The Malta Independent 23 August 2019, Friday

Health Ministry’s reply to Ombudsman: ‘Hospitals contract being investigated by NAO’

Saturday, 6 July 2019, 11:33 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Health Ministry has reacted to comments by the Ombudsman, who said his office was being undermined when not given a copy of the hospitals privatisation agreement, by saying that all documentation is being investigated by the Auditor General.

In the 2018 report, which was submitted to Parliament earlier this week, Health Commissioner Charles Messina said the health ministry had refused to hand over a full copy of the contract between the government and Vitals Global Healthcare in 2016. The office was only given a redacted version that was also presented in Parliament.

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Later, the ministry also failed to provide a copy of the contract when VGH transferred its concession to Steward Healthcare. “In January 2019, extracts of the contract were leaked and published in the local media and once again the full version was requested but the Ministry did not comply even though the Ombudsman Act gives such a right. The Commissioner for Health is of the opinon that the authority of the Ombudsman is being undermined,” Messina wrote.

The controversial privatization of St Luke’s, Karin Grech and the Gozo General Hospital took place under the watch of then health minister Konrad Mizzi. The deals have been criticized because they have been shrouded in secrecy and because VGH did not have any experience in the health sector. The government has always refused to publish the contract, citing “commercial sensitivity.”

Opposition Leader Adrian Delia has taken the government and VGH to court over the situation, asking for the contract to be cancelled and that the three hospitals to be returned to the public.

When asked for a reaction to the Health Commissioner’s comments, a spokesperson for Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne said: “The concession agreement you are referring to – on the request of the Deputy Prime Minister – is being investigated by the Auditor General, who has access to all documentation. The Health Commissioner is aware of this.”

 

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