No remorse, no apology: Labour in denial

The PL may be in a state of denial but the hospitals saga and its corrupt ramifications will not be easily forgotten

The Steward hospitals deal is now dead and buried with the Appeals Court ruling on Monday leaving no room for ambiguity.

The judgment made it clear the government was as much at fault as the companies that were awarded the hospitals concession. The Appeals Court was more scathing in its criticism of the government than the court of first instance, insisting the government and its entities were not as gullible as they were made out to be.

In its ruling the Appeals Court said: “The concession granted to the companies was not the result of deception by one of the parties but the result of collusion between both parties… and when the agreement had to be implemented, and although nothing was done, those who had the duty to safeguard the country’s interests, instead, granted one deadline extension after another to hide the fact that this agreement was just a façade rather than the ‘real deal’ and continued paying millions of euros to the companies despite these reneging on their contractual obligations.”

But the Appeals Court went further: “It is unknown as to why those who had the duty to safeguard the country’s interests, instead, were more interested in defending the interests of the companies.”

These words imply that senior public officials were complicit in the fraud that characterised the hospitals deal, short-changing taxpayers for hundreds of millions of euros.

These words, coming from the country’s highest court, are damning on the government and require no embellishment to stress how serious they are.

Unfortunately, the seriousness of the court’s judgment appears to be lost on the government, Robert Abela and the Labour Party. It is surreal that when debating the court’s decision in parliament, Abela once again opted to clarify that Steward did satisfy parts of the contractual agreement as if the American outfit needed someone to defend its patch. The Prime Minister already did this in February and yet he learnt nothing from that faux pas.

It is surreal that in parliament Abela also opted to refer to the Skanska scandal related to the construction of Mater Dei Hospital back in the 1990s and early 2000s, to somehow diminish the seriousness of the present situation.

Even more bizarre was the Prime Minister’s comment suggesting that the law courts were servile to the Opposition – a serious implication that tries to cast doubt on the impartiality of judges and magistrates.

Abela has tried to pin the blame for the Steward fiasco on his predecessor’s administration and has argued his government took immediate steps to retake the hospitals without waiting for the appeal to be concluded when the first court annulled the contract last February. It is his meek way of trying to put distance between himself and Joseph Muscat.

But it is not enough. Abela cannot act as if the Muscat administration was alien to his government. It was after all a Labour government.

Unfortunately, neither Abela nor any exponent of his government today has expressed some form of remorse for what transpired let alone apologise to the people for betraying their trust. The government can take all the steps it wants to safeguard the public interest now but unless it shows remorse doubt will continue being shed on the bona fide intentions of Abela’s administration.

At the very least, Abela should publicly denounce Muscat and those in government who masterminded the hospitals deal in collusion with those who were awarded the concession. Konrad Mizzi’s removal in 2020 from the PL does not absolve the Prime Minister from the sins committed by others at the time.

The Vitals/Steward deal had to be a flagship project of the Labour administration, promising a new state of the art hospital in Gozo, the refurbishment of St Luke’s and the attraction of medical tourism. Instead, it has turned out to be one big nightmare. Gozo remains without a new hospital, St Luke’s remains the pigeon loft it was and the promised medical tourists are nowhere to be seen. It is of little consolation that the Barts Medical School was built, if Abela insists on mentioning it as an example of Steward’s partial success.

The real deal was not struck by the country but by those who were intent on profiting from the concession. It is about time that Abela, his administration and the Labour Party realise that the country owes them no gratitude for the court’s decision to terminate the fraudulent contract. If anything, the gratitude should be reserved for Adrian Delia who helped stop the madness by instituting the court case in the first place.

But it seems Abela, his administration and the Labour Party have lost touch with reality. They continue to misread the anger that is slowly building up in an electorate that is seeing its quality of life increasingly put to the test as ministers squander public funds at will.

The PL may be in a state of denial but the hospitals saga and its corrupt ramifications will not be easily forgotten.