Updated 8.30 pm

Chaos reigned in parliament on Thursday after the Opposition walked out of the house in a boycott of its own motion as the Speaker allowed the government to put forward an amendment outside its allotted time. 

Opposition leader Bernard Grech called the move "a parody of democracy" and led his cohort of MPs out of the room as they threw false cheques for €400 million all over the room. 

In comments to Times of Malta after the sitting, an OPM spokesperson said the government had presented amendments during the time allocated to PL MP Jonathan Attard.

The move came after prolonged disruption in the house when following the Prime Minister's speech, Justice Minister Jonathan Attard put forward an amendment to the motion, much to the repeated protests of the Opposition. 

The Speaker, however, overruled their objections, saying that the time it took to read and vote on the amendment would be in turn allotted to them in additional time. This was met with uproarious resistance after Abela spoke for over an hour, largely speaking in defence of Steward Health Care's time running the three state hospitals. 

This culminated in the Opposition walking out en masse, accusing the Speaker of making "a parody of democracy". 

Grech went on to give a speech outside of parliament to a large crowd of people who gathered in protest, saying he was going to say what he had been prevented from saying in the house.

What led to the uproar?

Thursday's debate was characterised by fiery exchanges as the house deliberated on the PN's motion to condemn the hospitals deal struck down by a court last month was characterised by heated exchanges and accusations. 

Speaker Anglu Farrugia was forced to suspend the sitting after Prime Minister Robert Abela accused PN MP Adrian Delia of lying to the courts. 

The house erupted into cacophony at the statement, with Delia challenging Abela to substantiate or repeat the claim outside of parliament, where he is not covered by parliamentary privilege. 

Following a lengthy cross-debate, Abela clarified that Delia was deliberately misquoting the court judgement and that "black on white, the court never attributed fraudulent behaviour to the government". 

The house was expected to take a vote on the motion at 7pm which would have condemned the hospitals deal and bound the government to sue the last concession holder, Steward Healthcare. 

However, following the Opposition's walkout, government MPs approved their own amendment and later approved the motion without the votes of PN MPs. In his speech, Grech later said the amendment had rendered the motion "toothless" and no longer bound the government to sue Steward and reclaim taxpayer money. 

Delia started off the debate by briefly addressing the house in English, saying that his message was directed at those who had “fled the country after having colluded with the government, abused the system, bought their way in, took everything they could and left nothing behind after having defrauded the Maltese people.

"But we cannot be bought, corrupted or intimidated because we are not for sale," Delia said. 

He insisted that the government must "come clean" on how much taxpayer money had been spent on the concession so that action can be taken in court in an effort to recover those funds. 

Delia pointed the finger at Abela for only saying on Sunday that he was going to seek to recover the funds. 

"Now, after they have taken all they could and left? Why not before?" 

Abela highlights hospital achievements 

In his rebuttal speech, Abela said that it was incorrect to say that Steward had stolen the people's money and ran away and cited a number of projects, such as Bart's medical school, a new dental clinic in Gozo, a new orthopaedic unit and prosthetics unit in Karin Grech a new fleet of ambulances and helicopter services. 

Steward had also used the funds to provide "state of the art care" at the Gozo General Hospital as well as Karin Grech, funding the day-to-day running of the hospitals as well the wage bill of all the healthcare workers of the facilities. 

However, he said, where there are lessons to be learned, the government had learned them, Abela added. 

The prime minister said that he would be asking the auditor general to analyse all the payments made to Steward and their corresponding services so that "if there are any funds that the government stands to recover, it is able to do so." 

"Any money that we paid that we didn't receive in kind from Steward, I assure you we will be moving to recoup," he said. 

Fielding questions from the media after Thursday's plenary sitting, Abela told journalists that he first saw the agreement signed between Bank of Valletta, the government and Steward after it was signed in 2017.

He insisted that the court had not pinned fraudulent behaviour on the government - neither when VGH was granted the concession, nor when the concession was transferred to Steward.

Abela said that earlier, in parliament, Delia and Grech, "in the most arrogant manner", had not allowed MPs to debate and just wanted to have their say.

"I have asked the Auditor General to investigate Grech's and Delia's lie that Steward made off with €400 million without carrying out any investment or providing a service. I will immediately take action if it transpires that there is even 1c that Steward did not invest.

"I am not satisfied with the investment in St Luke's, however, Karin Grech saw 1,000 admissions per year, and Steward provided 70,000 hours of medical service hours per year. At the Gozo General Hospital, they invested in the Barts Building," he said.

'I was not a consultant when the deal was signed' - Abela 

Robert Abela addressing the media outside parliament. Video: Daniel Tihn

Taking questions from the press outside of Parliament after the debate, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that at the time that the agreements for the concession were signed, he was not a consultant at the Office of the Prime Minister under Joseph Muscat. 

The Opposition has accused Abela of having known the contents of the deal, having in said in 2020, during the Labour leadership race following Muscat's exit, said that during his time as a consultant had a wide view of all the ongoing work of various ministries. 

However, on Thursday Abela insisted that between 2015 and 2016, when the two concession agreements were signed, he held no such position. 

"In both 2015 and 2016 I was not a cabinet consultant," he said. 

"The first time I saw the agreement between the government, Steward and Bank of Valletta was after it was signed." 

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