Chris Fearne insists court judgment absolves him from responsibility on hospitals deal

Health Minister Chris Fearne had described Steward Healthcare as the ‘real deal’ only to have a judge attribute bad faith to the American company in its negotiations with government

Health Minister Chris Fearne (right) and Vitals Group Healthcare director Ram Tumuluri
Health Minister Chris Fearne (right) and Vitals Group Healthcare director Ram Tumuluri

Health Minister Chris Fearne is insisting that the court’s judgment to annul the hospitals concession absolves him of responsibility.

A spokesperson for the minister referred MaltaToday to three particular paragraphs from the lengthy judgment when asked whether the Deputy Prime Minister should shoulder political responsibility for calling Steward Healthcare "the real deal" back in 2018.

Earlier on Friday, the court annulled all hospital contracts awarded to Vitals and their heirs Steward, and ordered all property to be returned to government.

In its lengthy judgment, the court ruled, among other things, that Steward was negotiating in "bad faith" and described the company's machinations as "solely blackmail and unjustified enrichment".

Three public hospitals - Gozo, St Luke's and Karin Grech - were awarded on concession to Vitals in 2015 and when the obscure private company failed to live up to its commitments, the concession was transferred to Steward Healthcare. At the time of the transfer, Fearne, who was health minister, described Steward "the real deal".

Nationalist MP Adrian Delia had filed the court case to get the agreement cancelled in 2018 when still Opposition leader.

In replies to MaltaToday, Fearne's spokesperson said the ruling showed the responsibility was not the deputy prime minister's to shoulder, referring to paragraphs 425, 427 and 431 of the judgment.

Paragraph 425 explains how Fearne had expressed his disappointment on the contractual obligations of the hospitals deal, but Konrad Mizzi, who was no longer health minister, “for no logical reason or explanation” was still the government signatory for the Vitals contracts after 2017.

In paragraph 427, the judge refers to Mizzi’s decision not to testify in the case, saying it was taken after he resigned from government minister on 26 November 2019. The judge refers to Fearne's testimony that Mizzi's resignation happened on the same day Cabinet was going to discuss a complaint made by Fearne on the decisions and agreements Mizzi was concluding behind his back. “The decisions and agreements were concluded despite his (Chris Fearne) objections.”

Paragraph 431 details how Chris Fearne’s personal involvement led to works on the Barts medical school campus in Gozo being concluded.

Government's official reaction so far has been to say that it is studying the judgment and will safeguard the national interest, workers' jobs and the services patients enjoy as a result of the concession.