The Malta Independent 27 November 2021, Saturday

Muscat’s presence at OPM-Steward Healthcare meeting raises eyebrows

Neil Camilleri Sunday, 26 January 2020, 07:00 Last update: about 3 years ago

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat attended a meeting between the Office of the Prime Minister and Steward Healthcare last week, the government has confirmed.

The Malta Independent on Sunday has so far not established why Muscat attended the meeting, and in what capacity, but sources said his presence at the meeting has raised eyebrows.

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This newsroom is informed that Steward Healthcare, the company that runs three former state hospitals – Karin Grech, St Luke’s and the Gozo General Hospital – had requested a meeting with new Prime Minister Robert Abela. The sources said the company is trying to secure additional government funding and also wants to make changes to its contract.

The company took over a 30-year concession from VGH Healthcare, which was embroiled in a controversy involving some of its shareholders and its complete lack of experience in the field of healthcare.

Both contracts were signed by Konrad Mizzi, as confirmed by the former minister himself during a court sitting in December, which was coincidentally held on the same day he resigned.

The Opposition has gone to court over the hospitals privatization deal, insisting that the three hospitals should be returned to the public.

The Malta Independent had reported last year that Steward had fallen behind on its milestones, and that it was in discussions with the Health Ministry to set new timeframes. There has been no news on the outcome of these meetings, but sources said that Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne has refused to accept both demands being made by Steward.

The US-based hospitals company asked for a meeting with new Prime Minister Robert Abela a few days ago. The sources said Armin Ernst, the President of Steward Healthcare International, was introduced to Abela by Joseph Muscat during a meeting held at the Auberge de Castille. Chris Fearne and Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar were also present for the meeting.

This newsroom was told that Muscat did much of the talking during the meeting, and that he was in favour of granting Steward its requests.

This newsroom tried to contact Joseph Muscat yesterday to ask why he had attended the meeting, and in what capacity, but our calls went to voicemail.

The Malta Independent on Sunday is also informed that Fearne, who pronounced himself against the company’s requests, informed his fellow ministers about the Steward meeting during a Cabinet meeting held the following day.

One minister said Fearne told his colleagues to feel free to sign a new contract with Steward, adding that he would not do such a thing himself. None of the ministers took up the challenge.

Replying to questions by this newspaper, a spokesman for PM Robert Abela confirmed that the meeting had taken place and that Dr Muscat was present. The OPM, however, failed to answer most of the questions sent.

The Malta Independent asked the OPM to confirm that Steward Healthcare had fallen behind on their deliverables and that the company is requesting additional government funding. We asked what the sum being requested is. We also asked the OPM to confirm whether Joseph Muscat took part in the meeting and what his role there was. 

PM Abela’s spokesperson said that, “Discussions with Steward Healthcare have been ongoing for months as a result of Malta’s strategic partnership with them.” 

“Mr Chris Fearne and Dr Joseph Muscat introduced a Steward Healthcare representative to Dr Abela as part of the briefing process the new Prime Minister is receiving to adjourn himself on pending work in various sectors. A member of the public administration was also present.”

File photo: Muscat with Steward President Armin Ernst in Boston

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