michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

How vital was Vitals?

As from the new year, new EU regulations do not allow governments to make contract with companies whose ultimate owner is unknown – as is the case of Vitals and therefore some opted to think that this was a ‘forced’ sale because of this time limit

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
3 January 2018, 7:20am
The news that Vitals Global Healthcare have ceded their 30-year concession to manage part of Malta’s health services to an American company, Steward Health Care, took many by surprise. Others were just bemused. Talk of conspiracy theories abound.

The timing of the sale also gave reasons for suspicions. As from the new year, new EU regulations do not allow governments to make contract with companies whose ultimate owner is unknown – as is the case of Vitals and therefore some opted to think that this was a ‘forced’ sale because of this time limit.

Unlike Vitals, Steward Health Care has a track record in medical care, albeit restricted, as it is, to the US where it is the largest private healthcare operator. Whether such a US company can suddenly begin to understand how European governments look at healthcare as a social service – rather than just another profitable business – is still to be seen. But these are experiences that are yet to come, courtesy of a government that promised that the best is yet to come...

There are more than one scenario that could explain how this latest episode of the Vitals experience came about.

In the first scenario, all this was just run of the mill for an administration that wanted outside help to run part of the health sector – privatising its management so that one gets a better service at a lesser cost. This is what Private-Public partnerships are about after all. But is this innocent scenario a true reflection of what happened?

In the second scenario, Vitals proved that they could not deliver what they promised and what their contract bound them to deliver. This was to be expected by a company with no track record in health care. The promised time parameters of many of their projects were not being realised. This undeniable fact, plus the fact that the EU has been tightening the screws on companies whose ultimate beneficiary is unknown, pushed them to sell their concession. Contrary to what was implied in a recent report in The Times, Vitals is not selling its shares. It is simply ceding the obviously profitable contract that it has with the Maltese Government to Steward Health Care. Vitals will keep on existing with its mysterious ultimate beneficiary, after probably making a profit from a contract that it secured in dubious circumstances and then sold to people who should know how to deliver the promised goods.

Whether it was the EU time limit or the fact that Vitals were not delivering their obligations and promises that forced the sale is a moot point. It could, of course, have been a combination of both.

The other scenario is more akin to a conspiracy theory. Yet I do not exclude it. Briefly it assumes that Vitals never intended to deliver the goods but were given a concession that was so profitable that it would be easy for them to find someone to take up the responsibilities of the contract. For ‘ceding’ their concession, Vitals would make a handsome profit – something that was planned beforehand and not the result of circumstances. So the mysterious ultimate beneficiary would make a windfall profit and disappear from the scene – or conveniently evaporate into thin air.

In this third scenario, the protests of the Opposition, irrespective of whether they were hysterical or sensible, would have probably delayed the pre-planned sale adding on to the pressure for an early election. Remember that Simon Busuttil used to say that the day he is elected Prime Minister, his Minister for Gozo would go to the Gozo Hospital and personally evict Vitals even before he went to his Office for the first time as Minister. How this fits in with Busuttil’s promotion of some self-proclaimed champion of the rule of law is, of course, a different issue!

As for the Gozitans, they opted for a bonanza of fake jobs in which they are paid for doing nothing, and ended up having to deal with an American champion of private health services – as a means of profit – running their public hospital, rife as it was with people who are paid for doing nothing. Ah... the ironies of fate!

There is some silver lining to this dark cloud, of course. Maybe the abandoned St Luke’s Hospital will be put into good use. Having some serious professional management in the uncontrollable areas of our health sector is not a bad idea, after all.

Don’t ask me how and why, but introducing good ideas in Malta nowadays seems to come at an extra cost to the benefit of unknown beneficiaries.

 

Annus horribilis

So 2017 is coming to a close. To some it was the veritable ‘annus horribilis’.

Simon Busuttil was humbled by the Maltese electorate. Marlene Farrugia was returned to the House of Representatives on a PN ticket that was somehow painted orange.

Theresa May and Angela Merkel managed to survive elections in their respective countries, but were not so unscathed.

Following the election, the PN imploded and it is only just managing to recover slowly.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was brutally murdered by a car bomb – an incident that has had serious consequences that have reverberated in Malta and Europe. None of this was predictable.

Who would have predicted at the dawn of 2017 that a Hollywood sex scandal would spark resignations all over the western world, including resignations from the UK Cabinet?

All these unpredictable events recall the words of former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, who, when asked what could disrupt his government, answered: “Events, my dear boy, events.”

Fifty years on, recent events have also led to US investigations into Russian election-meddling, the spread of fake news, and the North Korean nuclear threat.

Meanwhile, according to Bloomberg, the world’s richest people got $1 trillion richer this year. Jeff Bezos of Amazon added the most to his fortune, even beating Bill Gates in the money-making game... and the growth among billionaires was most pronounced in China.

No annus horribilis for them, of course.

 

May I take this opportunity to wish the readers and the editorial staff of MaltaToday a very merry and prosperous New Year to them and all their families.

 

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon is a former government minister who served under several Nationalist admini...