The Malta Independent 15 August 2020, Saturday

OPM mum over who negotiated VGH MoU on government’s behalf

Kevin Schembri Orland Saturday, 1 August 2020, 09:26 Last update: about 14 days ago

The Office of the Prime Minister has refused to say whether the Prime Minister knows or will reveal who negotiated the highly controversial Vitals Global Healthcare Memorandum of Understanding on government’s behalf.

The National Audit Office (NAO) declared recently that the once missing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the government and Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) investors "strongly supports" its conclusion that the tender process was "staged and deceitful". The MoU had been signed prior to the Request for Proposals for the hospitals deal being issued.

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Following the NAO’s addendum to its report, focusing on the MoU, came a series of denials by people who many thought were involved in the negotiation process.

Former Health Minister Konrad Mizzi had denied signing the MoU or having access to it prior to it being published.

The National Audit Office had noted that former Economy Minister Chris Cardona had signed the MoU on the government’s behalf; however the minister denied being involved in the negotiations. “The (then) Minister for the Economy maintained he was not involved in the formulation of the project or in any negotiations leading to the MoU or negotiations held after entry thereto,” the NAO’s addendum to its original report, addressing the MoU, read.

Next came former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri. The NAO noted that a meeting with the investors was convened at the Office of the Prime Minister, before the MoU was signed, by the Chief of Staff of the then-Prime Minister, Keith Schembri. This was stated to the NAO by Malta Enterprise's Principal Chief Officer, who said that Malta Enterprise was not involved in the identification of the investors for the project.

In addition, the NAO’s addendum report read that: “Central to the line of inquiry of the NAO was why Government elected to transact with the particular Investors (who signed the MoU). This Office sought to determine how the parties that were to be entrusted with the project indicated in the MoU were identified. The Minister for the Economy maintained that he was not aware of how the Investors were identified and insisted that he was not involved in negotiations held prior to the MoU. The Principal Chief Officer Malta Enterprise informed the NAO that the Investors had approached Government with their proposal; however, he could only provide limited information as neither he, nor Malta Enterprise, were involved first hand. Notwithstanding this, the Chief Principal Officer specifically cited the role played by the former Chief of Staff OPM.”

Keith Schembri issued a statement after the report was published, saying that he did not negotiate the MoU, did not sign it, did not write it and had no involvement in it. He said that the person responsible on the part of Malta Enterprise was Mario Galea (the former CEO) and that he does not know who else was involved. Schembri said that his only involvement was on the request of the Economy ministry and Malta Enterprise to provide a room at Castille for the MoU to be signed, and that was it.

Mario Galea then issued his own statement. He said that “Malta Enterprise’s (ME) role in the whole matter was to ensure that the provisions of the contract between Government and Barts (for which ME acted as a focal point)  were to be transposed in the obligations of Vitals or whoever  runs the Gozo Hospital.  This was my input to the MOU in question.” Galea denied ever being involved in the ensuing hospitals deal, except for Barts Medical school, as such matters “were neither in the remit nor in the competences of Malta Enterprise.”

Furthermore, Galea “categorically and strongly denied” that he was involved in any negotiations prior to the signing of the MOU and/or negotiated the MOU itself “except for what I have stated in the point above.”

This left many questions in terms of who negotiated the MoU. This newsroom asked the Prime Minister whether he knows who negotiated the MOU on behalf of the government and if yes, to reveal who it was. He was also asked whether he will now move to cancel the Steward Healthcare deal given the NAO report, and whether he will move to remove Joseph Muscat from the Parliamentary Group as a result of the NAO report.

The Office of the Prime Minister did not answer the questions, instead only saying: “The government is fully cooperating with the NAO to the extent that the scrutiny on the addendum to the report was possible after the Government has submitted the Memorandum of understanding.

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