Time to show Steward the exit door
Finance Minister Clyde Caruana recently announced that a “spending review” is underway in the wake of the sharp increase in government’s outlay to subsidise fuel at the pumps, power generation and the international cost wheat. This cost cutting exercise follows the news that in 2021 Malta registered a record deficit of €1,161.7 million which is equivalent to 8% of the gross domestic product. Though this was marginally better than in 2020 when the respective figure was 9.5%, the bottom line is that Malta stood out for having the highest deficit in the EU in 2021. In comparison, in the euro area the deficit stood at 5.1% in 2021, down from 7.1% in 2021.
The worrying fiscal trend is fuelling concerns that Malta could be heading towards an Excessive Deficit Procedure if there is no improvement by the time Brussels re-introduces the tight Maastricht Criteria which had been suspended in the wake of the pandemic. A report by Shift News that this is set to happen next year, has not been denied by the government.
In this context its unconceivable more than ever how the government has not yet rescinded the controversial hospitals concession agreement. By the end of this year taxpayers will have forked out over €300 million to Vitals and subsequently Steward. This scandalous deal which was supposed to herald a giant leap in public health care through massive investments including a state-of-the-art hospital in Gozo has not materialised. Moreover, an investigation by the National Audit Office concluded that the deal should have been rescinded for the simple reason there had been collusion between Vitals and the government, apart from a host of other breaches. In 2022 alone, government allocated around €70 million to Steward.
From the very beginning UHM Voice of the Workers cried foul and refused to be roped in. It was the only union which refused to sign any sort of agreement which would have been interpreted as giving its blessing to the deal. Seven years down the line, UHM’s position has been vindicated as this concession turned out to be one of the biggest scandals, to the detriment of honest law-abiding citizens who pay their taxes.
While, we have nothing against ensuring that taxpayers’ funds are diligently used, we fail to understand why government is turning a deaf ear to the widespread appeals to rescind this agreement. Surely, any cost cutting measure short of regaining control of these three State hospitals would only serve to add insult to injury. Indeed, there has never been a better time to stop the rot and show the exit door to Steward.