Government snubs PN call for committee hearing on Vitals hospitals sale, House debate set for 17 January

On 17 January, Parliament will be discussing the sale of St Lukes, Karin Grech, and the Gozo General Hospital by Vitals Global Healthcare to the American Steward Health Care 

The government this morning dismissed a call by the Opposition for Parliament's Healthcare Committee to discuss the sale of three Maltese hospitals by Vitals Global Healthcare to an American provider.

In a meeting of the House Business Committee, Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne insisted that the House would instead debate the sale of St Luke's, Karin Grech and Gozo General Hospital to Steward Health Care System.

The debate will be held on Wednesday, 17 January.

Fearne said that, by holding a debate in the full house, government was not only meeting the Opposition's request, but was, in fact, elevating it to having it discussed within the country's highest institution, instead of at committee level.

While both sides are in agreement regarding a plenary discussion on the 17 January, deputy PN leader  David Agius maintained that the committee should discuss the matter before a parliamentary debate is held.

“One does not exclude the other, as there is a difference between that which takes place in committee and that which takes place during the plenary,” he said, clarifying that the Opposition has no objection to a debate in plenary.

However, Fearne insisted that a plenary discussion should take place so that everyone has a chance to speak.

“We are not excluding anyone," he said. "We are elevating the discussion to the most important organ of the Parliament and of the country, and I think this is a sign that we are confident that [the transfer] is a positive development.”

To this, Agius said that nobody is excluded in the committee as every member is given a chance to speak, and that the argument put forward by the government is not valid. The response to this, however, was that the plenary nonetheless takes precedent to the committee.

“It doesn’t make sense to say that we are not allowing discussion to take place when there are all members of the room, and physically it is accessible to the public. Both are accessible but the plenary takes precedent,” PN MP Edward Zammit Lewis said.

Fearne did not rule out that the committee might in the future be called upon to discuss the VGH sale and said it was up to the chairperson of the committee to set its agenda.

The PN is questioning why VGH sold the three hospitals, less than two years into a 30-year contract and is insisting that the government publish the contract it had signed with VGH, without withholding any information.

During the same meeting, the Labour whip said that he was seeking the Opposition’s agreement to have any voting on House divisions called during January to be carried out on 31 January and, if the Opposition is in agreement, voting on February divisions will be taking place on 28 February.

Agius said that the standing orders were quite clear on the procedure to follow, but did not dismiss reaching an agreement on the recommended dates.

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