The Malta Independent 8 August 2020, Saturday

Steward Healthcare used government money for wages, consumables – Scicluna

Wednesday, 26 February 2020, 17:18 Last update: about 6 months ago

Steward Health Care used the money given to them by the government as part of a concession for the operation of three hospitals for recurring expenses such as wages and consumables, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna said in Parliament on Wednesday.

Asked by PN MP Jason Azzopardi about whether his Ministry had taken action for this “obscene contract” to be reversed after news emerged that Ram Tumuluri – the one-time CEO of Vitals Global Healthcare, who first had the concession – had paid himself a €5 million bonus.

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MaltaToday reported on Wednesday that Tumuluri had taken the bonus in 2017, while his company floundered and amassed huge debts.  Vitals Global Healthcare won the 30 year concession for the operation of St. Luke’s Hospital, Karin Grech Hospital, and the Gozo General Hospital in 2015, but shifted it off to Steward Healthcare in 2018 after the company found financial difficulties.

Scicluna said that Azzopardi should know full well that ministries can go through the public procurement process without needing to go through the Finance Ministry, noting that this legislation was implemented by the PN in government.

He said therefore that it is nothing major for him to say that he had never met Ram Tumuluri, noting that everything to do with the concession was signed and handled by Projects Malta.

“In the present, what we can say is that Steward published their audited accounts where it is clear that the major part – almost 100% - of the money which we approved in parliament is used for salaries and consumables which the government was going to spend on in any case”, Scicluna said.

He said he would not intervene if the company decides to give a €5 million bonus to its director.  He noted that the money that the government gave them is going to wages and consumables, and whether they are making a loss is “their affair” to deal with.

“What I don’t agree with is for the government to break an agreement and end up having to go to court and lose a lot of money”, Scicluna said.

PN MP Karol Aquilina tried to get a clearer answer out of the Finance Miniser, asking whether he agrees that the contract should be cancelled and that the hospitals be given back to the Maltese people – but Scicluna was not inclined to add any further comment, noting that he felt that he had made himself clear.

The 30-year concession for the three hospitals continues to be a controversy, with Steward Healthcare making public their hope for more money from the government to operate the hospitals.

Many however have argued that the contract itself, initially granted to Vitals Global Healthcare, was designed to fail – with Opposition Leader Adrian Delia leading this charge, having demanded more than once in recent days that the contract is stopped immediately.

Scicluna and former Ministers Chris Cardona and Konrad Mizzi, the latter having spearheaded the deal, are currently subject to a criminal inquiry in relation with the concession.

 

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