“Impotent, ill-preparedness, grave concern, multiple failures, poor choice, flawed concession” – these are some of the terms used by the Auditor General to describe the concession through which the government sold three State hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare in 2015.  This was the second part of this investigation which had been triggered following a request made by UHM Voice of the Workers and the Medical Association of Malta through the Public Accounts Committee in 2016. In the first part of the investigation, the National Audit Office concluded that this deal was “collusive” and should have never been signed. But what was in it in pounds, shillings and pens?

This scandalous deal piloted by disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi has already cost taxpayers in excess of €400 million through annual budget allocations, and there are still 25 more years for the concession to end. To add insult to injury, should the government refuse to renew the 30-year emphyteutical deed, for a further 69 years until 2115, it would have to pay €80 million. Alternatively, should the government opt to rescind the deal immediately there is a separate €100 million fine to pay. Meanwhile, there is no sign of the new hospital in Gozo while St Luke’s hospital is falling to pieces, despite contractual obligation binding the concessionaire to deliver these projects.  Vitals, who had no experience whatsoever in the health sector (not even how to run a clinic!) transferred its concession in the final days of 2017 to Steward Health Care of the US and disappeared completely from the scene. The millions pumped in the first two years vanished in thin air. Meanwhile, it emerged that it had also failed to meet its contractual obligations with its own employees. The NAO probe established Vitals failed to pay the national insurance and PAYE taxes of its employees, as the money was spent for other unknown purposes.

From a political perspective the deal stinks. Konrad Mizzi refused to meet the NAO. The latter also flagged how throughout the negotiations and even at a later stage Cabinet was kept in the dark. The deal is still regarded as a hot potato with ministers distancing themselves completely each time the matter is brought up including the finance and health ministers. Though Mizzi has bowed out of the scene, it is unconceivable how nobody has stood up to be counted apart from the occasional remarks of discontent from the Deputy Prime Minister. Ultimately, actions speak louder than words. So far when push comes to shove everybody is still putting their weight behind the deal.

Finally, there is also the criminal perspective. There is ample of evidence that this deal was not in the people’s interest at all, while standard procedures and anti-corruptions safeguards were circumvented. What more does the police commissioner want to act? This time of the year the Maltese are called upon to be generous and raise money for those in need… those for whom – unlike the ultimate beneficial owners of VGH – the State has no funds available.