The original owners of the hospitals' concession were left “unattended with massive amounts of taxpayer money”, according to Steward Malta’s president Nadine Delicata.

In a Times of Malta Talking Point, Delicata says the situation when Steward took over the concession in 2018 from Vitals Global Healthcare was “actually worse than most people realise”.

“It is no secret that VGH, under the tight control of its owners, had not delivered on its obligations nor had the government demanded they do so. Not only that, there were also no funds left for the salaries of medical and non-medical staff working at the hospitals”, Delicata says.

She further claims the situation was unknown to VGH’s own management teams at the time, as they were not allowed any visibility of the financial situation by the owners.

Armin Ernst, Steward International’s current president, was VGH’s CEO at the time, raising questions about claims that Steward did not know what it was getting into.

Delicata writes that the “ill-thought-out concession” was made worse by the actions of VGH’s owners, who created a “raft of companies, shifting assets between them and burning through funds”.

“On taking over VGH’s operations, Steward also discovered that there were no management accounts at all and that, shockingly, there had never been so much as an attempt at an audit of the company by the relevant authorities.”

Delicata says it was the government that approached Steward to take over the concession, which at the time in 2018 “was in a state of dire emergency”.

She said that Steward was given “a mere two weeks” to agree to take on the responsibilities of the concession and ensure doctors, nurses, cleaners and everyone else whose livelihoods depended on VGH could get their salaries paid.

“This came with a commitment, to Steward and to the wider community, including the European Commission, that the terms of the deal would be re-negotiated to make the concession viable,” Delicata says.

'Government pulled out on three occassions'

On the promised renegotiations after Steward took on the “fiasco” left by VGH’s owners, Delicata says Steward had finalised negotiations with the government on three occasions in three years, but the government pulled out at the last minute on every occasion.

She says only renegotiations can make the concession viable and that this is critical as only new terms will allow banks to lend Steward the money to finance the construction of hospitals and other commitments.

Health Minister Chris Fearne has for the past year been claiming the government was “close” to concluding negotiations with Steward but Labour is yet to publicly commit to a course of action.

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