Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands admitted yesterday on the stand that he “deviated” from normal procedure when he approved the award of a $1.8 million cleaning contract to Magic Touch Company, which is owned by Barbara Hanna.
Sands made the admission during cross examination in the bribery and extortion trial of former Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) Chairman Frank Smith.
Hanna has alleged that Smith demanded and received $60,000 from her, from 2016 to 2017, after he allegedly helped her company win a contract to clean the Critical Care Block of Princess Margaret Hospital.
Smith 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 was awarded, according to the minutes from the PHA board, without approval from the board. The board did approve it later.
Last 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.
During his testimony last week, Sands said Hanna, who donated $300 to his election campaign in 2016, alleged that she was making monthly cash payments of $5,000 to Smith and that she asked for his help. Sands said he told Hanna to go to the police.
When the matter resumed yesterday, Smith’s attorney, Keith Knight, QC, asked Sands if he would be surprised that Hanna gave evidence that she called Smith and told him to “be careful because they are out to get you”.
Sands said, “I would answer no.”
Knight asked Sands if he was “one of those out to get Mr. Smith?”
“I’m not out to get anybody,” Sands replied.
Sands was asked if he told Hanna to go to the police when she first raised the allegation that she was paying Smith.
Sands said he could not “categorically say” that he told her to go to the police the first time she told him about the alleged payments.
Knight asked Sands if “after the election you became very active in calling Minister [Marvin] Dames” and putting him in contact with Hanna.
“I will accept that description,” Sands said.
Knight later asked, “So this matter revolves around two politicians and the police?”
Sands said, “No. This is a matter of Frank Smith versus the commissioner of police on an allegation by a virtual complainant.”
Knight retorted, “A virtual complainant who was a donor to your campaign?”
Sands said, “Yes.”
Knight asked, “A virtual complainant who you approved a contract to without board approval?”
Sands said he approved a contract for Magic Touch.
Knight asked, “She got a contract approved by you in the amount of $1.8 million?”
Sands said yes.
Knight asked Sands if he said that the contract for Magic Touch was “the subject of controversy”.
“Yes,” Sands said.
Knight asked, “Did you take this before Cabinet?”
Sands said he did not present Cabinet with a formal document about the contract.
Knight asked, “Did Cabinet have a paper before it on a decision on this matter?”
“No,” sand Sands.
Knight asked, “Normally contracts over $1 million are taken before Cabinet?”
Sands said yes.
Knight said, “This was almost $2 million and you didn’t take it?”
“No,” Sands said.
Knight then asked Sands about “deviations” from PHA contract procedure, asking: “When there are deviations, motives come into play?”
Sands said, “It can.”
Knight asked, “In the Magic Touch contract, you deviated from the normal procedure? Correct?”
Sands said, “Yes.”
Knight asked the minister if he would be surprised that in Hanna’s evidence she said she never “told a soul” about the payments to Smith.
Sands said, “I guess I would.”
Following further questioning, Knight concluded his cross examination of Sands.
Prosecutor Edward Jenkins, QC, then re-examined Sands.
In regard to contracts needing to go to Cabinet, Jenkins asked Sands, “What was your understanding of this contract over $1 million needing to go to Cabinet?”
Sands said, “There was no need.”
Jenkins asked, “You accept that you deviated from normal procedure?”
Sands said yes.
Asked if there was a motive, Sands said, “The deviation was a matter of timing and exigency. The matter was to be placed on the board agenda.”
Sands said the “expectation was that the matter would be on the business meeting of the board”.
Asked he if “tried to hide this contract from the board”, Sands said no.
Following further questioning, Sands was dismissed.
Jenkins then indicated that he wished to move on to the banking evidence.
Damian Gomez, QC, Smith’s attorney, objected.
He said that the defense had requested and received a Supreme Court order for the full financial information of Barbara Hanna. He said that order was not complied with.
Gomez noted that the banking information given to the defense does not offer a “whole” view of Hanna’s finances.
He said the defense asked for documents related to Hanna’s compliance to value-added tax (VAT) and national insurance.
“What was shown to me was a confirmation of a suspicion that I had that up until May of this year, she had paid no VAT at all,” Gomez said.
Jenkins noted that he was not counsel for the Crown when the Supreme Court order issue came up and said he would endeavor to work with the defense with regard to further documentation.
Following a lunch break, the trial resumed and the prosecution called Audrey Ann Dames, compliance officer and court officer for Commonwealth Bank.
Jenkins took Dames through Hanna’s banking records with Commonwealth Bank.
Once Jenkins concluded his questioning, Gomez rose and said the defense would reserve its cross examination of Dames until it has received the full disclosure of Hanna’s financial information.
The prosecution then called Superintendent Uel Johnson, the lead investigator in the Frank Smith investigation.
Jenkins asked Johnson how the investigation started.
Johnson said that ACP Paul Rolle told him that someone was coming to see him at the Anti-Corruption Unit.
That person, Johnson said, was Barbara Hanna.
Jenkins asked if Hanna came to the office on her own. Johnson said, “As far as I could see.”
He noted that he had already received instructions from Rolle regarding the matter.
He said he spoke with Hanna, recorded her statement, printed it out and had her review and sign it.
Jenkins produced the statement and showed it to the defense.
Knight objected, noting that that statement was “never introduced into evidence”.
Jenkins argued that he did not intend to speak to the substance of the statement, but on the procedure of its drafting.
The statement included an addendum, Jenkins noted.
He asked Johnson, “How did that come to be?”
Johnson said, “It is police policy that before a matter of this magnitude goes to court, that we would visit the Attorney General’s Office and have them review the file.”
Following further questioning, the trial adjourned to November 13, 2018 at 10 a.m.
At that time, Jenkins is expected to continue questioning Johnson.