Vitals: a crooked deal with malice aforethought

Whichever way you look at these deals, one can only conclude that Vitals was just a front for someone to make a profit from the deal, and keep on pocketing money from the purchases of supplies long after Vitals transferred its concession to Steward

A few months before Vitals was granted the deal to run three Maltese public hospitals (St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals) they actually financed the takeover of Technoline
A few months before Vitals was granted the deal to run three Maltese public hospitals (St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals) they actually financed the takeover of Technoline

To be honest, I am no fan of The Shift News, which describes itself as “an independent on-line news platform” – more so with their shifty name. However, I cannot but admire their piece of investigative journalism that has led to the exposure of the agreement signed between Steward Healthcare and Vitals Global Healthcare, transferring the concession of the management of three public hospitals that the Maltese government had given to Vitals.

Vitals – whoever they are – supposedly sold this concession to Steward for a measly €1 but Vitals actually made a lot of money on the deal.
According to the report, a few months before Vitals was granted the deal to run three Maltese public hospitals (St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals) they actually financed the takeover of Technoline Ltd. by one of its managers. Technoline was a long established local company dealing in hospital and clinic equipment and supplies.

The company was legally sold to its own former sales and marketing manager through his company Gateway Solutions Ltd, but the deal was financed through a €5.14 million loan from Vitals’ Jersey companies.

Within a few months Vitals not only got the ‘concession’ to run three hospitals from the Maltese government but also gave Technoline exclusivity of supply, that practically meant that all purchases of medical equipment for the hospitals had to pass through Technoline.
It seems that Technoline was not the only company ‘bought’ by Vitals as they also took over an Italian company – Mtrace plc – that supplies materials for diagnosis and treatment of cancers and other diseases.

The agreement between Vitals and Steward was signed last February and entitled Steward to an annual revenue of €70 million for the running of these hospitals. Steward needed to take on VGH’s debts and the obligation to make the promised investment (€200 million). The agreement includes details of the payoff arrangements as part of the sale of VGH to Steward Healthcare, including a company in Dubai – Mount Everest General Trading LLC – that received €1.4 million.

Whichever way you look at these deals, one can only conclude that Vitals was just a front for someone to make a profit from the deal, and keep on pocketing money from the purchases of supplies long after Vitals transferred its concession to Steward.

Before Steward bought the concession, Vitals was not delivering, to the extent that the leader of the Opposition opened a court case for the revocation of the concession precisely on the grounds that Vitals were not fulfilling their contractual obligations.

The question that pops up is: Why was there the need for this intricate plan that was obviously thought out before the concession was made, when all that the government had to do was to issue a brief detailing the responsibilities in the running of the hospitals and ask for bids from genuine hospital management companies?

Vitals were not such a company, although Steward is. So why should the State have an ‘intermediary’ that would eventually transfer its contractual obligations to ‘the real thing’ while assuring it will keep pocketing unseen income from the operations of the hospitals?
One need not be too intelligent to hazard a guess that would be quite near the truth.

I used the phrase ‘the real thing’ because that is how the current health minister Chris Fearne, described Steward, practically confirming that Vitals were just an intermediary. It was needed, of course, to help pull an incredible scam.

Chris Fearne, who is also deputy prime minister, is a no-nonsense man, and last November he confirmed that the government had reopened talks with Steward Healthcare on the controversial 30-year concession after a report in The Times had revealed that the government had agreed to renegotiate some aspects of the multi-million euro concession.

When pressed, Fearne confirmed that talks are being held, suggesting that some services that are to be offered by Steward were not part of the original agreement. One wonders how and why. Would they want more money for services that were not mentioned in the concession contract?

Whatever it is, there can hardly be a doubt that this was a crooked deal with malice aforethought.

Misunderstanding the Constitution

I have just finished reading Giovanni Bonello’s ‘Misunderstanding the Constitution’. The book’s subtitle ‘How the Maltese judiciary undermines human rights’ cannot be more explicit and indicates the message that the former judge of the European Court of Human Rights wanted to give.

The book is actually a collection of 21 articles written by Bonello that had been published in The Sunday Times in 2018.

Somehow, reading Bonello’s articles on Sunday mornings when one is inclined to gloss over all that is dished out in Maltese newspapers is quite different from reading the same articles as chapters in a book.

Bonello’s style is not only incisive but also humorous and witty. Often he applies the logic found in Constitutional Court sentences to other circumstances that highlight the absurdity of the judgement’s legal logic.

I particularly liked the chapter dealing with the private citizen’s right to disobey unlawful police orders. The Constitutional Courts rely on the jurisprudence established by the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1908 (yes, 1908 no misprint here) in a case that concerned police orders given during a band march. That decision established that even in the case of an unlawful order by the police, the citizen must suffer injustice in order to ensure that a democratic state does not degenerate into anarchy.

Commenting about a more recent case, Bonello writes: ‘Being in a bountiful mood, the judge reserved in your favour the right to challenge the legality of that order in court, but only once you have obeyed…’

The chapter ends with this admonition: “So don’t forget: if a policeman orders you, young lady, to have sex with him, you obey instantly – police orders have to be complied with unquestioningly and promptly, otherwise you are automatically a criminal, subject to prosecution. The benevolent judge allows you to query the basis of that order, but only later, after you obeyed. Pleasure the policeman with a brave heart and a smile on your lips – remember what the good judge said: you are doing it for your fatherland and for democracy.”

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