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Opinion: The Republic Is In Crisis… And Robert Abela Responds By Showing Us His Workout And Lunch

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It was a matter of time before the Hospitals inquiry was leaked. Yesterday, thanks to MaltaToday, we were all able to read, in excruciating detail, 1,200 pages of acts of corruption that, just a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Robert Abela told us we need not worry about. Turns out we should be worried. And angry. 

The sheer breadth of the magistrate’s report is impressive, and the implications are proportionately grave. Not only does the inquiry continue to confirm (as though this were necessary) the dire state of the country’s democracy and the depths to which the Republic’s civil service and executive have been compromised, but it is also a damning indictment of a considerable segment of Malta’s professional classes.

Page after page, company after company, dozens of professionals and civil servants, the report details a veritable tasting board of white-collar crimes. Such is the extent of the corruption uncovered that the document merits reading like a Tolkien or George R R Martin epic – with a pen and notepad to keep track of the complicated backstories, supporting characters and ecosystem of villains and sidekicks.

The Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) concession was meant to be a public-private partnership aimed at developing, maintaining, managing, and operating three hospitals in Malta: St. Luke’s Hospital, Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital, and Gozo General Hospital. Except it wasn’t. It was always intended – the inquiry suggests – to be a scam. Stillborn, or perhaps more accurately, born of evil.

In June 2015, the government granted a concession to VGH, a group of companies entirely owned by Bluestone Investments Malta Limited – a company with no operational experience in the healthcare space. The Service Concession Agreement and related contracts were signed between November 2015 and March 2016.

The expected initial investment by VGH was of around €220 million, primarily for construction costs. However, the National Audit Office had already reported that key contractual milestones were not met by as early as late 2017.

The inquiry details incontrovertible evidence of fraud and collusion between VGH and a plurality of senior government officials, facilitated by an array of lawyers and accountants and paid for by the taxpayer. 

It is also now all too clear why Joseph Muscat wanted to get ahead of the story. Rather than the accusations again him being so few that “they could fit into an envelope”, as he claimed, his name actually appears on 126 pages – 10% of the whole body of the inquiry.

Mismanagement and inefficiency were rampant, with VGH failing to meet major concession deadlines and misusing funds. But the inquiry does not stop there.  Manifest financial misconduct is also prevalent, with significant public funds being misappropriated through fraudulent VAT refund claims and complex offshore structures involving entities based in shady jurisdictions like Tunisia, Jersey, Switzerland and Dubai. There are extensive attempts to conceal the fact that several key players were known fraudsters  – it is an omnishambles of leadership, government and a dark day for the “professions” that service them.

No proper due diligence was conducted on VGH, its stakeholders, its executives or its backers, and concerns about the financial stability and credibility of the individuals and companies involved were ignored repeatedly.

The mismanagement of the concession severely impacted healthcare services in Malta, with delayed and poorly executed projects undermining the quality of healthcare delivered to the public. Elected officials with the power to halt the abuse appear either to be on the take, or to have wilfully turned a blind eye.

The nature of the inquiry and the active role played by the Maltese government and civil service must send shockwaves across the country and compel any sane politician to, at the very least, apologise to the country. But apologies won’t cut it.

A more reasonable reaction would be for the Prime Minister and his government to resign and for a general election to be held. Any candidate’s manifesto should include a detailed proposal for recovery of amounts lost to this graft and a clear commitment to bringing the exponents to task criminally if need be. To abdicate this responsibility is to leave the Republic to the dogs.

Of course, we know better than to expect anything of the sort from our Prime Minister-turned-Defence Attorney.

How does he react?

With a painful and vain 10-minute “day in the life of Robert Abela” campaign video that features him grinning like a madman, and which tells us nothing other than that he is clearly delusional, likes wearing shorts and is apparently unaware of the fact that you’re not meant to cut open your bag of frozen peas with the same knife you used for raw chicken. Welcome to the Upside Down, folks.

In a moment that called for humility, accountability and leadership, Prime Minister Robert Abela prioritised himself and his party. Or should we say his clients? Hard to tell, really.

The video, presumably intended to humanise and endear him to the public and filled with pathetic attempts to sound humble, only serves to highlight how out of touch he is, and how ill-equipped he is to contend with the gravity of the situation. For shame.

Lovin Malta is open to interesting, compelling guest posts from third parties. These opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of the company. Submit your piece at [email protected]

READ NEXT: 9 Things Robert Abela Told Us After The Inquiry Was Published

Yannick joined Lovin Malta in March 2021 having started out in journalism in 2016. He is passionate about politics and the way our society is governed, and anything to do with numbers and graphs. He likes dogs more than he does people.

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