Disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi scrambled to bring Steward Global Healthcare on board to save a floundering hospitals deal he orchestrated, dishing out dubious arrangements along the way.
Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne has confirmed in court that Mizzi was the one to lead the takeover, with Vitals Global Healthcare leaving a €36 million debt and broken promises just 21 months into operations.
VGH was chosen as the preferred bidder for a concession operating the Gozo General Hospital, St Luke’s Hospital and Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital in 2015. There have long been allegations of major corruption in the deal, with the National Audit Office finding evidence of collusion.
Mizzi, who was the Minister for Public-Private Partnerships from 2013 till his resignation in 2019, led the VGH project from the start. Its murky ownership structure, flawed bidding process, and a memorandum of understanding signed months before the deal was initially announced still raises questions.
VGH was set to pocket more than €2.1 billion over 30 years for the concession, with the existing content of the hospitals including expensive medical equipment being passed on for practically free.
The unredacted contract revealed that taxpayers were paying VGH around €188,000 a day (€70 million a year) to provide hospital beds to the state, €1.2 million a year for the Barts medical school, and a further €1 million for a helicopter service.
VGH failed to deliver on all counts, with Mizzi rushing to bring Steward on board.
Steward Healthcare was given certain assurances by the government, namely Mizzi and former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, when they were brought in to save the failing concession.
This included a massive €100 million buyout should the concession be rescinded and a secret €8 million bank guarantee (which has since been waived).
This is not the first time Mizzi has signed dubious agreements. A guarantee he dished out to Air Malta pilots for the same pay if they are made redundant creating major stumbling blocks in a dispute between the airline and its employees.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the VGH/Steward issue threatened to come to a halt after the new concessionaire called for an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Robert Abela over the state’s failure to cough up some €18 million in due reimbursements.
“We must see what’s best for the public – whether to continue with this deal, whether to amend it or whether to scrap it and the ancillary agreements,” he said in March.
Discussions were put on the back burner, but with a damning NAO report and an independent committee examining the deal as well as a court case instituted by Opposition leader Adrian Delia, the issue is not going to go away.
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