By Caribbean News Now contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands -- The recent publication of an extract
from Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) Premier Rufus Ewing’s statement of registrable interests has raised conflict of interest questions regarding a controversial healthcare contract with Interhealth Canada.
Under the heading “Income Sources”, line item number two in Ewing’s statement lists “Salaries, benefits and allowances – Interhealth Canada TCI Ltd”.
Premier Rufus Ewing
Under section 25 of the Integrity Commission Ordinance 2008, all persons in public life (including members of the House of Assembly) are required to file with the Integrity Commission declarations of their incomes, assets and liabilities and those of their spouses and dependent children once every two years. This is otherwise referred to as “Section 25 Declaration”, and it is strictly confidential and may not be divulged to any person. Any breach of this confidentiality by any member of the commission or a third party and attracts stiff criminal sanctions under the ordinance.
However, the published excerpt of the Register has nothing to do with the section 25 Declaration of Financial Affairs but relates to an additional requirement under the constitution and the ordinance for members of the House of Assembly to file with the commission, once every year, statements of registrable interests of themselves and those of their spouses and dependent children.
According to Eugene Otuonye QC, director of the Integrity Commission, the published extract of Ewing’s statement of registrable interests appears genuine. He also pointed out that the register of such interests is available in the public domain and is not therefore confidential.
Otuonye went on to say that it is common and public knowledge that Dr Dawn Perry, a gynecologist and the spouse of Premier Ewing, is legitimately employed in her own right at the Cheshire Hall Medical Centre (Interhealth Canada). She receives salaries, allowances and benefits for being so employed and these are part of the interests that the Ewing has disclosed to the public as part of his registrable interests.
However, as one observer commented, the mere fact that Ewing’s household is receiving a financial benefit from Interhealth Canada is bound to raise presumptions of a conflict of interest and may therefore explain, amongst other things, an apparent ongoing reluctance on the part of Ewing and his government to conduct or release the findings of either a financial and/or clinical audit of the operations of Interhealth Canada.
In addressing this issue, Otuonye said that any conflict of interest (perceived or actual) this scenario may present is a matter for the premier to manage within and guided by the existing legal framework, including the standing orders of the House of the Assembly and the code of conduct for persons in public life.
“As guardian of the code of conduct, the commission is interested not only in how a conflict of interest is managed but in providing such assistance as would enable the relevant conflict of interest to be effectively managed. The commission is committed to this responsibility,” he said.
It is not clear at this time how Ewing is managing this conflict of interest, whether real or perceived, except to try to distance himself from the health portfolio, which may be ineffectual given that he is ultimately the head of the elected government.
The financial cost of the $120 million debt for building two small hospitals at a cost of $4 million dollars per bed and outsourcing secondary healthcare to Interhealth Canada that together will cost the TCI around $1 billion over the course of 20 years has been the subject of ongoing controversy and concern since the contract was signed in 2009.
In response to Ewing’s earlier attempts in 2012 to distance himself from what was described by former chief financial officer Hugh McGarel Groves as a “financial disaster”, former TCI government CEO Patrick Boyle pointed out that Ewing had a “central role in developing the policy that led to the creation of the NHIP [National Health Insurance Plan]”.
A sworn statement by former health minister Karen Delancy also confirmed that Ewing made relevant decisions without consulting her and agreed the hospital construction contract without the benefit of competitive bids.
According to earlier reports, a number of civil servants (believed to be five) received payments of as much as $20,000 each -- described as an "honorarium" -- for doing a "good job" in negotiating and concluding the health care contract with Interhealth Canada. As then director of medical services, Ewing was said to be one of the five civil servants that received such payments.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) has called for a review of the Interhealth Canada contract and the release of the relevant audits.
What has magnified the problem is that the Ewing-led government continues to raise taxes and fees while ignoring numerous calls for renegotiating the Interhealth Canada contract at a lower cost and refinancing the hospital mortgage, which is reported to have an exceptionally high rate of interest of 12%. The potential savings from such renegotiated healthcare costs could eliminate and/or reduce the need for the increase in taxation.