The Malta Independent 8 April 2020, Wednesday

NAO says ‘every effort’ being made to conclude audit on Steward hospitals’ deal

Tuesday, 25 February 2020, 13:46 Last update: about 2 months ago

The National Audit Office said it is making “every effort” to conclude an audit into the deal regarding the handing over of three public hospitals to the private sector.

It was referring to the deal reached by the government for the transfer of Karen Grech, St Luke’s and Gozo General Hospital to Vitals, which was then passed on to Steward Healthcare Group.

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The deal has come under fire from the Opposition which is seeking legal means via which the hospitals are returned to the public.

In a right of reply to a story carried last Sunday, the NAO said that while acknowledging the challenging and time consuming tasks involved, every effort is being made by the NAO to conclude this assignment as early as possible.

The reply is in full below:

Reference is made to the articleSteward wants to purchase the three state hospitals, or get paid more for concession deal carried in The Malta Independent on Sunday, particularly the last paragraph thereof.

By way of brief background information, this audit was mandated to our Office by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in November 2016.  Obviously, the section which deals with such special audits was at the time dealing with various other assignments mandated by the PAC, particularly the extremely complex Electrogas audit which this Office eventually issued in November 2018.  To put things in their proper perspective, it is relevant to point out that during 2015 alone the National Audit Office received no less than 17 requests for audits.

The audit on the Vitals agreement is no exception in so far as complexity is involved; indeed, like the Electogas audit, this assignment is likewise very broad in scope necessitating, amongst other tasks, the laborious scrutiny of various agreements related to the medical sector.  Whilst acknowledging the challenging and time consuming tasks involved, every effort is being made by the NAO to conclude this assignment as early as possible.

It is pertinent to point out that requests for audits given to our Office by the PAC are only but a portion of the extensive work undertaken by the National Audit Office during the year. Hence, the resources allocated to the respective section are proportionate in this respect.  As clearly shown on the NAO’s website (http://nao.gov.mt/ ), in addition to such PAC originated audits and our annual statutory obligations, we have also conducted a considerable number of financial and compliance, performance and IT audits involving a significant number of Government departments and entities.

This is in line with our Constitutional mandate which essentially puts on our Office the responsibility to provide, essentially through our various audits, assurance to Parliament, and consequently to our citizens, that public funds are being used in an effective and efficient manner and in accordance with prevailing rules and regulations. This duly reflects the mandate of practically all other national audit institutions, like ours, within the European Union.

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