The Malta Independent 9 August 2020, Sunday

TMID Editorial: NAO report – No more dragging of feet

Friday, 10 July 2020, 09:12 Last update: about 30 days ago

The deal reached by the government, under the leadership of Joseph Muscat and with Konrad Mizzi as minister responsible for health, this week was fiercely attacked by the National Audit Office in a report that spoke about “collusion”, “shortcomings” and “lacking in terms of critical analysis”.

These are just some of the points that were listed by the NAO on a deal that, as soon as it was signed, raised so many doubts. Since then, and in spite of assurances that the government – and again, we insist, with Muscat and Mizzi still in their posts – had done its best to seal an agreement in the best interests of the country, the deal remained high on the political agenda as concern mounted.

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The agreement saw the transfer of three public hospitals – St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo General – to the private sector. But the circumstances leading to the signing remained murky, with the Opposition Leader Adrian Delia going as far as to file a court case in a bid to give back the hospitals to the public.

It was really ironic that the NAO report, which confirmed the validity of the arguments raised by Delia in court and in public speeches, came just hours before the PN leader lost a vote of confidence called by his own parliamentary group. On a day the PN should have celebrated a political victory over the government, it was busy dealing with in-fighting that has been a characteristic of Delia’s three-year leadership.

But this should not take away the spotlight from the NAO report. Because now we know much more and, given the independency of the institution that compiled the report, it should not be brushed aside as if nothing happened.

We know, for example, that the parliamentary secretary for health at the time the agreement was signed, Chris Fearne, was not kept in the loop on what was taking place on a matter that he should have been informed about. For his part, Mizzi insists that the decision was taken by the entire Cabinet. The government defended itself by saying that responsibility had already been shouldered with the sacking of Mizzi. Delia feels vindicated that the NAO report is more proof “of how this filthy scandalous deal was predetermined”, as he continues to insist that the money that the taxpayers have passed on for the running of the hospitals must be returned.

The matter should not stop here. The NAO report should lead to a serious investigation into all the points that were raised. The contract that was signed – since then, the responsibility of the hospitals has been passed on the Steward Healthcare – needs to be thoroughly looked at. Prime Minister Robert Abela cannot simply say he would have done things differently and stop there.

Both the Medical Association of Malta and the UHM Voice of the Workers, apart from Delia, have also called for the agreement to be revoked.

Soon after taking over as head of government, Robert Abela had said that the hospitals deal will be assessed and any necessary decisions taken. Six months have passed since then, but nothing has been done. The NAO report should serve as a further push for the government to make up its mind on this issue. It cannot keep on dragging its feet.

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