‘We trusted Watson,’ says ministry boss

| 15/12/2015 | 0 Comments
Cayman News Service

Jennifer Ahearn, Chief Officer of Health Ministry

(CNS): Having doled out some CI$1.5 million of taxpayers’ money for the national rollout of the hospital verification-payment system that never happened, the chief officer of the health ministry revealed Monday that she had never seen a contract to justify the payments in 2011 beforehand. Jennifer Ahearn said officials trusted HSA Board Chair Canover Watson and he was obligated by law to reveal any conflicts of interest he may have had. Revealing a shocking lack of checks and balances in government, Ahearn admitted she did not see the CarePay contract until after the cash was spent.

Giving evidence for the crown in the case against Canover Watson for corruption related offences in connection with the CarePay system and the firm that won the contract, Ahearn said the original CarePay contract was between the Health Services Authority and CINICO on one hand and the system contractors, AIS Cayman Ltd, on the other. The ministry was not directly involved, she said, and while she was part of the technical committee that selected AIS, she had little to do with the contract or implementation after that.

Ahearn said the information and updates were coming from the chair of the board, Canover Watson, who was trusted and no one had any reason to doubt him.

“We trusted him and believed he would not be doing anything untoward,” she told the court. “There was no reason to think we needed a heightened level of scrutiny over what he was telling us.”

She said that she was aware of some questions raised the year before about the contract but when the request came into the ministry for the drawdown of funds from the ministry to the HSA from its allocated equity injection, the request was passed to the chief financial officer to deal with. Ahearn said she believed that question marks about the contract with AIS would have been addressed by her CFO before payment was made.

The judge asked Ahearn directly how it was that so much public money was paid out when there was still uncertainty about the contract. She responded that as far as she was aware that the CFO had “satisfied himself” that everything was in order before he paid out the money.

Ahearn made it clear that if she had been aware that the policy position of the health minister at the time, Mark Scotland, on the national rollout was not properly supported with a contract that had Central Tenders Committee approval, her ministry staff would have taken steps to regularise it. She said that the minister as well as public servants are all bound by the tendering process.

She revealed that the budget allocation for the equity injection had been driven by the minister, who was in close talks with Watson on a regular basis. Ahearn also stated it was the ministerial policy to rollout the system nationally but that this would have been between the vendor AIS, the HSA and the private sector, not the ministry. Ahearn admitted that she was not sure if the original contract of $11 million included the cost of subsidising the rollout or not.

The jurors heard that Watson, who was driving the rollout, had written to the minister suggesting the subsidy of the start-up costs for the private sector insurers to get them on board, which Scotland, who is not a witness in the trial, had sanctioned and then agreed to place a cash injection of some $2.4 million in the HSA budget for the 2011 financial year, most of which, the crown claims, ended up in accounts controlled by Watson and Webb.

The case continues.

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Category: Courts, Crime

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