The Malta Independent 14 April 2021, Wednesday

Mizzi, OPM were holding parallel talks with Steward Health Care behind Fearne’s back, court hears

Monday, 1 March 2021, 15:42 Last update: about 2 months ago

Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne said in court today that Steward Healthcare was holding parallel talks with Konrad Mizzi as well as with the Office of the Prime Minister without his knowledge, while he was also holding negotiations with them. 

Fearne told the court how he was not happy when he had found out. He said that Steward were of the view that the health ministry was interpreting parts of concession rigorously to withhold certain payments. He said that he learnt that they were also talking to Mizzi and OPM, while at the same time he was in talks with them. He said he drafted a memo about this, but then Mizzi resigned. 

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Fearne was testifying in the court case instituted by former Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia. In 2018, Delia had filed a court case against the government and Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) asking for the contract to be cancelled and the three hospitals to be returned to the public. 

Fearne today took the stand. He was asked whether he was involved in or knew about the Memorandum of Understanding signed with Vitals Global Healthcare, to which he said that  he wasn’t involved and didn’t know about it. He said he asked Konrad Mizzi about it, and that he later found out that the MoU was rescinded. 

Fearne also recalled someone telling him that it wasn’t unusual for Malta Enterprise to sign an MOU before deciding how to proceed. 

Fearne said that the Request for Proposals (RfP) deal made sense on paper, especially due to the state of the Gozo health system at the time. 

He said that the concessionaire was picked by Projects Malta. 

During the sitting, Fearne argued that healthcare standards improved in Gozo, when asked whether milestones were achieved, but added that after the elections in 2017 he was not happy with the project’s progress. 

During his testimony, Fearne highlighted the amount of ‘significant’ work that was required at St Luke’s Hospital, adding that several permits are needed. 

Fearne was also asked who was meant to finance the projects that were part of the deal, to which he replied VGH. 

Adrian Delia asked Fearne to confirm whether VGH spent €15 million on structural expenses, as was stated in their accounts. Fearne was not in a position to confirm, and said that they are verifying the amount. 

Fearne was asked about the stage of the projects. He said that plans for the Gozo Hospital were filed over a year ago, and plans for St Luke’s were also filed. 

He said that the €100m side letter was signed by Konrad Mizzi in August 2019. This refers to the agreement that government accepted that it would need to pay a termination fee of €100 million, if for whatever reason the concession is rescinded.  

Delia here said that Mizzi was not in charge of health at that stage. Fearne said that things were happening which he didn’t know about, and was going to table a memo saying that either everything is under the health ministry, or nothing at all. Then, however, Mizzi resigned.

 

 

 

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