The Malta Independent 6 December 2023, Wednesday
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Hospitals deal: 'If we were in a normal country, heads would have rolled' – Beppe Fenech Adami

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 19 November 2023, 08:00 Last update: about 16 days ago

If Malta were a normal country, “heads would have rolled” over the hospitals deal, PN MP Beppe Fenech Adami told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

In February, the Civil Court annulled a deal which gave a private operator control over three of Malta's hospitals. The hospitals were originally handed over to Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) to operate in 2015. The concession was passed on to Steward Health Care in 2018. An appeal against the judgement filed by Steward Health Care was dismissed by the Court in October, although an amendment to the February judgement was made for the costs of the case to be shared by the Government and Steward Health Care, and not borne by the private company alone. The original court judgement had mentioned fraud, while the judges on the Court of Appeal then mentioned collusion.


Answering a question about the hospitals deal, as to how he views the government’s actions following the February court judgement, Fenech Adami said: “Government wants people to forget about the hospitals deal court judgement, and it is up to us not to let this happen. I am sure that Robert Abela and Cabinet understand that the judgements, particularly by the Appeals’ court, condemned the whole lot of them. If we were in a normal country, heads would have rolled,” he said, in reference to politicians who were involved in the deal. “However, this is not a normal country.” He said that the hospitals deal will continue to haunt the government.

Asked about the PN's decision to file a judicial protest against the State Advocate, Attorney General and Police Commissioner to take action against those "who had defrauded the Maltese people,” and whether this was the right way to try and get them to take action, he said that legal route is the route that is available.

There is also the political route, he said, "and the PN also has an obligation to pursue a political route on the matter, in the sense that as the party in Opposition we have an obligation to keep insisting that what was stolen from the people is retrieved,” he said. “That can also be done through political decisions that have to be taken," he said, mentioning keeping up the pressure as an example. "Government will not want to talk about it. The Budget speech hardly referred to it. The Health Minister hardly referred to the matter in his Budget speech, but obviously we have a duty not to let this go,” Fenech Adami said.

Responding to other questions, he said that the judgements proved how right the PN was on the hospitals deal, "just as the PN was right on the corrupt deals that have characterised this government." He gave credit to PN MP Adrian Delia who pursued the court case. "I am sure that the people out there realise that there are a bunch of corrupt people who have stolen people's money. The result is that €400 million was spent and there is nothing to show for it."

Convergence on Foreign Affairs matters

Fenech Adami, who is the PN’s Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, was asked about the perception that Foreign Affairs is one area that the PN and PL seem to get along on.

“When we speak about foreign affairs it is very much dominated by our relationship with Europe and the European Union,” he said.

The MP agrees that there is a lot of convergence with regards to the foreign policy of the two main political parties. “There's a lot of convergence today in the sense that the Labour Party has today moved from the strong positions it had on a number of thorny foreign affairs matters such as membership in the European Union, participation in the Partnership for Peace programmes, our relationship with the Western world. I believe the convergence comes more from the fact that the Labour Party has moved towards what the Nationalist Party's position was."

The biggest distinction remaining today, he said, is that "our attitude is one based on conviction, while the Labour Party's position might be one based on convenience, especially with regards to the EU. I still feel that there are elements within the Labour Party who are not convinced about European membership," he said. "The union is a union of values, a union of aspirations, a union of solidarity, a union that believes in fundamental human rights. The EU is the institution for the rule of law. So at times I would think that the convergence there is, is one more of convenience," he said in reference to the PL.

A number of activists have written to the Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs asking for Malta to recall its ambassador in Tel Aviv. Asked for his thoughts on this, he said: "I am not sure that blocking the lines of communication is the best way forward, so I would not share the opinion that Malta should withdraw its ambassador. We have to have our ambassador who represents Malta and the country's position on this very tragic situation,” he said.

"What I've been saying since the initiation of this latest war in the Middle East, is that Malta has a duty to take a stand by condemning what happened on 7 October and also having the courage to take a stand on what is happening now in Gaza. I recently spoke in Parliament and I was clear. I don't think the politics of an eye for an eye will lead to a solution. I do not believe there should be an element of collective punishment. The Palestinians are not Hamas, Hamas are not the Palestinians. There have been civilian casualties in Gaza and numbers seem to be rising. The way forward in the interest of all is to seek a peaceful solution to the situation."

EU membership

2024 marks 20 years of Malta's membership in the European Union. 

“We have managed our membership well. We have proved all those soothsayers who were very negative about joining – who had theories that we are too small, that we wouldn't receive the funding we need, that we would not have influence in the European Union - wrong. On these aspects I think that Malta has fared brilliantly well in establishing itself as an EU member, but there are obviously sectors where I don't think we have reached the standards one would expect as a member state," he said, mentioning the institutions. 

