses.