The Malta Independent 2 April 2020, Thursday

PM Robert Abela leaves all options open in Steward deal renegotiation

Monday, 27 January 2020, 12:12 Last update: about 3 months ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela says he is leaving all options open as the government renegotiates a deal with Steward Healthcare on the privatisation of three Maltese public hospitals.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Abela said he is doing a thorough stocktake of the situation. He said that he is open to all situations and does not exclude anything at this stage, including Steward’s withdrawal or that of the government.

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He described the meeting, which was facilitated by his predecessor Joseph Muscat, as an “introductory rendezvous” with Steward.

“Joseph Muscat, together with Chris Fearne, introduced me to them. There was an introductory meeting that only lasted for a few minutes… there might be negotiations to revisit the contract, there might be various changes, whether the contract will remain in place, whether it will be revoked by government or by Steward or whether the conditions of said contract will be renegotiated,” Abela said.

The Malta Independent reported yesterday that Muscat, who resigned on 13 January, accompanied Steward Healthcare International’s president Armin Ernst for a meeting with Abela and Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne.

The US-based company acquired the 30-year concession offered by the government to the hitherto-unknown Vitals Healthcare Group, for an undisclosed sum. Malta is Steward’s first international expansion.

Abela said that Muscat had not represented Steward in any way when he facilitated the meeting with his successor and the healthcare giant.

“It’s not true that Joseph Muscat was representing Steward because otherwise I would not have accepted to be present for that meeting… I don’t feel comfortable with someone who was prime minister and now a backbencher being present for a meeting of this kind… in fact, he wasn’t… his involvement was simply as a way of introducing me,” Abela said. 

The original deal signed with Vitals Global Healthcare was to have an investment of about €250 million in the first years of the concession agreement by building state-of-the-art facilities at the three hospitals – Gozo general hospital, Karen Grech and St Luke’s.

Little of that investment was ever managed by VGH after folding in 2017, when it failed to obtain financing from international banking institutions, and selling the concession to Steward.

 

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