An angry Foreign Minister George Vella yesterday admitted he was still seeing his patients at his private clinic in Żejtun on Saturdays in breach of the ministerial code of ethics which prohibits such a practice.
Accusing Times of Malta of mounting a witch-hunt against Labour ministers on “trivialities” while ignoring what used to happen under past Nationalist administrations, Dr Vella insisted that apart from his duties as a politician he feels duty-bound to keep seeing patients for a transitional period since he also has to observe his ethics as a doctor.
I can’t turn down a ministerial post just because I’m still seeing a handful of patients I’ve been seeing for many years
Prior to the interview requested by Dr Vella, the receptionist at the Foreign Affairs Ministry demanded the reporter hand over his mobile phone before entering the minister’s office. The foreign minister said this was a new policy.
Times of Malta yesterday reported that Dr Vella was the second member of the new Labour administration in breach of the ministerial code of ethics which prohibits the continuation of private practice, even on a voluntary basis.
“I deny that I am seeing patients early in the morning as reported by your newspaper.
“Your information is wrong and you should have verified it. All I’m doing is seeing constituents in my clinic on Saturday mornings,” he said.
The minister also said the code of ethics should not be compared to laws that bind individuals.
“What can I do if some of my constituents ask me for medical advice – show them the door?” he said.
Dr Vella disagreed with arguments that the code of ethics prohibited him from seeing patients, even if it was done with good intentions.
“You know who wrote this code,” he said, referring to former Prime Minster Eddie Fenech Adami who introduced it in 1994.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of and I don’t know why you are trying to write such a story to harm my reputation,” he said.
“You are not going to tarnish me with your stories as I never went on a private plane with businessmen to watch a football match or accepted a clock. You should have published these stories,” he said.
Dr Vella said that while the code of ethics needs to be respected, people have to be reasonable.
“I can’t turn down a ministerial post just because I’m still seeing a handful of patients I’ve been seeing for many years. Even when I was minister under Alfred Sant I continued to see patients and the PM was aware of it.”
Asked whether he asked for a waiver from the code of ethics to continue seeing his patients, similar to the one given by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to his colleague Parliamentary Secretary Franco Mercieca, Dr Vella said his case was different.
“He (Dr Mercieca) is a specialist and still young and so he should have a waiver to continue with his profession and keep up to date with developments in his specialisation.
“I will not be going back to medical practice and will not be contesting an election again,” he argued.
“What I am doing is just out of a sense of duty to my patients until they find another doctor. This is just an easing-out period,” he said. Asked how long this transition would last, he replied: “I don’t know.”
Prior to publishing the story on Tuesday, Times of Malta had asked Dr Vella whether he was still seeing patients.
He replied he had no time for such questions as he was attending an EU council.
His ministry also repeatedly declined to reply to written questions about the matter, stating it had no comments to make.
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