The Malta Independent 6 June 2023, Tuesday
View E-Paper

TMID Editorial: Fool me once shame on me, fool me twice…

Friday, 10 March 2023, 10:42 Last update: about 4 months ago

You would have to have been living under a rock to have missed the news concerning the court’s decision to annul the government’s concession to sell off three state hospitals to the private sector.

Last month, a court ruled that the three hospitals that were being managed by Steward Health Care are to be returned under government control. Former Opposition Leader Adrian Delia won the court case against the 99-year emphyteutical concession agreement awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare, later Steward, on 24 February.

The court nullified all three contracts awarded to Vitals and Steward in a damning ruling suggesting that there had been “fraudulent and possibly criminal behaviour” in the deal.

The hospitals involved in the agreement were, St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo General Hospitals.

This judgement came after the National Audit Office had, almost three years ago, found that the whole process to award the concession for the hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare in the first place was “vitiated” and was “predetermined” to be awarded to the company – a company which had absolutely no background whatsoever in the health industry.

The deal becomes even worse when one considers that almost €400 million in public money – money which we all pay in taxes – was paid to Vitals and Steward as part of the deal, and that neither of the concessionaires made much impact when compared to the obligations laid out in the concession agreement.

This whole concession has been one of the Labour government’s greatest and most monumental failures, and it now has to contend with what should be the obligation to fight to get back the money paid to the concessionaires for a deal which the courts have said was a fraud.

So imagine the surprise when, given all this, Prime Minister Robert Abela suggested that handing the hospitals back to the private sector under a new concession agreement was not off the table.

“Whether there should be a concession agreement for the three hospitals, separate concessions, or if the government should administer everything, these are ongoing discussions taking place so that the government can implement its vision for the three hospitals,” Abela told journalists on Wednesday.

This is not to say that a concession with the private sector is necessarily a bad idea – but there should also be a certain degree of presence of mind to accept that absolutely everything – from start to finish – in the concession which just got annulled was mired in allegations of fraud or corruption.

It should also be noted that Steward itself is not a company – like Vitals was – which has no experience in the healthcare industry.  And yet even they failed miserably to satisfy the conditions of the concession agreement.

If the government truly wants to improve the situation at the three hospitals then the best way to go about it is by doing that itself – preferably using the money which was paid to Vitals and Steward in the first place.

Given that the first attempt at moving the hospitals on to the private sector via a concession was such an abject failure, it’s probably time to bite the bullet and admit that this is unlikely to be the best way forward a second time.

  • don't miss