The millions thrown away on the fraudulent hospitals concession agreement can only be recouped if we unite and draw up an action plan, but the biggest responsibility falls on the Government as it is the people’s representative.

“Dear Government, do you have the appetite to act in line with your obligation? … Failure to act now means that our children will suffer the consequences of our inaction.”

UHM Voice of the Workers CEO made this appeal when addressing a national protest called in the wake of the historic court judgment which annulled the hospital agreement between Steward Health Care and the Government, and ordered these public assets be handed back to the people.

Josef Vella said that Government had to shoulder the greatest responsibility in this matter as in the eyes of the law it is the executive representative of the people and it had the juridical interest.

“You can never fight corruption until every political party, social partner and individual embrace the fight against corruption.” He recalled remarks made by Pope Francis that until such course of action would be taken the vulnerable, the poor and the citizens would fork the bill for corruption.

In his address the UHM CEO recalled that this was the only union that never entered into any form of agreement with Vitals or Steward because from the very beginning it was clear that this was a very shady deal. He also pointed out that it was thanks to UHM that the Auditor General launched an investigation spread across three reports of which the last has not yet been published.

Vella remarked that in its decision the Court expressed no doubt that Vitals and Steward were awarded this concession in an irregular and deceitful manner to the detriment of the citizens, possibly in a criminal manner.

He added that the ‘real deal’, as it was branded within Government, meant that Bank of Valletta was exposed to a loan of €36 million. “Who will pay for it if Steward doesn’t oblige, the bank’s shareholders or the Maltese people?”

The chief executive explained how this agreement was also ‘real’ for Steward’s employees who were paid less than their colleagues on Government’s books despite treating the same patients. “Real is the pain of those employees who after years of working for Steward had to resort to industrial action with UHM to be transferred with the Government”.

He said that Government breached the transfer agreement as the affected workers lost the years of service with Steward and Vitals and consequently were paid less as they started the salary scales from scratch.

The €500 million spent on this contract is real and could have been used for the elderly, young people and to improve workplaces, Josef Vella added.

“What is also real is the Court’s concern as to how government authorities could enter into these obligations in such manner, while workers had a clause in their employment contract to ensure that in case they could no longer work due to ill health they would not be paid beyond the resignation date or beyond the date on which they had been medically certified of not being fit for work.”

“Somebody explain to me me the existence of such clause meant to ensure no worker would get paid an extra week but at the same the lack of any provision to safeguard  billions, four billion.”

He noted that on March 16, UHM would appear in court to seek justice for 42 Steward  employees who were transferred with the Government, only for the State Advocate to object to the retention of their previous years of service  on the grounds  this would be anti-constitutional.

“Where was the State Advocate when the four billion deal was signed? Was that not against the constitution and the national interest?” the UHM CEO concluded.