The Malta Independent 20 April 2024, Saturday
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Government will seek reimbursement from Steward for funds that should have been used for investment

Sunday, 12 March 2023, 12:45 Last update: about 2 years ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Sunday that the government will seek reimbursement from Steward Health Care for funds given to it for investments that didn’t materialise.

During an interview on Labour Party media, Abela addressed the recent hospitals judgement and the Opposition's motion which calls on Parliament to condemn the now annulled deal which saw three hospitals given by concession to Vitals Global Healthcare and then Steward Health Care and to oblige the Prime Minister to take any action necessary to recover what was paid to the concessionaires. The motion is set to be debated in Parliament this Thursday.

The court, Abela said, annulled four agreements signed in 2015 and 2016, and the agreements tied to them. "It is a fact that from 2020 forward, Steward approached the government a number of times asking to amend the concession. The first thing I did was undertake a stocktaking exercise to examine what the facts were, the agreements and the legal consequences of the signed agreements. We explored every scenario. We discussed with everyone involved," he said. The final decision he took, he said, was to say no to amending the concession. "That was the definitive answer given after exploring all scenarios" which he said was spurred on by one element, "the national interest."

This week the appeal period for the court judgement comes to a close, Abela said. If an appeal is filed by Steward Health Care, the first thing the government will do is ask the court hear the case with urgency, he added.

"The first assurance I will give the people is that I will be very firm with Steward, as I was firm over the past three years," he said.

He said that the government, over the period that the concession has been in operation, paid an amount of money to Steward Health Care. Steward Health Care, on its part, provided a range of medical services at Karin Grech Hospital and at the Gozo General Hospital - such as operations, provision of workers, he said. "There were funds paid and services provided." But, he said, where the government paid funds, and Steward didn't honour its obligations that it had to carry out with the payment of those funds, the government will demand a refund. The refund the government will demand would be regarding payments made for investments which the company was obliged to make but didn't, or services which the company was obliged to offer but didn't. He said that the government will be firm with Steward.

He said that he is crystalizing this principle today, but said that the appeals period is still in effect and if an appeal is filed, it would need to be decided upon.

Abela also said that on Friday, he met with the health sector unions, and it was an open discussion "on what we see as a vision in the healthcare sector."

The Prime Minister also spoke about the upcoming licensing for contractors, which Cabinet approved recently. He said that there will be a public consultation on it.

He stressed that current legislative frameworks address failings in the sector. But now, Abela added, the government will introduce a new principle, where those working in demolition, excavation and construction would need to be licensed.

The thought behind this, he said, is not only for there to be more regulation, but to raise standards. Those who don't meet the standards and don't have a license won't be able to operate, he said.

In the past, the practice was for people to buy construction machinery, hire people and start construction works, Abela said. "That practice will stop."

He said that the licensing will mean "time up" for everyone who believes that they can operate in this sector while breaching regulations. "Everyone who doesn't satisfy license criteria, and so are not given a licence, cannot operate. Secondly, those who don't operate according to the terms of their licence could face fines or a suspension of their license. A suspension of license means that they cannot operate," he said, adding that they could also face the revocation of their license.


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