Last updated 1.37pm with ADPD reaction 

Steward Health Care Malta has submitted a termination notice to the government under the hospital services concession agreement due to "non-rectifiable defaults on the part of the government of Malta".

"The company believes that the operating environment and investment climate in Malta is not conducive for foreign companies to have a constructive partnership with the government," it said in a damning statement on Thursday.

The concession agreement included the management and operation of St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo General hospitals and the Barts Medical School.

A court earlier this month annulled the concession agreement after declaring it fraudulent. Steward has appealed the verdict. A side agreement to the concession agreement, also annulled by the court, had provided for compensation of €100 million to Steward if the concession was to end and the government had not met its obligations. 

The latest announcement comes hours before parliament is due to debate an opposition motion calling on the government to sue Steward to recover all funds given to it. On Sunday, Prime Minister Robert Abela said the government would seek to recover funds given to Steward for investment which was then not realised.  

Last month Times of Malta also reported that the government had a shadow team in place to take over the running of the three hospitals administered by Steward Healthcare.

'Orderly transition'

Steward said its priority remains the wellbeing and treatment of its patients and the welfare of its staff.

However, it did not give an exact timeline for when it intends to leave.

"SHCM will ensure that there is an orderly transition of the management of its operations and will work with the relevant authorities in good faith to ensure this is finalised in a reasonable timeframe," it said.

It said it had operated at all times in accordance with the highest professional standards and values, including a desire for good governance and transparency.

"The company is disappointed at the government of Malta’s failure throughout this engagement to keep faith with the spirit of the public-private partnership agreement," it said.

The government’s failure to appeal the Civil Court verdict that labelled its own behaviour corrupt is an admission of guilt

"Specifically, the government failed to be accountable for their own liabilities, which had escaped scrutiny; failed to adhere to their own promises to renegotiate the ‘unbankable’ and unsustainable terms of the concession, not once but three times – and more recently being engaged in negotiations up to the time of the verdict; and, therefore, failed to enable Steward to raise finances to deliver fully on the terms of its engagement," it continued.

It said that more broadly, Steward was "concerned about the deterioration of the business environment in Malta."

It said that a "decline in the rule of law" and a " lack of support for and protection of foreign investors" was mirrored by Malta being included on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Malta was removed from the global grey list last year. 

"More recently, the government’s failure to appeal the Civil Court verdict that labelled its own behaviour corrupt is an admission of guilt in relation to its own governance failings," it said.

Steward said its exit from Malta will allow the company and its management to focus resources on jurisdictions that are more accommodating to and protective of investors, and more aligned with its high standards.

In a reaction, the government said it is ready to immediately take over the running of hospitals administered by Steward Health Care after the company "abandoned" its operations.

In a short statement, the government said it "absolutely disagreed" with Steward Health Care's claims and would respond in the appropriate fora.

But it said the health authorities were in a position to immediately run the hospitals, guaranteeing the high level of treatment patients expected, and also guaranteeing jobs.  

PN accuses Steward of 'shirking responsibilities'

On the other hand, PN leader Bernard Grech said Steward had now launched an attack on the government claiming it had not lived up to its commitments.

He said the prime minister was staying silent and had done whatever he could to defend this corrupt deal.

The opposition, Grech said, would continue to insist that all funds given to Vitals/Steward should be recovered, and all pending taxes and loans should be paid up. The opposition would also insist that all those responsible were held to account.

Nationalist MP Adrian Delia, who had instituted the court case for the hospitals concession to be annulled, said the latest decision by Steward meant the company was shirking its responsibilities and fleeing in the last few weeks and months that remained, pending the appeal.

The opposition would continue with its fight to return the funds and for people to shoulder responsibility, he said.

The Nationalist Party urged people to turn up for Thursday evening's protest outside parliament, starting at 6pm.

ADPD leader Carmel Cacopardo said Steward was blaming the government for its inability to deliver on its promises. Millions were paid to Vitals and then Steward with very little or nothing to show for, he insisted. 

In view of the court judgment labelling the agreements with Vitals and Steward as fraudulent and potentially corrupt, he also called on the government to immediately publish the original contract and any appendices in full.

"Failure to do so carries a host of undesirable implications against the government, which may include collusion with Steward, fear of sensitive and incriminating evidence being made public by Steward or lack of political will due to incompetence by the prime minister and his health minister," concluded Cacopardo.

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