The due diligence exercise carried out by the government on the financial standing of the Vitals Global Healthcare owners will not see the light of day even if the company has since folded up after selling its 30-year concession of three public hospitals in Malta.
In a decision on an appeal by Times of Malta after the government refused to publish the information, Saviour Cachia, the Information and Data Protection Commissioner, ruled that the document requested contained personal data that could not be published.
Projects Malta failed to answer questions on the controversial deal. Apart from refusing to give any details on the financial standing of the ultimate beneficiary owners of VGH, even though they were given a €2 billion concession, the government agency also declined to say which auditing firm had carried out the due diligence exercise prior to the signing of the contract with Vitals.
The contract, which the government had only published in a redacted version, is now being investigated by the National Audit Office following a request by the Nationalist Opposition in the last legislature.
The 30-year concession for VGH to run Karin Grech, St Luke’s and the Gozo hospitals was concluded in 2015.
Vitals was bound to invest some €200 million during the first four years of the contract to transform the facilities into state-of-the art hospitals boasting modern equipment and the government was to pay about €80 million a year over the 30-year period to hire medical facilities from VGH.
The deal also included the building of a new medical school in Gozo, to be operated by Barts, the daily service of a helicopter to ferry acute patients between Gozo and Malta and an array of specialised services, all paid by the government. But none of the targets have been met, so far.
Then, a few days before last Christmas and barely two years into the contract, the government announced that VGH had decided to sell its concession to Steward Healthcare, a US company that, just a few weeks earlier, had engaged Armin Ernst, Vitals’ former CEO.
The details of the concession transfer, which needed the government’s consent to proceed, were never divulged, despite promises by Health Minister Chris Fearne.
Problems on the concession, criticised by various health services stakeholders, including doctors and nurses, emerged in the very early days when no significant investment was made by the company despite statements to the contrary.
Just before the sale of the government concession was announced, Steward had to step in as VGH had no money to cover staff salaries.
Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, under whose political remit falls Projects Malta, had said that due diligence on Ram Tumuluri, a Pakistani-born businessman who had fronted VGH in Malta, had not unearthed any concerns about lack of financing.