The Malta Independent 16 October 2018, Tuesday

Time to reflect and to adopt changes

Gejtu Vella Tuesday, 16 January 2018, 08:11 Last update: about 10 months ago

To my mind, there are currently three major issues on the national agenda which merit a serious, non-partisan debate.  Scoring political points should not be the criteria in the debate.  And it would be desirable if a broad consensus can be sought.  That politicians, irrespective of their political creed and ideology, play a very important role in any democratic society is a given.  Although politicians are expected to act in good faith and to carry out their duties with diligence and care after seeking counsel from the relevant experts unfortunately, at times, their deliverables suck.  

ADVERTISEMENT

But in all circumstances, politicians and public office holders should be held accountable for their actions.  It is no secret that partisan politics may have blurred the demarcation lines between the separation of powers, but this does not in any way justify the fact that the current administration takes advantage from such a shortcoming.

From a non-partisan point of view, what would it take to make our society better? Greater transparency and accountability are increasingly seen as the answer to a wide range of issues which have been raised but as yet have not been adequately addressed.  Indeed, independent institutions, bodies and authorities can improve their functions for the benefit of our small community.   Considering past and current experiences of certain magnitude that have rocked the local scenario, the adoption of transparent policies is likely to be an effective step in the right direction.

Apart from transparency and accountability, a better society needs a civil society which takes an active part in the socio-economic development of our country.  Offering solutions as to how obstacles in policymaking and implementation can be overcome will help restore trust and the much-needed confidence in government and the political process. An active civil society can bridge this chasm.

Let me delve briefly in the three major issues. To begin with, I will skim the two agreements entered into by government with Vitals Global Healthcare and the Sadeen Group.  Although I have very serious reservations about the two concessions for different reasons, from the onset I take the presupposition that all competent authorities, including government ministers and other public office holders have entered into agreement with VGH and the Jordanian company Sadeen Group in good faith and have strived to get the best deals possible for Malta.

On the premise that the private sector is bottom-line driven, I was and still am very reluctant to support a concession in the health sector. From day one, I was averse to the concession which government granted to VGH.  We now learn that the company which was entrusted to run the Gozo, Karin Grech and St Luke’s hospitals has sold its concession to the American company Steward Healthcare System.  The secret sale of the concession by VGH to another company just twenty-one months after securing a deal with the Maltese government raises very serious questions.  Why has Vitals Global Healthcare unceremoniously sold the business venture to SHS? Was the concession not financially viable?  Was a due diligence carried out by the local competent authorities on VGH and the SHS?  Has VGH earned any commissions from the deal with SHS?

This is not a deal between two private entities. It is a deal in which part of our health service is being transferred to another company without the local authorities being informed.  Would the concession agreement between VGH and SHS be made public, or would it be commercially sensitive and thus this time not even government would have access to this information?   

The second issue which is of concern is the other agreement which government has entered into with the Sadeen Group.  Currently, the Sadeen Group is making use of Dock 1 in Cospicua to host a small number of students in the American University of Malta. The Sadeen Group has also acquired a large piece of pristine land at Zonqor to build a new campus.  Malta, being a very small island, has to make sure that all pristine land marked in the outside development zones is not commercialized.  Is there really a need for a new campus when the number of students is what it is?

But the recently-published report drawn by an ad-hoc delegation of eight MEPs ably led by Ana Gomes, a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Union Parliament, reinforced the need to strengthen, even fortify, some of our key institutions to ensure that the rule of law is equal to all citizens, irrespective of the political party lapel pin one may display.  It is grossly unfair, and highly irregular and unjust, if the selected few are allowed to flout a regime of laws and the checks and balances to take unfair advantage simply because of the political connections they hold.   

The thirty-seven page document, prepared in reply to a resolution adopted by the European Parliament in November 2017 on the rule of law in Malta, is an eye-opener.  It  serve as an opportunity for all stakeholders to take all necessary actions to ensure that the rule of law is upheld  since it is central to ensure good governance.  What is of great interest in the report is the recommendations section.  It has nothing to do with partisan politics but it has a lot to do with what these small Islands require to ensure the separation of powers. The recommendations include six recommendations at the European level and thirteen on the national level.  Our society would be better served if the competent authorities adopt the recommendations as laid down in the report.

It would be wrong if Government, to save face, shelves, ignores or tries to justify the wrong- doing of the past.  Government has a great opportunity to address these issues and show that where the interests of the nation and the citizens lie.

In these three scenarios, awkward and difficult as they may seem government can gain a lot of credit if the appropriate decisions are adopted and heed professional counsel.   It would not be a poisoned chalice for government, any other political party, the civil society or anyone else who is prepared to contribute to make the necessary changes possible.

 

[email protected] 

  • don't miss