Busuttil questions who hospitals have been privatised to, warns democracy has regressed

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil questions identity of people behind Vitalis Global Healthcare, warns LNG power station deal will see Malta pay €80 million more for electricity a year than what it is currently paying

tim_diacono
Tim Diacono
28 October 2016, 10:53am
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil demanded the government come clean on the identities of the ultimate beneficaires of the company to whom the St Luke’s, Gozo and Karin Grech hospitals have been partially privatised.

Speaking during a parliamentary debate on the 2017 budget estimates for the Office of the Prime Minister, Busuttil noted that Vitals Global Healthcare – which will invest some €200 million to revamp the three hospitals - is owned by Vitals Global Healthcare. That company is in turn owned by Bluestone Investment Malta Ltd, which is itself owned by Bluestone Special Situation Four Ltd - an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands.

“We are really in a special situation here,” Busuttil quipped. “We are talking about boxes within boxes within boxes, and we still don’t know who the actual owners of our hospitals are. Are we asking too much here or do the public have a right to know who our hospitals have been sold to?”

Although the Opposition benches were packed to listen to Busuttil’s speech, only a handful of Labour MPs were present in the House; at one point, only Deborah Schembri, Joe Debono Grech and Anthony Agius Decelis were present. The fact was not lost on Busuttil, who questioned why Joseph Muscat was not physically present at Parliament to hear the debate on the financial estimates of the OPM.

In his speech, Busuttil criticised the government’s decision to replace eco-contribution on certain products with excise duties, and warned that real wages for some 70,000 workers have declined over the past year.

However, he saved his fiercest criticism for the hospital privatisation deal, the LNG power station, and the Panama Papers scandal.

Busuttil insisted that the LNG power station – that is being constructed in Delimara by the ElectroGas consoritum – will see the country pay some €80 million more a year for electricity than what it is currently paying.

“Three quarters of Malta’s electricity is currently being generated by the interconnector, at an average rate of 4.5c/kwh, whereas it will cost 9c6 from the new LNG power station,” he said. “The Prime Minsiter’s counter-argument was that the interconnector comes with additional costs like operational duties and excise duties, but since when has there been excise duties on electricity? Even if, for argument’s sake, these charges exist then why doesn’t Muscat come claen on how much they are?”

He also recounted how the captain of the LNG tanker that will dock in Marsaxlokk Bay as part of the power station project recently laughed off a question posed by PN Birzebbugia councillor Hermann Schiavone during a consultation session on the risk of a terror act on the tanker. However, he could not guarantee that fireworks will be able to continue in Marsaxlokk or Birzebuggia.

The Opposition leader reiterated that Joseph Muscat, minister Konrad Mizzi and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri must resign their posts after the latter two were found to own offshore companies in the Panama Papers scandal.

Decrying an ongoing audit on Konrad Mizzi – that started nine months ago – as a “lie”, Busuttil said that the minister should resign regardless of the audit’s findings.

“The audit is not the point. The mere fact that Mizzi and Schembri opened offshore companies, with the intention of depositing a million euro inside them a year from money earned form commissions is reason enough for them to resign. They, and the Prime Minister too, would have had to resign in a normal democracy, but it looks like democracy has regressed under the Labour government.”

‘Does public still have faith in rule of law?’ - Marlene Farrugia

Independent MP and Partit Demokratiku leader Marlene Farrugia lambasted the Labour administration, questioning whether people still have faith in justice and the rule of law.

“Do parents still have faith that their children can achieve their best possible future by studying hard, or do they think that they stand a better chance of success if they run after a minister or somebody close to Labour’s inner circle.”

She hit out at the previous PN administration for keeping electricity tariffs high, and said that they had lost their sense of priority, but insisted that tariffs are due another cut.

“I had criticised the PN administration back then and the public kicked them out, but that was at a time when the price of oil was still high, and when the BWSC power station and the interconnector were not yet operating.”