Healthcare of New Zealand's chief executive Peter Hausmann took a big punt by going public on Thursday claiming he would be vindicated by an inquiry into the management of his conflicts of interest on the former Hawke's Bay District Health Board.
Two days before the inquiry team's final report was due to be delivered to Health Minister David Cunliffe, Hausmann effectively said he could stay silent no longer while his reputation continued to be attacked in Parliament.
Lawyers usually counsel against claiming victory until judges or, in this case the Director-General of Health's review panel, release their findings.
But Hausmann was confident enough after all the toing and froing between his lawyers, Russell McVeagh, and the review team, to claim that the final report would vindicate and explain his position.
At issue now is whether Hausmann's comments may have set the scene for a legal challenge to the inquiry team's report.
Former Hawke's Bay DHB chairman Kevin Atkinson expects to ask questions over whether Hausmann and his legal team had preferential access to the panel over himself and other former board members. But Atkinson notes that their hands are tied to some extent as they are no longer allowed access to the files held at the board's legal office since Cunliffe sacked the board.
Any resultant legal action would have to be funded from board members' own pockets.
The former members of the Hawke's Bay DHB board - which had cancelled negotiations on a community services initiative involving Hausmann's company, Healthcare of New Zealand - have already claimed the report will be a whitewash.
The inquiry was launched after a Herald on Sunday investigation revealed the husband of former Health Minister Annette King had been accused of pressuring a health board whistleblower who spoke out about an alleged conflict of interest in a deal worth up to $50 million involving Hausmann's company.
"There was no $50 million contract - there was a proposal for a public-private partnership, a request for proposal (RFP) to consider how that might work, and a process for developing terms of reference for that partnership's feasibility," Hausmann said in a statement last week.
But Atkinson and other former board members, including Peter Dunkerley, also have their reputations on the line, as the inquiry's terms of reference require the team to examine how the former board managed Hausmann's conflicts of interests.
They have concerns that the final report will sanction the former board for not establishing a suitable induction process for Hausmann when he came onto their board.
National MP Tony Ryall this week read out in Parliament extracts from a leaked version of the review panel's first draft report. The draft said, "There were significant barriers to a vendor other than Healthcare New Zealand succeeding with the proposal. Healthcare New Zealand and Peter Hausmann, on the other hand, knew what was required as it had seen the February 2005 board paper, which set out what the Hawke's Bay District Health Board wanted'?"
The Herald on Sunday understands that Hausmann and Healthcare NZ strongly contested the initial draft, claiming that it was factually incorrect in several key areas.
Hausmann's legal firm, Russell McVeagh, had the initial report peer reviewed by Wellington Queen's Counsel Hugh Rennie.
Crown Law is understood to have provided the review panel with assistance in subsequent deliberations.
Atkinson is concerned that the review panel has not spoken to any of the Hawke's Bay-based former board members in person since last November. He is expected to raise questions tomorrow as to whether Hausmann has had more preferential access.
The Herald on Sunday has established that Hausmann put questions to the review panel over the board's management of conflicts of interest involving other members. Former board member Peter Dunkerley has acknowledged he was a target. But both he and Atkinson are clear his conflicts of interest had at all times been managed appropriately.
Hausmann said this week that Atkinson had been aware since late 2004 that the DHB and Healthcare NZ were discussing forming a joint-venture to administer community health services in the region.
The joint-venture idea emerged in 2003. Touted internally as one of the first public private partnerships in the health sector, it was presented at a meeting of DHB and Healthcare NZ representatives in December 2004.
The proposal was subsequently discussed at a business dinner at the Craggy Range Vineyard, attended by Healthcare NZ chairman Doug Catley, his fellow directors Ken Douglas and Hausmann, and Atkinson and the DHB's chief executive, Chris Clarke.
Atkinson said the proposal was "exciting".
"But much of the discussion over dinner was about Ken Douglas' stomach stapling operation."
Irrespective of the revolutionary nature of the proposal it still needed to be contested through a tendering process.
Health Minister David Cunliffe sacked the board last month and appointed Sir John Anderson as commissioner in their place, citing internal board divisions as an "irrevocable breakdown".
The sacked former board members allege the process reeks of political interference.
"It now seems clear that this exercise has been nothing more than a drawn-out, pointless, whitewash," they said in a statement this week.
"The only way the public will get full disclosure and accountability on this matter is for the Auditor-General to investigate. ... "
"We've always maintained that the conduct of Hausmann, chief executive Chris Clarke and certain senior managers in managing the conflicts of interest was, and remains, unacceptable for a publicly accountable entity," they said.By Fran O'Sullivan Email Fran