Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands testified in court yesterday that Barbara Hanna donated $300 to his election campaign, that her son volunteered in the campaign and that she eventually confided in him that she was allegedly making monthly cash payments of $5,000 to Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) Chairman Frank Smith and wanted his help.
During his testimony, Sands said he had numerous calls with Hanna between November 2016 and June 2017.
He said he told Hanna to report the payments to the police, but Hanna claimed she did not “trust the police” because she was dealing with “very powerful people and that she would be hurt”.
Sands testified that he eventually put Hanna in touch with Minister of National Security Marvin Dames.
Sands delivered his testimony during the bribery and extortion trial of Smith, who is a former Progressive Liberal Party senator and MP.
Smith is on trial for demanding and receiving $60,000 from Hanna from 2016 to 2017 after allegedly helping her company win the contract to clean the Critical Care Block of Princess Margaret Hospital.
He has denied the charges.
It was previously revealed in court that Hanna was awarded a second contract in 2017, valued at $1.8 million, three months after Smith was charged.
That contract, according to the minutes from the PHA board, was not brought before the board for its approval.
On Tuesday, it was noted that Sands approved the second contract for Hanna, following a recommendation from PHA’s tender analysis committee and a legal opinion from the Office of the Attorney General.
When Sands took the witness stand yesterday, the courtroom fell silent.
Smith, who sat at the front of the gallery, and usually places a towel down to sit on because of the rugged bench, stared at Sands.
Sir Franklyn Wilson; his wife, Sharon Lady Wilson, and their children; former PLP Cabinet Minister George Smith; former Minister of State for National Security Keith Bell; and former PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts were among those in the gallery.
Former St. Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman was also in the court.
Lead prosecutor Edward Jenkins, QC, asked Sands about his election campaign and how he funded his attempt to win his Elizabeth seat.
Sands said it was a combination of personal and donated funds.
Jenkins asked Sands if he had met Barbara Hanna before Frank Smith was arrested.
Sands said that he did and that they met in person for the first time on June 20, 2017.
Smith was arrested and charged in July 19, 2017.
Asked if he had any contact with Hanna before June 20, Sands said he had spoken to her over the telephone.
The minister said he believes he first spoke to Hanna sometime around November 2016.
“Who initiated the contact?” Jenkins asked.
Sands said he wasn’t sure.
“I believe one of my staff members would have called her number,” Sands said.
Jenkins then asked if Sands had any part in the call.
“Yes,” Sands said. “Barbara Hanna had donated $300 to my campaign. As was customary, I was calling all of the donors and well-wishers to thank them.”
Jenkins asked Sands if he discloses his phone contact with constituents.
Sands said he shares his cell and sometimes his home number with constituents.
Sands said that applied to Barbara Hanna, but noted that she only had his cell.
The minister also noted that, at the time of the campaign donation, he did not know Hanna had children but later learned that she had at least one daughter and at least two sons, one of whom he said, worked on his campaign.
Sands indicated that Andy Hanna was the son who worked on his campaign.
The minister noted that when he first spoke to Hanna in 2016, the only issue they discussed was her campaign donation.
Sands explained that he spoke to Hanna by phone several times between November 2016 and June 2017.
Jenkins asked Sands if he could recall who initiated the calls.
“Mrs. Hanna did,” he said.
Jenkins asked, “The subject matter of her contact?”
Sands said, “She said that she was the beneficiary of a contract with the Public Hospitals Authority and that she was being required to make cash payments to the chairman of the PHA, Frank Smith, of $5,000 per month.
“She was concerned about this and asked if there was anything I could about it.”
Jenkins asked if there was anything Sands could do.
“I asked if she had spoken with the minister, Minister [of Health Dr. Perry] Gomez. She said she had, without any results. I told her to report it to the police,” Sands said.
The minister said Hanna told him that she was not prepared to report the matter to the police.
Hanna raised the matter to him many times, Sands said.
“Other than the advice to call the police, did you do anything else about it prior to the election?” Jenkins asked.
Sands said no.
The general election was held on May 2017.
“Did you have any contact with Mrs. Hanna around then?” Jenkins asked.
Sands said Hanna called him on the evening of the election “to congratulate me on my victory”.
Asked if the two remained in contact after the election, Sands said he received “many, many calls” from Hanna.
Sands said Hanna would call him and he would call her back when he had an opportunity.
He said Hanna’s concern was the “same complaint” — that she was continuing to have “to pay $5,000 a month to the chairman of the Public Hospitals Authority, Frank Smith”.
“I told her to report it to the police,” Sands said.
“She continued to say that she was not prepared to, because she was afraid.”
As the calls kept coming, Sands said he suggested to Hanna, because “she is afraid of being harmed, that I would perhaps connect [her] with the minister of national security and perhaps in that way her safety could be assured”.
Sands said he reached out to Minister of National Security Marvin Dames and sent, via What’sApp, Dames’ contact to Hanna and vice versa.
“Why did you refer her to Mr. Dames as opposed to the police?” Jenkins asked.
Sands said, “Mrs. Hanna said she was afraid that, because she was dealing with very powerful people, that she would be hurt, and she did not trust the police.”
The minister noted that he missed many, many calls from Hanna, but they would “connect” sometimes.
He said she called him, sometimes, 14 to 15 times a day.
Sands said he met Hanna in person, on June 20, 2017, at the Ministry of Health.
“How close is that to the Anti-Corruption Unit?” Jenkins asked.
Sands replied, “A stone’s throw away.”
“Why did you not take her there?” Jenkins asked.
Sands replied, “Not my job.”
Sands said his last contact with Hanna was when she called him in July to offer condolences on the passing of his father
During cross examination, Smith’s attorney, Keith Knight, QC, asked Sands about the June 20, 2017 call.
“She spoke to you, this contributor of your campaign, to let you know that she was tendering for a contract emanating from the PHA?” Knight asked.
Sands said this was correct.
“Did you tell her to tender?” Knight asked.
Sands said no.
“That’s the truth?” Knight asked.
Sands said that was the truth.
“Under oath?” Knight asked.
Sands said, “Under oath.”
Knight said, “Tell me if you recall these words. ‘I told her to apply and the only thing I could assure her is that it would be a fair process.’
“Do you remember those words?”
Sands said he did and indicated that he wrote those words in his witness statement.
“Those are your words,” Knight said.
Sands said, “They are.”
Knight asked, “Telling her to apply regarding the tender?”
Sands said yes.
“Why would you under oath say, ‘No you did not?’” Knight asked.
Sands said he was asked if he told Hanna to tender.
But Knight said that in the witness statement, Sands said, “I told her to apply”.
“Are you making a distinction between applying and tendering?” Knight asked.
Knight asked Sands this question three times.
Sands finally said he was not trying to make any distinction.
Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt interjected and asked Sands, “In your mind, to tender and to apply are one and the same?”
Sands said no.
“But that’s what you just said,” Ferguson-Pratt said.
Sands said, “I’m trying to answer the question as counsel is putting it to me.”
He added later, “I am under oath and I have to answer these questions. I have sworn to answer the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I believe that my instructions to Barbara Hanna was with the view that she had already applied and that she should simply let her work speak for itself.”
He said when he met Hanna on June 20, 2017, she had already applied for the second contract.
Sands noted that the way counsel was asking questions was “challenging to answer it honestly based on the way he is posing the question”.
Knight rose and shot back that Sands is a renowned scientist and a “trained mind” and added that he was very impressed with Sands’ CV.
Knight will continue his cross examination of Sands when the trial resumes during a special sitting on Saturday at 10 a.m.
He has indicated that he may spend the entire sitting cross examining Sands.