Senior civil servants had stopped the prime minister from negotiating a new hospitals concession deal with Steward Healthcare because they knew it was illegal, Opposition leader Bernard Grech said on Sunday.

"Were it up to Abela, he would have signed the agreement, even if it was deemed illegal. I know what I am saying, Abela lied inside and outside parliament, and defended Steward," Abela told a Net FM interviewer.

He noted how the report by the Auditor General confirmed that one of the first meetings Abela had at Castille was with Steward and Former prime minister Joseph Muscat, as a Steward's consultant, regarding the renegotiation of the concession deal. At that time Muscat was taking money 'directly from Vitals'.

Grech observed that the auditor in a report last week had said the deal with Steward was illegal.

"A new contract did not come about not because Abela realised at the last minute, but because there were senior civil servants who would not accept to sign it." 

Abela in party damage control

Grech also accused the prime minister of failing to tackle the problems caused by the scandal because he was too busy controlling the damage which the deal had caused within his own party.

Muscat, he said, had created major problems for his party so that he and his friends could get rich, and Abela was linked to the mess because of the 'evil pact' which saw him getting Muscat's support for his appointment.

"We can see this through Muscat's statements, he continuously warns Abela 'don't touch me, or I will bring you down'", Grech observed.

The Opposition leader said Abela and Muscat gave more than €400 million to Vitals and Steward Healthcare. But rather than investing in the hospitals they managed, their shareholders spent it on luxury hotels and cars.

"It was a disgrace,"  Grech said.

The report by the Auditor General last week found that the transfer of the hospital concession from Vitals to Steward was abusive, illegal, and should never have happened. 

This week also saw new revelations by Times of Malta, The Shift, and OCCRP, that how Vital’s Global Healthcare entrusted with running the hospitals had splurged cash on luxury cars, five-star hotels, private schools, and Netflix subscriptions. 

Grech said the Nationalist Party would continue to fight for the truth to come out. The people deserved a good health service, not one which left patients waiting for years for an operation or where medicine was out of stock, leaving patients no choice but to buy it privately.   

Grech also referred to a report on how Malta’s access to new medicine was the lowest in the EU.

"Instead they give you generic or older medicines rather new medicines which are better for you. Why? Because they threw away your money," Grech said. 

Deficit doubles in ten years

Turning to other issues, Grech said the government’s deficit has increased drastically in the past few years. Back in 2013, the deficit was around €5 billion, and now it had almost doubled to €9 billion.

“This is because we have a government that does not know how to plan.  The reality is that they waste people’s money, destroy our environment and allow construction with no planning whatsoever.”

Grech once again called for the government to absorb the cost of living increases through tax incentives, and to provide a €40 million financial assistance grant for importers to keep prices stable and reduce inflation costs. 

He pointed out that the Malta Employers' Association and Chamber of SMEs backed his proposal to not tax COLA. 

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