By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
HEALTH Minister Dr Duane Sands approved a contract estimated at $1.9m for Barbara Hanna's Magic Touch cleaning company, less than three months after criminal charges were brought against former PLP Senator Frank Smith, according to testimony heard in court on Friday.
The defence also officially requested that Dr Sands appear before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt to give testimony in the case.
During cross examinations of Public Hospitals Authority Legal Advisor and Board Secretary Leslie Isaacs, the court heard testimony that Dr Sands approved the contract without any formal discussions by PHA's board last October.
Lead attorney for the defence Keith Knight, QC, raised several questions about PHA's contract tendering, review and approval processes.
As a result of that line of questioning, Ms Isaacs testified that contracts totaling $250,000 or less could be approved by the board without input by the Minister of Health or Cabinet.
Additionally, she said that any contract above the $250,000 threshold would need to be reviewed and approved at the ministerial level.
Mr Knight asked Ms Isaacs if contracts totaling more than $250,000 would have to be assessed by Cabinet, to which she said she was unsure.
When pressed by Mr Knight on the matter, Ms Isaacs indicated that PHA regulations only specify that such a contract be sent the Minister of Health.
However, she said any contract sent to the Minister of Health would, as a part of procedure, would go before Cabinet.
Ms Knight said Mr Smith, in his post as Chairman, did not have the power to approve any contract over $250,000.
She further testified that Mr Smith served on the Finance sub-committee; a unit that had no direct approval power.
Once those points were clarified, Mr Knight asked the court for a short recess.
When proceedings resumed, Mr Knight presented the court with a contract dated October 30, 2017, which showed that Magic Touch was awarded a cleaning contract valued at $1,862,978.16.
Asked if she could identify the contract and its signatures, Ms Isaacs obliged and acknowledged that the document was a notice of approval made out to Barbara Hanna's company.
Ms Isaacs also admitted in cross examinations that the contract was approved by Dr Sands.
Mr Knight suggested the estimated $1.9m contract was not considered by the board before being approved by Dr Sands as per PHA regulations, to which Ms Isaacs agreed.
Mr Knight then highlighted segments of the minutes from a December 14, 2017 PHA board meeting, where the contract awarded to Barbara Hanna and the process though which it was awarded, was refered to as unfortunate.
The minutes also noted the $1.9m contract was never brought to the board for discussion.
Additionally, the board said it had concerns about the contract and possible improprieties related to it.
Mr Knight asked Ms Isaacs directly if the minutes reflected the views of the board; to which she responded, yes.
She also explained that PHA regulations do not permit a contract to move from the Analysis Committee, another sub-comittee of the PHA board, directly to the Minister.
The minutes revealed that the board was so concerned with the level of impropriety involved, it thought it necessary for the Director of Internal Audits at PHA give a chronological report on what exactly transpired during the review and approval of the contract.
Smith is facing 15 criminal charges concerning his alleged solicitation of $65,000 in bribes from a woman he is said to have assisted in getting a contract. He is currently out on $50,000 bail.
It is alleged the former Public Hospitals Authority chairman, between April 2016 and April 2017, demanded and obtained $5,000 per month from Mrs Hanna, knowing he was not lawfully authorised to do so.
He is also alleged to have attempted to extort another $5,000 from Mrs Hanna.
Concerning the bribery charge, it is alleged that he solicited $5,000 a month from Mrs Hanna for helping her to get a PHA contract.
Smith pleaded not guilty to all the allegations during his arraignment last July.
The matter is adjourned until September 3.