Updated 9.55am, adds Bernard Grech's reaction

Steward Healthcare’s investment in the running of three public hospitals is “not at the levels expected”, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana has admitted.

Speaking to Times of Malta after an unrelated press conference on Friday, Caruana said that although “some” renovation works had been carried out at the hospitals, more should have been done. “There is evidence of some works, but it is not what one was expecting,” Caruana said.

The government handed over the running of the Karin Grech, St Luke’s and Gozo hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare in 2015 on the promise that the private investors would spend €220 million to completely revamp the decrepit health facilities.

Video: Jonathan Borg

Steward Healthcare has been locked in talks with the government about improving the terms of the deal ever since taking over the contract from VGH in 2018. Caruana told Times of Malta that talks about the future of the concession were at a stalemate.

He said the ball is in Steward’s court to make the first move to break the deadlock. “They have to make the necessary investments, if they cannot honour what is written in the contract, they have to decide what they are going to do,” Caruana said.

The ball is in Steward’s court to make the first move to break the deadlock- Finance Minister Clyde Caruana

The finance minister said negotiations about the concession had stopped quite a while ago. He insisted Steward Healthcare have to honour the contract signed two years ago after taking over from VGH.

The government handed the keys to the hospitals to VGH was handed in 2015, despite having no prior experience in healthcare. They crashed out of the government contract two years later, with Steward Healthcare coming in to pick up the pieces.

Caruana’s claim about Steward’s lack of investment mirror accusations made by former opposition leader Adrian Delia, who is leading a legal battle to overturn the government contract. He has ridiculed evidence presented by Steward of works carried out at the hospitals.

Steward provided images to the court hearing Delia’s case of various projects carried out at the hospitals between 2016 and this July. Proof of these works, which included a new mortuary refrigerator cabinet, the upgrade of security room facilities and other projects, failed to impress Delia. “They put forward evidence showing that they are thieves,” Delia accused.

Steward hit back at Delia’s claims, saying millions of euros had been spent on upgrading facilities at the hospitals.

A report by the National Audit Office said VGH should have been barred from winning the hospitals contract due to “collusive behaviour” with the government. The auditor general is expected to publish a follow-up report about the hospitals contracts.

Bernard Grech's reaction

Reacting on Facebook, Opposition leader Bernard Grech said on Sunday it was the minister, and not Steward, who should decide what it was going to do.

“You should terminate the contract now. You know Steward cannot honour the contract -  they have breached it since day one - and yet you are about to give them a further €70 million.

"Taxpayers are going to pay for their failures once again," he said.

Grech insisted the government should cancel the contract and join the court case to give Malta's hospitals back to the people.

"Instead your government keeps defending the contract in court, supporting the contract through the budget, and saying the ball is in Steward’s court," he concluded.

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