BROADCAST ADDRESS TO THE
ON TUESDAY, 22ND MAY 2001
HON. LESTER B. BIRD M.P.
ON THE AUDIT REPORT OF THE MEDICAL BENEFITS SCHEME
I am now in receipt of the final report of Mr Allan Joseph who
conducted a forensic audit of the Medical Benefits Scheme.
I know that this matter has troubled many sectors of our community
for many months. However, our nation should take heart that, despite
the wait, our traditions of fair play, freedom of expression and
our democratic processes are stronger and more resilient for the
The right of the press to be vigilant has been upheld, and so
too has the absolute right of due process.
From the outset, I had said that, before I could take any action,
I required to be advised by an independent investigation with access
to all information, and not just selected documents that were obtained
by the press. The press has a job to do, and so do I. Our responsibilities
to the nation are different.
I am now in a position to take informed action, and I have already
taken several steps.
Today, I saw representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, the Christian
Council, the Employers Federation, and the Editor of the Outlet,
Mr Tim Hector, who initiated the story in the press. I gave each
of them a copy of the Report and indicated to them the course of
action that I propose to take. I also tried to see the Leader of
the Opposition but he had a prior commitment in the Industrial
My purpose in speaking to you now is to inform the nation as a
whole of the steps I intend to implement.
The forensic audit is a comprehensive document. It should be made
available to the public as a whole. It is my hope that the newspapers
will publish the report in its entirety as a swift way of allowing
the public to read it. However, whether the newspapers do so or
not, I have instructed that the document be printed by the Government
Printery and sold to the public at a nominal cost.
The audit reveals a prima facie case for legal action against
certain officers of the Medical Benefits Scheme. Therefore, I have
transmitted a copy of the final report to the Director of Public
Prosecutions with the request that he take such action, as in his
own deliberate judgement, is required under the law. I have also
sent a copy to the Commissioner of Police for a police investigation
to begin and I have advised that he may request assistance from
external agencies such as Scotland Yard to help in investigations.
I wish to emphasise that the Director of Public Prosecutions is
an independent office under our Constitution. He is not required
to answer to any Minister or official for those actions that he
properly takes in his official capacity. Therefore, neither the
Government nor anyone else can interfere in any way with his work.
In transmitting the document to the Director of Public Prosecutions,
I have made it clear that, upon his request, Government will also
provide him with any further resources he may need to carry out
The audit did not find that any Minister acted in any way to defraud
the Medical Benefits Scheme. However, it did find that two Ministers
displayed a lapse of good judgement where a payment was made for
services rendered. There is no dispute that the services were validly
rendered and that payment was legitimately due and payable. That
is not the issue. The real issue is that the established procedures
for payment were not followed.
In the circumstances, I have asked the Governor-General to revoke
the appointments, as Ministers, of Mr Bernard Percival and Dr Errol
Cort. I shall combine the portfolio now assigned to Mr Percival
with the portfolio of Health Minister, John E St Luce, and I intend
to appoint Mrs Gertel Thom as Attorney-General. The portfolio of
Justice and Legal Affairs will be incorporated into the Prime Minister's
Other aspects of the audit report point to weaknesses in the management
and control systems as well as the procurement procedures of the
Medical Benefits Scheme. These weaknesses have led to costly transactions
if not to a wastage of money.
You will recall that a few weeks ago, after receipt of the preliminary
audit report, I asked the Minister of Health to relieve the former
members of the Board of the Medical Benefits Scheme of their duties
and to appoint a new Board.
I also met today with the Minister of Health and the new Chairman
and Board of the Scheme and I have given them a copy of the report
complete with its recommendations for changes and the introduction
of certain manuals. I have charged the Board with the full implementation
of the recommendations and I have asked to be presented, through
the Minister of Health, with deadlines by which targets will be
met. I have also told the Chairman and the Board that the public
must be kept informed on a regular and sustained basis of the actions
that are being taken.
Nine months from now, I propose that Mr Joseph shall conduct another
audit of the Scheme to ensure that the new controls are established
and that there is no abuse of the procedures and systems. That
report will also be made public.
Given these actions, there could be no good reason for holding
a public inquiry which would be lengthy and costly, and which could
reach no other result than to do exactly what I am doing now and
that is to hand-over a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
No Commission of Inquiry has powers to do anything more than to
examine documents, listen to what is said and compile a report
with recommendations. It has no powers of prosecution, and would
have to request the Director of Public Prosecutions to deal with
any allegations of criminal actions.
At the end of the day, an Inquiry could also hamper any judicial
process that might be implemented since every Court would be compelled
to give credence to legal arguments that defendants could not have
a fair trail by jury in the light of a public inquiry which would
not be subject to the same rules of evidence as a Court.
Fellow Citizens, I truly believe that we have now come to a resolution
of the process through which we have passed in the last few months.
Where wrong doing or poor judgement has occurred, we want action
to address them effectively. This has been done. At the bottom
line, our collective interest is to ensure that the Medical Benefits
Scheme operates in a manner that serves our people best and that
its systems are not ignored and its procedures are not abused.
The experience of the last few months has strengthened not weakened
our democratic process. The press remains vibrant. Government remains
both attentive and responsible to the country as a whole. We have
scrutinised one of our most important institutions and we are correcting
its weaknesses not just for the Medical Benefits Scheme but as
a lesson for all other organisations of Government.
I urge that we now allow the law to take its course, remembering
always that it is the same law to which we are all subject and
by which we all governed.
May God continue to give us the wisdom to keep our nation strong
22nd May 2001