Steward Health Care must abide by the conditions of its contract to run three state hospitals, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Sunday.  

Addressing a political gathering at the Naxxar Labour Party club, Abela said that having taken a “full stocktake” of the situation surrounding the 30-year hospitals concession, the government now has a clear vision on how to address the healthcare project.    

“We analysed the contracts, and we found a lot of good, but there were also aspects that did not satisfy me.  So, the first decision we have taken is that Steward will have to honour and abide by the conditions that they signed up for,” he said. 

The future of the concession agreement has been in doubt with Steward repeatedly calling on the government to renegotiate the terms of the deal, saying that in its current state, the project was “unbankable”.

On Sunday, Times of Malta reported that Steward owes around €12million in tax and social security which had never been paid during the Muscat administration. It also reported that the government will not allow it further deadline extensions.

Dr Abela told party supporters that once Steward started to abide by the contract conditions, then the government would be willing to meet with the company to hold any discussions necessary. 

“This is how a government that holds the national interest as its top priority must operate,” he said.  

Protesting farmers to meet PM on Monday

Dr Abela also weighed in on a protest held by farmers on Saturday.  

Farmers closed off a Coast Road entry to the Magħtab landfill on Saturday morning, in protest at plans to expropriate their arable land. 

Dr Abela said he understood their frustration.  

“We went there to the protest. We didn’t just watch on the media and Facebook, we went there to speak with them and saw their genuine anguish at the situation,” he said

Agriculture was already a very difficult sector to work in and so the government did not want to make their lives any harder.  

The prime minister said the country however was also faced with major challenges when it comes to handling waste.  

Monday, he said, would start with a meeting with farmers to try and find a solution.

“And if necessary we will go to them again, until we find an acceptable solution,” he said.  

“This is how a government that loves people works. The small guy, the poor, the struggling, everyone,” he said.    

Former Labour CEO will play role in election campaign

Dr Abela also referred to the sacking of party chief executive Randolph Debattista, saying Debattista would play a central role in the party, including in the campaign for the next general election.  

Debattista was replaced as CEO on Wednesday by George Azzopardi.

Abela thanked Debattista for his service which he said was instrumental in changing the way party looked at things. 

“I know just how hard he worked for the party. This isn’t a closed chapter, it is the start of a new adventure even within the Labour Party. I pledge he will have a central role in work of the Labour Party, including in the next election, and he will have the full backing of my team,” he said.  

The prime minister hinted that more changes could be on the horizon, saying the party would need to keep evolving or risk stagnation.

He said he wanted to utilise the talents of everyone possible, without casting anyone aside.  

There were some, he said, that were spreading rumours of him promoting his own people with the party and government.  

“I don’t believe in my people or his people, you are all my people, and as prime minister, all the Maltese are my people. We have to go beyond politics of red or blue, towards a politics that unites us as a country,” he said.  

More female participation

Abela said that the issue of low female participation in public life was something he wanted to address head-on. 

He said the numbers were consistently low and this was unacceptable in 2020.  

When deciding on who would be in his Cabinet, he felt he did not have enough women to choose from. 

“Whenever there are more women in public life, things work better. This is not only true of politics, but in all spheres of public life,” he said. 

Abela said he was committed to implementing the reform, announced back in March 2019, that would see parliament increase the number of seats to bolster participation of the under-represented gender.  

There had been skepticism over this proposal, but now even the Opposition was on board, he observed. 

By the next general election, set for just over two years’ time, this reform should be in place.  

Decriminalising prostitution 

Abela said he also wants to see the decriminalisation of prostitution.  

Recalling his days as a lawyer, he said he had seen first-hand, the cruel realities facing those women who enter the dark world of prostitution. 

These people often came from a background of social problems and drug abuse. Some got their first taste of prostitution at the tender age of just 12, perhaps their parents were even involved, as was often the case, he said. 

“I have seen these problems first-hand as a lawyer, and we have sent these women to prison,” he said.    

He said he would not accept this any longer. The decriminalisation of prostitution, he said, would start to address this injustice. 

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