The Prime Minister’s dangerous game

Unfortunately, Abela has once again put on his lawyerly hat to wage Muscat’s battle while forgetting that he has a country to defend and care for

When Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi appeared in front of the media back in 2015 to sell their idea of granting three public hospitals on concession many were sceptical but a few smelt a rat.

Those few included Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was the first to lift the lid on the obscure investors who at the time were meeting Maltese financial services practitioners and giving them a presentation on their plans to turn St Luke’s Hospital into a medical tourism hub even before the government had issued its request for proposals.

Eventually, some of these investors went on to form the Vitals Global Healthcare group that won the competitive process and was awarded the 99-year concession to run St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo General hospitals.

When Vitals failed to deliver on its contractual obligations, the concession was not terminated but instead transferred to American outfit Steward Health Care in 2018. Billed as the “real deal” by then Health Minister Chris Fearne, Steward continued where Vitals left off, missing the most important contractual obligations and seeking more money from the government. And behind everyone’s backs, Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat agreed to give Steward a special arrangement whereby they would be compensated to the tune of €100 million if the Maltese courts were to rescind the contract.

Today, it is clear to everyone that this flagship project was nothing more than a gravy train of dirty money from which the few benefitted at the expense of Maltese taxpayers. Malta was the biggest loser.

The outcome of this corrupt project is unprecedented. For the first time ever, a former prime minister – Joseph Muscat – has been charged with corruption, bribery, association in a criminal organisation, fraud and money laundering. The same charges were filed against Konrad Mizzi, a former minister who continued to front the project even when he was removed from health minister.

More charges of a lesser degree were filed against Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, Central Bank of Malta Governor Edward Scicluna and individuals who served or are still serving as permanent secretaries.

Other charges have been filed against several private individuals and a legal firm that aided and abetted the fraud and corruption.

Never has this country faced a moment of reckoning as it does now. These are unprecedented times, which cannot be brushed aside nonchalantly.

And as if this is not worrying enough, we now have Prime Minister Robert Abela defending his predecessor and by consequence all those implicated in this case.

It is shocking to see the Prime Minister go out of his way to act as if he were Joseph Muscat’s lawyer by undermining the judiciary, denigrating certain journalists and creating a fictitious monster called ‘the Establishment’ to paint his government as the underdog.

Abela has painted himself into a corner and this does not bode well for the country. It is useless for him to ask Labour supporters to remain cool and calm after first working them up with language unbecoming of a prime minister in a democratic country.

The Prime Minister is playing a very dangerous game, which he may have no control over.

It is already a sad day for the country to have to witness former senior politicians, and a former prime minister, being charged in court with very serious crimes. It is even sadder to see Abela act like the playground bully when the country expects magnanimity from him.

Rather than ensuring the country emerges stronger from this critical moment, Abela is simply interested in minimising damage to his own party. He has every right to safeguard his party but he should not be doing so by defending and protecting the cabal that caused this mess.

Unfortunately, Abela has once again put on his lawyerly hat to wage Muscat’s battle while forgetting that he has a country to defend and care for.