Updated 1pm, adds NAO's refusal to publish MOU

A 'lost' agreement secretly signed between the government and the investors behind Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) has now been located and submitted to the Auditor General, an OPM spokesman has said. 

The Auditor-General said in a recent report about the hospitals deal that the existence of the agreement indicated collusion between government officials and the investors. 

This agreement was signed months before the government published an expression of interest for the running of the St Luke's, Karin Grech and Gozo Hospitals. 

VGH won the lucrative contract, but crashed out of the concession two years later having failed to deliver the promised investment. 

The OPM spokesman refused to provide Times of Malta with a copy of the agreement, saying it had been sent to the Auditor General for his evaluation. 

Malta Enterprise refused a Times of Malta freedom of information request for the agreement in 2017, with a court last year upholding its decision not to submit the document for scrutiny. 

Kurt Farrugia, Malta Enterprise's CEO, said on Monday that Malta Enterprise was never a party to the agreement. He failed to explain why Malta Enterprise had fought against giving Times of Malta access to the document in court if it was never a party to the agreement. 

Faced with demands for a magisterial inquiry into the VGH deal last year, Malta Enterprise acknowledged the existence of the MoU and downplayed its importance, insisting it was a non-binding agreement that had no impact on the awarding of the subsequent tender. 

The Auditor General's investigation found VGH should have been disqualified from bidding for the takeover of three state hospitals.

It said VGH should have been barred because of “collusive behaviour” between the government and the company through a secret agreement made before the tender was even issued. 

The report by Charles Deguara – the first of three on the 2015 deal – also found no minister authorised the deal, with the blame resting “squarely” on former Health and Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi.

It found “serious shortcomings" in the bid that an evaluation team “failed to address" and a  “grossly inadequate” due diligence process. 

Times of Malta has asked for a copy of the agreement.

'Neither ethical, nor right, to publish MOU' - NAO

In a statement later, independent candidate Arnold Cassola said he asked the NAO for a copy of the MOU but was told it was "neither ethical, nor right" to publish it.

Cassola said he replied that the Maltese taxpayers had every right to know how their taxes were spent.

“The more this contract is kept concealed from the public eye, the more suspicion will arise, and the less will the governing political class, that is already involved in so much muck and dirt, be trusted,” he said.

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