“The biggest crisis in the country is a crisis of institutions that do not function as they should in a modern EU state,” he said, mentioning the Police Force as one example. He highlighted the issues of the rule of law and the culture of impunity and said that on these, we are lacking when it comes to reaching the "standards one would expect from a European Union member." But, he said, that does not depend on the European Union. "The biggest mistake would be to think that the EU is there to solve our internal problems. The EU sets standards and we should aim to reach them."

Turning to EU funds, he highlighted their use in projects in Malta, saying that "if it wasn't for the massive European funding in all the projects that the government boasts about, these projects would not be done."

On the issue of migration, he said it remains a "thorny issue," within the EU. "The last 20 years were characterised by the massive influx of migrants into the EU and, unfortunately to date, there is still too much internal bickering within the EU in recognising that this is an issue faced by the whole of the EU. This divide between the receiving countries and others should end."

"The EU is still in the process of negotiating the new pact on migration, which is moving slowly but on the right track."

"I can understand people's disappointment at times on matters such as migration, which remains a very controversial issue in Malta. People would have expected more, and we do expect more in terms of the EU acknowledging the extent of this reality and accepting the fundamental principle that it is an issue for the whole of the EU which should be carried by all members." 

Asked whether the new Pact on Migration goes far enough, given concerns that it might not bring about the solidarity that EU border states need, Fenech Adami said that it’s a work in progress. "It would be foolish for the EU as a bloc to think that there is one country that should face the issue alone. Going down that route is dangerous, not healthy for that country nor for the EU, and can cause tensions, as we have seen for example through the resurgence of the extreme populist right in a number of European countries as people feel the EU has not done enough. I am confident that the powers that be within the EU understand that solidarity, even with regards to the migration issue, is crucial for every coastal country, but also for the EU as a whole.”

There have been times when PN exponents were criticised for allegedly having attacked Malta abroad or for working against the country. Fenech Adami says that this is absolutely not the case. "When you criticise the actions of government, when you criticise the culture of impunity, when you criticise the lack of rule of law, you are not attacking Malta, but are doing your duty. When you criticise politicians who are not doing the right thing, you are not attacking Malta, you are criticising those politicians, be they Joseph Muscat, Robert Abela, or all those in public office who are subject to criticism."

"It is very right-wing to say that any criticism of local politicians amounts to doing harm to Malta. I don't abide by that school of thought."

2024 EU Parliament elections

The European Parliament elections are set to be held in 2024. Asked whether he believes gaining a third MEP set is a possibility, he believes there is a good chance that the PN could get the third seat from what the numbers showed. He said that it is a target which, if the party works hard, it can attain.  "Obviously a third seat for the PN is not by right. A third seat is something we should work for. I always say we have to do our duty, then come what may."

“But yes, in terms of numbers it is very possible that the PN could get that seat. It would very much depend on voter turnout," he said.

But recent polls have showed that, while support for the Labour Party isn’t what it was during the last general election, this has not resulted in a jump in support for the PN, despite the hospitals deal court judgements, as well as the disability benefits and the driving licence scandals. Asked whether this concerns him, he said that he is not concerned. "I am in politics to do my duty, to do my best and help the PN win the next general election (...) What is very evident today is that the floating voters are very fluid. So people are much more topic oriented," he said, adding his belief that the country isn’t as polarised as it once was.

He said that the PN is "very relevant. I am absolutely sure there will come a time when the Labour Party will lose. I am absolutely sure that the PN will win again. I am absolutely sure that if we work hard, that can even happen in the next elections. So let's do our best, do our duty and then, as my father used to say, come what may."

The first challenge, he said, is the EU parliament elections. "The party has set a target of attaining the third seat. Let’s work for the third seat. 

Role of PAC

Fenech Adami was the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee last legislature. Asked whether the PAC needs to be given more teeth, or if how it operates requires any revision, he said: "Chairing or being a PAC member is not an easy job. I was chairman for five years and I can tell you they were not the easiest five years of my life," he said, stressing the amount of preparation needed for each meeting. "People expect a lot from you and you are expected to deliver, and that is how it should be. Does the committee function the way it should? No. First of all it boils down to the fact that we are part-time politicians. There are a million and one arguments for being full-time or part-time politicians, but as a fact we are part-time politicians, so because we have limited time we have to be very selective on what reports we investigate and inquire on."

"The Auditor General publishes a number of reports, good pieces of work, and the PAC has no time to delve into, examine and inquire more about these reports," he said. "That boils down to not having the time for it." He also mentioned a lack of resources as another problem.

“Unfortunately I would say that this is the situation with our Parliament at the moment. I think we've made some steps forward but I honestly still believe that members of Parliament don't have the proper tools, the proper backup, assistance to do what is expected of them."

He is currently a member of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee which is facing a similar problem with resources too.

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