A senior Finance Ministry civil servant sits on the board of Projects Malta, a government entity described last week by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna as “not transparent”.

Testifying during the public inquiry into journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, Scicluna shifted much of the blame for the Vitals Global Healthcare hospitals deal and other controversial projects onto Projects Malta.

However, public records show that Alfred Camilleri, the Finance Ministry’s long-standing permanent secretary, has formed part of the Projects Malta board since its inception in 2014.

Camilleri, who has a reputation as a strict bean counter, was one of the few permanent secretaries not to have faced the chop when Joseph Muscat became prime minister in March 2013.

Scicluna lamented during the public inquiry how he once had to team up with the health ministry in a bid to extract some information from Projects Malta.

Replying to questions from Times of Malta, Scicluna said he stood by what he had said under oath.

“To my knowledge and as informed, Projects Malta did not pass on to the Finance Ministry, including the Contracts Department, any memorandums or agreements on Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) prior to their signing,” Scicluna said.

The finance minister has in the past defended the financial aspect of the deal, arguing that every single penny paid to VGH was approved by parliament in the budget vote.

On his part, Camilleri told Times of Malta that the Projects Malta board was informed about the generalities of projects, which the company was expected to facilitate, but was never expected or requested to take any decision about them. 

In the case of the hospitals concession, the board was neither asked nor did it ever consider or approve any agreements, he said.

“All the negotiations on the VGH concession were carried out by a government team with the support of appointed experts and decisions were taken by the cabinet of ministers 

“The Finance Ministry sought and was informed of the budgetary implications of the concession,” Camilleri said.

All the prime minister’s men

At the time Projects Malta was set up, it fell under the responsibility of former tourism and energy minister Konrad Mizzi, who has since resigned as minister and been expelled from Labour’s parliamentary group over the Montenegro wind farm scandal.

One former government official speaking to Times of Malta described Projects Malta as the “favoured vehicle” of former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri and Mizzi to push through projects with minimal scrutiny.

No ministerial authorisation was sought or provided in relation to this concession

Mizzi’s personal lawyer, Aron Mifsud Bonnici, sat on the Projects Malta board until December 2015 and continued to act as company secretary until 2018.

Members of Muscat’s inner circle, including MFSA chairman Joseph Cuschieri and Land Authority CEO James Piscopo, were all appointed to the Projects Malta board.

Former Enemalta CEO and chairman Fredrick Azzopardi, who now heads Infrastructure Malta, has been a board member since 2020.

Auditor’s criticism of Projects Malta

Projects Malta’s handling of the hospitals deal, which saw three public hospitals being handed over to an opaque offshore company with no healthcare experience, has attracted sharp criticism from the auditor general.

In a report released last month, the auditor general said Vitals Global Healthcare should have been barred from the process over “collusive behaviour” with the government prior to Projects Malta issuing a request for proposals for the running of the St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals.

The auditor general said it was “unclear” how Projects Malta was mandated to issue the request.

“Of greater concern in terms of the governance of the process was that no ministerial authorisation was sought or provided in relation to this concession, resulting in the anomalous scenario where three public hospitals were conceded for operation by third parties without anyone actually assuming responsibility for this decision,” the report highlighted.

The National Audit Office found itself being stonewalled by Projects Malta while carrying out a separate audit on the ITS land deal, which critics see as a sweetheart deal designed for Silvio Debono’s dB Group.

A report released in March said a government decision to classify the land sale as a concession handled by Projects Malta meant the process was subject to far less scrutiny.

The auditor general was forced to ask a private company for certain documentation about the deal, after being frustrated by Projects Malta and other government entities.

The company had been advising the government on the deal. 

“This office maintains that the obligation to lead and manage the process of negotiation rested squarely with the negotiation committee, and overseen by Projects Malta.

“In this office’s opinion, reliance on third-party documentation for a process that was to be entirely administered by a government entity is unjustified and severely curtails any subsequent process of review,” the auditor general said.

An earlier version of this article erroneously stated Fredrick Azzopardi was appointed to the board in 2017, rather than 2020.

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