By Caribbean News Now contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands -- With a poor standard of health care costing residents on the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) an exorbitant amount of money, the Progressive National Party (PNP) – the ruling party immediately prior to the imposition of direct rule by Britain – is making an extraordinary effort to distance itself from the failure and high cost of the National Health Insurance Plan (NHIP).
PNP deputy leader Carlos Simons has now joined leader Dr Rufus Ewing in trying to shift the blame onto the interim administration and possibly former Governor Gordon Wetherell, who reportedly signed off on the plan shortly after his arrival in August 2008, apparently during a period of pre-occupation with the damaging effects of two back-to-back hurricanes.
This was a full year before direct rule came to the islands and some 18 months before the NHIP began operations.
Simons has claimed it was not the plan put in place by the PNP but “the maladministration of the direct rule government.”
“The health plan was launched by the current (interim British) administration,” said Simons.
However, the process of choosing a third party health provider was completed by late 2006 and, eight months before Wetherell’s arrival, the health care contract was formally signed by the PNP administration while his predecessor, Governor Richard Tauwhare, was in office.
The lead-up to the plan’s concept and the use of a third-party provider was apparently being structured as early as late 2003, shortly after the PNP took office. However, disagreements on the plan’s structure raised concerns on the part of then Health Minister Karen Delancy.
While Delancy had the primary responsibility the plan as minister, it was nevertheless Ewing, as director of medical services, who was given authority over the decision making process.
This upset Delancy, who felt that the process was so tainted she later provided a sworn statement describing what she viewed as an improper process to the special investigation and prosecution team (SIPT) headed by special prosecutor Helen Garlick.
The first of Delancy’s concerns was the construction of the two hospital buildings and assuming her sworn statement is correct, recent claims by Ewing that he was not involved in the contracting of the building of the hospitals would appear to be untrue.
In fact, in a continuing attempt to distance himself from the controversial plan, Ewing told a television audience last week that it was the direct rule government that “commissioned” the hospitals.
However, the Delancy statement tells a different story. She swore that, five years prior to the suspension of the constitution and the imposition of direct rule, at a February 4, 2004 meeting, Ewing was present, along with Allan Forest, the general manager of hospital contractors Johnston Construction, and Michael Ashcroft, a principal of Johnston.
Also at the meeting was then chief minister Michael Misick and finance minister Floyd Hall.
Delancy testified in her statement: “Misick, Floyd Hall and Ewing spoke at length about the hospitals project... the impression I gained was that it was highly likely that Johnston International would be awarded the hospitals (building) contract.”
Johnston Construction was in fact awarded the contract without a bid tender. Then PNP supporter Royal Robinson was assigned the responsibility as liaison between the PNP government and contractor Johnston.
Robinson has since acknowledged that Ewing was in fact a key part of the process, stating publicly that Ewing was a member of the inner circle that contracted with Interhealth Canada as the health services provider and with Johnston Construction as the hospital building contractor.
The two small two-storey hospitals built under the contract – one in Provo with 20 beds and the other in Grand Turk with 10 beds – are encumbered by a mortgage of $235 million. If the mortgage runs its full 24-year course with interest, the buildings will have cost TCI residents half a billion dollars.
Later in her statement, Delancy speaks of the process for selecting the third party health care provider. At a meeting only two months later, in April 2004, which was held at the Cleveland Clinic in Miami, Ewing, Floyd Hall and Cynthia Astwood were present with Delancy. At this meeting, discussions were conducted as to the possibility of the Cleveland Clinic participating in the provision of health care in the TCI.
The Delancy statement appears to reinforce more recent comments by government CEO Patrick Boyle that Ewing was a central player in the formation of the NHIP, a position Ewing has now tried at length to deny.
While Interhealth Canada was eventually selected as the secondary care provider, Ewing remained, as director of medical services, in charge of all the primary care clinics around the islands until his resignation from the civil service in March of this year.
Current Governor Ric Todd described the then Ewing-run health services as a “poor level of primary health care”.
When officials in the interim administration were questioned last week on the matter of responsibility for the health care debacle, a source is reported to have said, “This is a deal the interim administration inherited.”