It’s been six weeks since Lovin Malta exposed Shadow Health Minister Stephen Spiteri’s racket of dodgy medical certificates. And yet, some people still fail to understand the seriousness of this case. This is not about a doctor who went out of his way to help a patient or a constituent with a medical certificate when they were not that sick. This is an organised and illegal for-profit practice, the extent of which can only be determined by a timely and proper investigation by the right authorities.
Here are just a few reasons you should be raging about the fact that he’s still getting away with what he did.
1. Stephen Spiteri did not help out a patient in a one-off case. He gave out certificates on an industrial scale to people he didn’t even know.
The recording by Lovin Malta is crystal clear. You can go to the pharmacy, write your details on a paper and pick up a signed certificate for €5 the next day. This is not the same as a doctor helping out a patient he has known for many years. This is a money-making scheme designed to meet a demand from cheats to defraud the system.
2. This is a criminal offence that carries up to three years imprisonment.
That’s right. Medical certificates are official documents intended for a public authority, specifically the Department of Social Services, which means making false declarations on them is a crime worth up to three years jail. Back in 2011, Magistrate Antonio Micallef Trigona delivered a judgment in the case of a doctor and his patient over medical certificates under Article 185 and 188 of the Criminal Code. The doctor died during proceedings so could he not be sentenced but the patient was fined €1,000.
So if you’re making false declarations in a medical certificate, you’re liable criminally. And in Spiteri’s case, he has no way of even knowing how many times his certificates were used fraudulently.
3. He is the Nationalist Party’s health spokesman: the first in line to become Health Minister.
The case is already problematic if Spiteri was just an ordinary doctor. But he’s also a Member of Parliament and the chosen one to speak on behalf of the Opposition when it comes to health. If PN were to get elected to government, he would be Health Minister of a government he is helping to defraud. Surely this is unacceptable.
4. He didn’t do this out of the goodness of his heart. He did it to make money.
A medical certificate worth €5 may seem like a small sum of money. But remember when the receptionist said he had so many certificates to sign every day that patients could only pick them up the next evening?
How many is “many”?
If it’s 15 certificates per day, Spiteri could have been earning €23,400, which is more than he makes as an MP. If it’s 50, the number shoots up to €78,000.
To make matter worse, these are proceeds of a crime, which begs the question: was the money declared?
5. And this is not the first time Stephen Spiteri has only thought about money.
Back in 2011, Spiteri was found to have missed 81% of parliamentary sittings, becoming the MP with the worst record of attendance. Back then he had defended himself by saying: “I cannot afford to climb all those stairs (the Palace staircase leading to the House of Representatives) just for two minutes to say ‘hello’ and leave. During that time I can do more important things: be it politics, my medical profession or other things.”
He had also said he planned to sacrifice more of his day job to his parliamentary duties when he learnt that MPs were going to be getting a substantial pay rise. “But considering the present pay, I can’t sustain myself with those amounts.”
Spiteri’s parliamentary record improved drastically since Parliament introduced fines for absenteeism. He hasn’t missed a single session this legislature.
6. These aren’t allegations. He was caught red-handed.
It’s one thing to downplay a serious political scandal when there isn’t enough proof. But in this case, it cannot be more clear. The only alternative is that his receptionist was working on her own initiative falsifying certificates and forging Spiteri’s signature. In this case, she would have been fired, reported and investigated by now.
7. Despite the phone call, Spiteri flatly denies the story without giving any explanation.
What is he suggesting? That people are imagining the call?
8. He’s even denying that the Medical Council is investigating him.
Stephen Spiteri claimed he wasn’t being investigated by the Medical Council even though the council said otherwise. Needless to say, these investigations could result in serious repurcussions, including loss of warrant. And according to law, proceedings are public.
9. The government and the Nationalist Party are conspicuous by their silence…
Remember the crusade by the Nationalist Party against ophthalmologist Franco Mercieca for continuing operations while being a minister in breach of the Code of Ethics? No such criticism in this case even though we’re dealing with a potential criminal offence instead of a breach to a code of ethics.
The government’s front is also eerily silent. The only person to speak out was Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who last week came under fire over a failed major health investment by the name of Vitals. Muscat decided to fight back in the only way Maltese politicians seem to know how: pointing fingers at others who did ‘worse’.
“We are ready to speak about this deal in Parliament, but I can’t help but laugh and smile that the criticism is coming from a person who has been accused of selling medical certificates over the telephone,” Muscat said.
Meanwhile, the Health Minister, who is politically responsible for the Medical Council, has remained silent. Perhaps he’s under too much pressure from Labour constituents who used to enjoy the service provided by Spiteri…