The Malta Independent 25 June 2024, Tuesday
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TMIS Editorial: We’re fiddling while Malta is burning

Sunday, 21 May 2023, 10:00 Last update: about 2 years ago

Nearly three months after the landmark judgment by which three hospitals were returned to public property after a judge rescinded a deal for their privatisation, the snowball that started rolling has continued to grow and over the past days reached extraordinary proportions.

And the end is nowhere near.

The first few weeks following the ruling saw the government and Steward Healthcare Malta going head to head in battle, while the Opposition cried foul and never lost a moment to speak about what the judge had described as a “fraudulent” deal, going as far as holding protests in the streets. On a political level, it was a deep blow to the Labour Party while, at the same time, it was a lifeline for the Nationalist Party, which had triggered the succession of events via the legal action that was taken by its former leader Adrian Delia, and which he continued to pursue with the support of his successor Bernard Grech.

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We had the Prime Minister ordering the Auditor General to investigate the money the government had passed on to Steward with the aim of taking all necessary action “to recover those payments that were affected and for which it is found that … their value in medical services and related services and investment” was not received. This money, it must be remembered, was given in yearly budgets which the government always voted in favour of, while the Opposition continued to insist on how “€400 million were squandered”. So far, no legal action has been instituted by the government to recover this money.

The annulment of the hospitals deal was never far from public attention since that fateful 24 February, the day when Mr Justice Francesco Depasquale delivered the judgment, but it garnered heavy attention again this week.

On Monday, in the third and final part of its audit into the deal, the National Audit Office said that former Minister Konrad Mizzi misled the Cabinet and engineered the side agreement that obliged the government to pay Steward €100 million if the hospitals contract was terminated. It was revealed that, in total, the government had paid €456 million to Vitals, the original concessionaires, and Steward, who took over, between 2016 and 2021. Mizzi described the report as “pure conjecture”.

There followed, two days later, more revelations in articles that were published by Times of Malta and The Shift, in collaboration with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which led to further developments such as calls for arrests, information provided by a whistle-blower that was presented in the courts of law by the Nationalist Party and former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat seeking the recusal of Magistrate Gabriella Vella from continuing her inquiry into the hospitals deal, which she started four years ago.

Amid all this, we had the Prime Minister accusing the Opposition of “political terrorism” – a very strong term with which Robert Abela tried to spin the story in his own favour, when he knows all too well that it is very damaging to his own party, including to himself, as the government continued to pump taxpayers’ money into the hospitals’ deal after Abela took over from Muscat in 2020.

For his part, Opposition Leader Bernard Grech adamantly insisted that the police and the Attorney General do their work, as he expressed his anger that the country’s institutions are not doing their duties as they should.

This story will not go away anytime soon. And no matter how much the government, the Labour Party, and the media supporting it try to minimise the impact and try to put the blame elsewhere, the hospitals’ deal was a wrong decision from day one.

The sad part of it all is that the “everything goes” (xejn mhu xejn) mentality is so ingrained in our society – and this is something that has been the hallmark of Labour’s tenure in the past 10 years – that a reality show on television has garnered more attention among the general population, when the real bombshells were elsewhere.

The expression “Nero fiddles while Rome is burning” fits in perfectly with the state of affairs in this country of ours. Labour has been clever enough to develop this kind of outlook, instilling a sense of contentedness via tax refunds and whatnot while hiding all its faults – big and small.

The Nationalist Party, as is its duty, is trying its utmost to push the government against the wall, but after so many years of difficulties, its voice is still to gather the strength it needs to be truly effective.

There is then a small group, which includes NGOs like Repubblika and the independent media, that is interested in uncovering the truth. They are all fighting an uphill battle against power.

The rest fiddle while Malta burns.

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