PM says criminal responsibility has to be shouldered for Mater Dei fiasco

Prime minister Joseph Muscat says concrete quality tests carried out throughout Mater Dei; says Labour Party did not benefit from sale of Australia Hall

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has today argued that an inquiry into the inferior quality concrete in sections of Mater Dei’s A&E Department should also establish criminal and civil responsibilities.

Muscat’s first comments on the Mater Dei fiasco comes just days following  the discovery that concrete used for the construction of columns at Mater Dei’s accident and emergency department is of inferior quality than that stipulated in the contracts signed.

While insisting that political responsibility has to be shouldered, Muscat also argued that responsibility, even of a criminal nature, should be shouldered by those who carried out the work and certified it.

Muscat’s comments come in the wake of MaltaToday tracking down the Maltese partners of Skanska’s construction €600 million hospital venture in 1995 – Blokrete, and Devlands – who when approached by the newspaper, were mute about the inferior quality of cement that has threatened the structure of Mater Dei Hospital’s A&E Department.

“When Konrad Mizzi [health minister] told me about the poor quality concrete, I immediately ordered tests to be carried out on other parts of the hospital to ensure that no more unpleasant surprises turn up,” Muscat while adding that some of the concrete could be broken apart with one hand.

Describing the situation as “shocking, particularly the million involved in building the hospital,” Muscat argued that political responsibility has to be aside for now. Instead, he said, an inquiry chaired by former judge Philip Sciberras, is adamant on establishing any criminal or civil liabilities.

Labour did not benefit from Australia Hall sale; poverty will not be solved by issuing cheques - Muscat

Taking a swipe at the Nationalist Party – which during his interview, Muscat dubbed them as “amateurish” – the prime minister took umbrage at the Opposition’s criticism of the Labour Party’s sale of the Australia Hall.

Defending the decision to sell 6,000 square metres of property in St Andrews including the Australia Hall for €550,000 against the payments of debts owed by the part to the Fino family and businessman Chris Gauci, Muscat argued that notwithstanding the sale, the Labour Party “did not benefit, but instead suffered losses.”

Muscat argued that the Pembroke property was bought from the government when the old Labour headquarters, the Freedom Press, was requisitioned by a previous PN government for the Malta Ship Building - "consequently resulting in the Labour Party incurring losses because the land's market value at the time was much higher than the price it had received from the expropriation order."

The PL leader also said that the PN had wrongly claimed that the property was worth €10 million – arguing that the PN’s claims of the Labour Party “under-declaring the value of the sale to evade tax was amateurish.”

“It is a lie for the PN to accuse Labour of under declaring the value of Australia hall to avoid paying taxes. Political parties are exempt from paying taxes on property taxes, and the PN has made use of this legal provision too,” he said.

Turning his attention on the Individual Investor Programme (IIP), the prime minister insisted that an IIP Monitoring Committee would be convened. 

“Lawyers, including some from the PN camp, are recommending foreign investors who are interested in Malta’s programme. The IIP is the only programme of its kind that has been approved by the European Commission, and despite its success, the leader of the Opposition is still isolated and detached from reality.”

“Even those around him [Simon Busuttil] are trying to convince him of the IIP’s potential, but he is still isolated,” Muscat said.

On poverty, the prime minister insisted that the government has a coherent plan which does not simply involve the provision of social services and benefits, but is instead focused on work and education.

“We must not address poverty by issuing cheques, but we must instead alleviate poverty by facilitating education and job opportunities. Social benefits will also be issued according to a child’s school attendance, while truancy will be punished with harsher penalties,” he said.