Chris Fearne: Mr Clean and Mr Smart | Frank Camilleri

The magisterial inquiry has given Fearne the opportunity to prove his innocence. The ball is in his court after all.

Chris Fearne
Chris Fearne

Chris Fearne, the former health minister in charge of Malta’s hospitals always played the part of Mr Clean and Mr Smart in the Vitals saga.

He did so until Magistrate Gabriella Vella, who was tasked with the magisterial inquiry into the hospitals deal, caught up with him.

Like most of the other Cabinet members, ex ministers and the former prime minister, Fearne was shocked by the recommendations of the inquiry and being Mr Clean he threatened to resign.

Prime Minister Robert Abela very obligingly insisted that he will not accept Fearne’s resignation. But Mr Clean did actually resign and he was applauded by many for doing so.

What all failed to realise is that Chris Fearne did not resign on the basis of any obligation in principle to do so, as so many naively assumed, including many PN lame ducks.

One needs to consider the fact that Fearne simply had no alternative but to resign. He knew that if he dared go to Brussels as Malta’s nominee for the European Commission there was the real possibility that he would be returning back in disgrace. His position would become untenable, both nationally and internationally. It is the Brussels ticket that eventually pulled him down and not any democratic ‘principle’.

On the basis of the magisterial inquiry, Fearne stands charged with fraud and fraudulent gain, serious charges that cannot be brushed off easily for a man in his position.

But Fearne must also be credited with the title Mr Smart.

He was smart enough though to keep his name out of the limelight throughout the hospitals deal saga. The machinations of the deal were the brainchild of Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri. They were the prime movers, which always made me wonder ‘where’ Chris Fearne had been during all this time.

As Health Minister and a member of the Cabinet, he must have had access to the negotiations taking place and if not, he must have asked who the investors taking over three public hospitals were.

He was in parliament when year after year millions of euros were being voted in the budget estimates when everybody knew these funds were not justifiable since there was nothing to show for them.

From the onset, when he was still parliamentary secretary for health under then health minister Konrad Mizzi, Mr Clean must have known that the new owners had absolutely no experience in running hospitals. How can he not? He must have seen the hospitals contract being redacted and rendered almost meaningless when presented in parliament.

Fearne claims he was kept out of the loop on the contractual arrangements with Vitals and then Steward, pointing his finger at Konrad Mizzi who continued to negotiate behind his back. Nonetheless, it was Fearne who in 2018 triumphantly hailed the new investors, Steward Health Care, as the “real deal”.

But he played it smart up to the point when the magisterial inquiry reached its conclusions. Suddenly he found himself in the limelight and this surprised many.

Yes, Mr Clean and Mr Smart was caught with his pants down and while many could not believe why he was charged, others started asking the obvious questions: How can anyone be around so much and not knowing so much or at least realising what was going on?

How could anyone allow his colleagues to get so blatantly rich and keep himself out of the fray?

If he really wanted to be known in history as Mr Clean, Fearne should have resigned from health minister forthwith and seek new pastures.

Instead he soldiered on until the magistrate recommended criminal charges be issued against him.

It all boils down to the famous expression Fearne himself pronounced so enthusiastically in front of all the media and for which he will be remembered in history when the Steward transfer took place: ‘The real deal’

Presumption of innocence until found guilty must prevail in a court of law. But the public has the right to presume guilt unless Fearne is acquitted.

The magisterial inquiry has given Fearne the opportunity to prove his innocence. The ball is in his court after all.