Finance Minister Clyde Caruana has reportedly rolled out a cost cutting exercise across the board to the tune of €200 million. Such drastic measure is being justified on the grounds that government’s policy of absorbing the price hike in fuel prices to mitigate inflation is costing a fortune. Public finances had already taken a huge hit with the pandemic, and unfortunately the outbreak of war in Ukraine has accentuated the situation. The arguments underpinning this strategy might be justified even at the cost of having to take unpopular decisions. Money does not grow on trees and hence something has to give. However, government’s biggest problem is the corrupt hospitals deal signed with Vitals Global Healthcare which was transferred to Steward Health Care.

From day one UHM Voice of the Workers had sounded the alarm bells on this deal and together with the Medical Association of Malta had even spearheaded a request for an investigation by the National Audit Office through the Public Accounts Committee. In the first part of the investigation, the NAO 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.  Most of the millions pumped so far in this deal vanished in thin air. Further, that contractual obligations have not been met including many promises made to the 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.

You cannot have the moral authority to squeeze money across the board if at the same time you are pumping hundreds of millions on such a deal which so far has brought absolutely nothing in return. The hospitals deal must be rescinded immediately.