Reality check on privatisation: public sector rules fly out the window

Technoline were then entrusted with a monopoly on all hospital procurement by Vitals. This is the reality check with privatisation: normal practices in the public sector fly out of the window

One story struck a chord in the past days of uneventfulness. Leaked paperwork published online by The Shift suggests that the owners of the former Vitals Global Healthcare outfit unashamedly took over a hospital procurement company, not for some normal business deal, but for unbridled profit-making with no respect to traditional procurement and fair tendering.

To all of us who seek out such stories, we are of course little aware that this kind of business approach tends to be normal in the private sector…practically not illegal in itself.

In my view it is certainly unethical but it is carried out by private entities in Malta. The Vitals owners used their companies in Jersey to loan over €5.1 million to the company owned by a senior employee of Technoline – a Maltese company dealing in the sales of medical equipment – to buy out his very own boss.

Technoline were then entrusted with a monopoly on all hospital procurement by Vitals. This is the reality check with privatisation: normal practices in the public sector fly out of the window.

Which, of course, led to a revolt from Maltese companies who cried foul. And now that Vitals has disappeared, it has left a black hole to show us what dishonourable men are all about. I am referring here to Ram Tumuluri, the Canadian ‘investor’ who, in another world, should be called in for some serious questioning. Considering that just 21 months after securing a 30-year lease to operate Gozo, St Luke’s and Karin Grech hospitals, Vitals Global Healthcare appeared to be having financial problems and was forced to sell its concession to Steward Healthcare for one euro (passing on €40 million in debt)…it begs the question: Who is paying for that black hole? Surely, the taxpayer.

I am not quite sure if Vitals actually planned out all this. I would have expected the Nationalist Party to be out in full force on this point. Unfortunately for us, and luckily for Labour, the PN is in hibernation, tending to its internal revolt and trying to secure blind allegiance to Adrian Delia – who for the time being appears to have quashed the rebels...

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Anglu Farrugia (left) and John Bercow
Anglu Farrugia (left) and John Bercow

Certainly of note this week was a ludicrous press conference held by the Speaker of the House over the inherent structural damage at the parliament building.

I am still trying to understand what Anglu Farrugia was trying to achieve. If there are structural changes or damages as Speaker he surely has the authority and role of seeing that they are seen to at once. And if he lacks the funds to see to them, then surely he can turn to the government for some extra financial help. And let us be very clear, the parliament building was inaugurated in May 2015, two years after a new government was appointed. I cannot understand why those entrusted with confirming the quality of the work did not carry out any quality control. Why did Farrugia need to hold a press conference?

Farrugia may be suffering from not being at the centre of attention anymore. As Speaker, he does not have the high profile of other institutional figures or the possibility of airing his views.

Leaking water through the roof gave him an opportunity to call in the press.

So here we are, attending a press conference on faulty roof membranes when we should be discussing making parliamentary sessions closer to the people, or making the House of Representatives more relevant and interesting and above all transparent. But no, the Speaker of the House has nothing better to do.

I have never been impressed with the workings of the House. Before you could certainly feel and smell that you were in a parliament. So far, I have never attended a parliamentary session in the new parliament… only filmed from one of the ugly corners of the building. But from what I can see, the Renzo Piano design – praised and lauded by practically everyone – has created an interior design where the reportage of parliament is stunted and diminished, where parliamentarians in a debate are landed in a clinical environment more reminiscent of an Alaskan university lecture room.

Renzo Piano should have understood what parliamentary debate is all about to see what architecture suited it best. It is no secret that I dislike his architecture (works like the Jean Marie Tjibaou Cultural centre in New Caledonia make me shudder. Google it and send me your comments).

Today we have a parliamentary building where reporters share the same breathing space as the public and are as distant from the parliamentarians. So distant that they might as well stay in the newsroom and report from live streaming. Piano, of course, must have forgotten the press during his conceptualisation of the project. Indeed, space is so limited in our parliament building that there are plans to use office space in the buildings facing the parliament across the square.

Piano may be the greatest architect ever for some, but the design of our parliament fails to take into consideration the workings of parliamentary democracy on an island whose people are traditionally very close to elected officials. Those who doubt this should speak to an MP to see if my statement is an exaggeration or not.

Beyond this point the main issue is that Anglu Farrugia is no John Bercow, the colourful British House of Representatives speaker. Farrugia lacks the charisma and wit of a remarkable Speaker. And if he really wants to see our parliament returned to its full glory, he could cut down on his travels as Speaker and divert all the money saved to some high-quality maintenance. That, I am sure, would be a good reason to hold a press conference.

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