Ministers say PN Cabinet must answer for blanket waiver in Mater Dei's project closure agreement

Health Minister Konrad Mizzi hits back at former FMS CEO: “It’s Brian St John who should apologise to the taxpayer”

Health Minister Konrad Mizzi and parliamentary secretary Chris Fearne (Photo: Ray Attard)
Health Minister Konrad Mizzi and parliamentary secretary Chris Fearne (Photo: Ray Attard)
'PN Cabinet must answer for blanket waiver in Mater Dei's project closure agreement'

The Nationalist administration must come forward to apologise and explain why a blanket waiver was given in 2009 exonerating Swedish contractors Skanska and Maltese contractors responsible of the construction of Mater Dei Hospital from any claims that might arise.

Addressing a joint press conference at the Health Ministry, health ministers Konrad Mizzi and Chris Fearne said it was “scandalous” that such a blanket waiver was included, in an agreement that was meant to sort out pending claims between the PN government and Skanska.

The Project Closure Agreement was signed by the Foundation for Medical Services, on behalf of the Maltese government. Mizzi said that the Project Closure Agreement waives claims that had been put forward by the two sides and an agreement on the work that had to be finalised by Skanska. “It should have stopped there but, out of the blue, the blanket waiver was included on the very last page of the agreement.”

The Labour government is now calling on the previous Nationalist administrations, contractors and all those connected to the construction of Mater Dei Hospital to ascertain the facts and come clean over the blanket waiver awarded and the weak concrete used.

“The members of the 2008-2013 Cabinet must explain how this blanket waiver was approved, and more importantly whether the Attorney General’s advice had been sought,” Mizzi said, lambasting Opposition leader Simon Busuttil for discrediting an independent report by Arup which identified the weak concrete used.

“Simon Busuttil has not even uttered a word over the blanket waiver. Like the other members, Tonio Fenech [former chairperson of the MDH steering committee] must say what his opinion of the waiver is. What was it approved and why did you tell the media that you were not surprised by the development?” Mizzi was referring to comments Fenech gave to Times of Malta when first news of weak concrete used had emerged.

Mizzi said likewise, former health minister Joe Cassar and MP Claudette Buttigieg – then Cassar’s spokesperson – must say what they knew of the case.

The health minister insisted that Brian St John – former FMS CEO and today CEO of Media.Link Communications – must shoulder responsibility over the Project Closure Agreement: “He was transferred from the OPM to FMS in 2008 and he was acting CEO when the contract was concluded. He has a lot to answer for … his position with the PN is no longer tenable.”

St John today filed a judicial protest accusing Mizzi and the Prime Minister of lying, asking them to apologise for comments they made in his regard. Mizzi, refusing to apologise, said it was St John who should apologise. The minister was also adamant that St John had a lot to answer for.

“He is today hiding at the PN headquarters: should we sent the report and the €35 million bill to the PN? Simon Busuttil is adopting two weights and two measures and brushing off the case is unacceptable. The people have a right to be angry.”

Mizzi said that the independent inquiry appointed last year was looking at all parties involved: “Everyone involved in the project must answer the questions being raised,” Mizzi said when asked about John Dalli’s role as social policy minister.

The government is now seeking international advice on the blanket waiver as it is seeking all legal venues for compensation.

Parliamentary secretary Chris Fearne said that the first weak concrete was noticed on floors 8 and 9 of the Emergency Department. The concrete, he said, was placed in mid-1996. In reply to questions by journalists, he said that the inquiry would establish who were the architects and contractors responsible of the hospital over the years.

The project had been halted in 1997, after Sant was elected Prime Minister in October 1996. Sant had appointed a new architecture firm and sought new designs to expand the hospital. But in 1998, with the re-election of a Nationalist government, Sant’s plans were discarded.

Fearne pointed out that the hospital’s original contract specified that the building should allow future expansion. “The question now is whether the testing that took place was carried out adequately.”

Fearne said the blanket waiver was “scandalous” and the responsibility that had to be shouldered by the members of the former PN Cabinet was huge: “Was the waiver a legal or political decision?”

More in National