The deal sold to the people of this country as a major boost to the national health service is now making many people sick to the stomach. It is now clear it was intended to make a handful of people a lot richer.

The €4 billion question now – for that is the value put on the hospitals’ concession by the auditor general – is how will the government mend this massive hole in taxpayers’ pockets.

The deal to hand over the operation of three public hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare will rank as one of the biggest scandals in this country’s political history. It cannot simply be buried under more taxpayer money.

Neither can anybody shrug off responsibility by claiming they are now out of the picture. It was scandalous to hear Prime Minister Robert Abela publicly declare that political responsibility has already been shouldered with the “dismissal of the former minister [Konrad Mizzi] responsible for the project”.

The auditor general’s reports on the deal were damning enough. The financial connection between the Steward takeover and a VGH-linked company that made payments to Joseph Muscat is now confirmed. The comments made by Nadine Delicata, president of Steward Health Care Malta, can only further anger taxpayers.

Parts of what Delicata wrote in Times of Malta earlier this week bear repeating, because they prove this was, at the outset, a deliberately ill-conceived and ill-developed deal that was stillborn.

Delicata’s account shows that when Steward got involved, in February 2018, the concession was already “doomed” and “in a state of dire emergency”. Vitals did not deliver on its obligations, “nor had the government demanded they do so”. Vitals “created a raft of companies, shifting assets between them and burning through funds”.

Steward also discovered, she wrote, that “there were no management accounts at all, and that – shockingly – there had never been so much as an attempt at an audit of the company by the relevant authorities. VGH’s owners had been left, unattended, with a massive amount of taxpayer money, with no one checking up on how they were delivering on their commitments.”

Further, VGH failed to pay “a staggering amount of VAT” – which the authorities failed to detect, “a likely mistake if no audit had ever been carried out”.

Insisting “things were actually worse than most people realise”, Delicata also explained that Steward have tried to renegotiate the deal three times, with the government pulling out “at the very last minute”.

Why on earth Steward accepted to take over a “doomed” concession remains unclear – they must have been persuaded it was a risk worth taking.

Health Minister Chris Fearne told Times of Malta late last year that he had clashed with Mizzi in 2019 after learning of back-room dealings to offer Steward a more favourable deal than the one struck with Vitals. Fearne took the matter to then prime minister Muscat, insisting that this “could not go on”.

That could hint at why the government has not signed a new deal. But we cannot be sure because Fearne is now refusing to have any public debates with Steward following Delicata’s comments. And the prime minister would only say that the “interpretation given” is different to previous reports.

The government continues to show utter distrust and disdain for the people, even on matters that directly affect their health, by keeping the veil of secrecy that has shrouded this concession from its inception.

This may be politically convenient. But we, the people, demand to know what really happened with our millions and what the government is doing to put an end to this epic saga of a scandal.

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