[WATCH] VGH denial over Pilatus Bank account should be taken with ‘a pinch of salt’, Busuttil claims

Following the hospital operator’s denial that any of its owners or officials have accounts at the Bank, the PN leader said he has ‘information showing otherwise’

Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil addresses a press conference in front of Gozo General Hospital
Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil addresses a press conference in front of Gozo General Hospital

With just over three days until the general election, Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil has said that he is informed that a statement issued by Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) over the weekend that dismissed claims that any of its owners or officials own accounts at Pilatus Bank, is not correct.

VGH was awarded a concession for the maintenance and operation of the Gozo General Hospital (GGH), as well as Karin Grech and St Luke’s hospitals.

“I said that if it were to result that anyone connected with the hospital personally, or through a company, has an account at Pilatus Bank, it would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” he said. “I take the statement issued with a pinch of salt because the information I have is a bit different, but everything has its own time.”

Busuttil was speaking at a press conference outside the GGH where he reiterated his pledge to “take back” the hospital, and return it to the people, after it was “privatised and stolen from the Gozitan people behind their backs.”

To add insult to injury, Busuttil said, the hospital was awarded to a company whose owners were not known, under mysterious conditions.

“The call for applications for the hospital to be given to the private sector, was opened on 27 March 2015, and closed less than two months later,” he said, adding that any company without prior knowledge of the government’s intentions could not have come up with a feasible plan in such short timeframe.

“It is clear there this was done in bad faith,” Busuttil said. “The people behind these companies, through a complex structure with several offshore companies in jurisdictions that facilitate tax evasion, are not even known to us,” he continued.  

Busuttil said that the promises made by VGH and the government, were all empty promises, with none having been kept.

“These people have taken €80 million from our taxes so far, and till the end of the year, the number will be much bigger. Unless things change on 3 June,” Busuttil said.

He said that despite plans for Barts Medical School to have opened by September 2016, the campus has not been completed.

The PN leader added that by January 2017, a new 250-bed hospital was meant to have been constructed, in addition to the renovation of GGH to accommodate 200 beds for long-term care.

“The work was meant to start last March and was meant to be completed later this year,” he said. “Not only is work not at an advanced stage, but there are employees at this hospital working out of a container.”

Busuttil said a government run by him would publish all contracts signed by VGH “for everyone to know the contents of the contract signed by Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi”.

Once the hospital is renationalised, Busuttil said, his government would embark on a modernisation project that will give back to the people the “modern hospital they deserve”.

This, he said would be done using EU funds, as had been done with the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Busuttil said that a PN government would guarantee to all hospital employees, that they will be able to keep their job, adding that those who had moved to VGH from a government post would also be given the option to return to their previous job.

On Forza Nazzjonali’s electoral proposals, Busuttil said that if elected, his government would take stock of progress on the proposed tunnel between Malta and Gozo, and would see to it that any preliminary studies are completed as quickly as possible and an expression of interest issued immediately.

Moreover, he said a PN government would enshrine Gozo’s region status in the constitution, and would also set up a regional council that would give more decision-making power to the Gozitan people.

Busuttil also claimed that the island’s infrastructure had been abandoned over the past four years and pledged to complete four arterial roads a year if elected.  

“This means additional investment of not less than €15 million for residential roads in Gozo over a period of five years,” he said.  

Finally, Busuttil said investment in families and businesses in Gozo will be prioritised, through various incentives, to prevent the island from becoming a “home for the elderly”.

These include the removal of stamp duty on property purchased, a €10,000 voucher to Gozitan families choosing to settle in Gozo, and an exemption from income tax of up to €200,000 over a three-year period, for businesses setting up in Gozo.

Questioned by journalists on the cost involved in renationalising the hospital, Busuttil insisted that the question one really needed to ask was how much VGH was costing the taxpayer, given that the company has already been paid €80 million with the country having nothing to show for it.

In addition, he said that taking back the hospital would be done on a matter of principle and that any “serious government” negotiating a contract with the private sector must ensure that there are clauses allowing the government to stop the contract if and when it needs to.

“God forbid there isn’t such a clause because not only would Muscat have betrayed us, but he would also have signed a contract that protects people we don’t know,” he said.  

Asked whether his statements set a precedent where investors could not guarantee that an agreement signed with a government would be respected following a change in government, Busuttil said that if following an investigation of the contracts in question, it is found that they are “dirty”, then this would mean that the contracts are irregular and would allow for the hospital to be taken back. 

More in Election 2017