Faulty cement liability ‘not included’ in Mater Dei contract

Shadow health minister insists she would not have signed waiver that exonerated Skanska from liability for hospital construction

A 2009 contract between the Foundation for Medical Services and Swedish construction firm Skanska – which built the Mater Dei Hospital – does not state the latter’s liability for faulty cement in the hospital, Health Minister Konrad Mizzi said.

A waiver included in the Project Closure Agreement exonerated Skanska and Maltese contractors for the construction of Mater Dei for any claims or disputes that were not explicitly stated in the agreement.

Speaking during a heated debate on Reporter, Mizzi said that the “shocking” waiver and the weak concrete found at the hospital amounts to the “greatest scandal in Malta’s history”.

He argued that Brian St. John- currently CEO of the PN’s Media.Link Communications – was CEO of the FMS when the contract was signed. He reiterated that the entire PN Cabinet at the time, including former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, must also shoulder collective responsibility for the waiver.

He voiced his “strong suspicions” that several people in the previous Nationalist Cabinet had been aware of the weak concrete.

“[Former Finance Minister] Tonio Fenech had told the Times that he wasn’t surprised when the weak concrete at the A&E was detected,” Mizzi said. 

When asked about the responsibility of former health minister John Dalli, who was politically responsible for the FMS in 2009, Mizzi said that Dalli must shoulder his “share of the responsibility”.

‘I would not have signed Mater Dei waiver’ – Buttigieg

Shadow health minister Claudette Buttigieg agreed that the waiver was a “very serious issue” and that responsibility for it should be shouldered “across the board”, but insisted that it was not agreed at Cabinet level.

“If I was Health Minister, I wouldn’t have signed the waiver, because I have nothing to hide,” Buttigieg said. “We need to find out who provided the weak concrete, who placed it, who certified it as being fit for purpose, and who was politically responsible at the time.”

She later claimed that the concrete was actually provided by a brother of former health minister John Dalli.

However, she said that responsibility must be shouldered across the board, upon which she accused Mizzi of failing on his promise to construct a gas power station in two years, of giving his wife a €13,000 monthly salary off the public purse, and of refusing to repeat his claims against Opposition MP George Pullicino outside Parliament.

“You are totally off track,” she told the minister, while challenging him to publish two inquiry reports on Mater Dei- a structural one by engineering firm Arup and one on liability by retired judge Philip Sciberras.

“People are alarmed that the hospital could collapse immediately. Mizzi has been playing a game since September, releasing snippets of information here and there. Transparency is crucial and if we don’t be careful, then people will start losing heart in the political class.”

She also warned that the choice of Philip Sciberras as leader of the inquiry could constitute a conflict of interest, as his son [Alex Sciberras] is employed as secretary within the FMS.         

Mizzi said that he will publish both reports, as well as the government’s contract with Skanska.

Buttigieg also questioned whether the Labour government elected in 1996 had known about the weak concrete in the hospital.

“Upon getting elected, Alfred Sant had changed the hospital’s design so that it could fit more beds,” Buttigieg said. “Had he commissioned a report on the hospital’s structure back then? It is surprising how the concrete defect didn’t emerge back then.”

Mizzi retorted that the concrete used for the A&E department was laid before the 1996 general election, while the Nationalist Party was still in government.

Despite a judicial protest by Brian St John, Mizzi reiterated that documents pertaining to the Mater Dei construction were placed in the former FMS CEO’s safe to keep them hidden and separate from other documents. Buttigieg hit back, arguing that the documents were in a safe precisely because they were so important.

“If St John had wanted to conceal the documents, he could have shredded or burned them,” she said.

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