Opposition leader Simon Busuttil insisted in Parliament this evening that whoever was responsible for the supply of inferior quality concrete at Mater Dei Hospital, and whoever was responsible for fraudulent testing should be held to account and made to pay damages.
He also asked, however, who the government was defending in its public declarations, saying that John Dalli was hardly ever mentioned even though it had resulted in the Inquiry Report that all sub-contracts went 'through him'.
Speaking after a statement by Health and Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi on the findings of an Inquiry into the weak concrete at the hospital (see separate report), Dr Busuttil hit out at the government for not having published the full report on the concrete quality by consultants Arup. Transparency, he said, was only a slogan for the government, like Malta Taghna Lkoll, because Dr Mizzi had not tabled the report he had made reference to.
Dr Busuttil said the Opposition always sought to achieve the best medical service, whether that was the actual structure of the hospital, or the services that were provided.
The PN administration had invested heavily for a hospital of the highest level, described by Alfred Sant as 'state of the art'. Those who felt short should be held to account. That was always the position of the Opposition.
Dr Busuttil said the Opposition still had to read the documents which the minister had tabled. However, whoever was responsible for the inferior concrete and the fraudulent tests of its quality should be held to account. That applied both to companies and individuals including, it appeared, a company belonging to a brother of former minister John Dalli and a company involved in the building of the Labour headquarters.
Minister Konrad Mizzi had said repair work would cost €35 million. What would the government do to ensure that whoever was responsible for bad workmanship paid up? It should not be taxpayers who shouldered the bill.
What action for damages would the government take?
Indeed, how had the minister concluded that €35m were needed for the repairs when the reports had not been concluded?
Unfortunately, Dr Busuttil said, this government had been bent more at throwing mud at the opposition.
Why had there been continuous leakage on this case before the report was concluded?
If the report was concluded today, how did the minister know about it earlier?
How had the government said it could not take action for damages? Why had it surrendered before the fight? (for damages). A proper reading of the project closure agreement showed it was not true that the government could not sue for damages.
As for political responsibility, Dr Busuttil said that if he was being held responsible even though he was still at university at the time when this matter took place, then was Joseph Muscat also responsible when Dr Sant was prime minister between 1996 and 1998? At the time Dr Sant wanted to add two storeys on the hospital. Mepa granted a permit for one storey. But had Dr Sant not conducted tests? And what was the outcome? What had become of that report?
Why was John Dalli, Dr Muscat's consultant, hardly mentioned in the minister’s statement? He had been health minister at the time and negotiations were held when he was in office. The inquiry report said the sub contractors came 'through him' So why did Dr Mizzi hardly mention him? Who was he trying to defend?
Furthermore more building at Mater Dei took place while Dr Sant was prime minister.
But for Dr Muscat, political responsibility only applied to others. For example, he wanted to pin responsibility on him for something which took place 20 years ago, but he would not assume responsibility for the Cafe' Premiere and Old Mint Street controversies, Dr Busuttil said.
Among other MPs, Beppe Fenech Adami (PN) asked how Henri Mizzi, the lawyer involved in the drawing up the contract, was not questioned by the Inquiry when he could have shed light on the waiver clause. George Pullicino (PN) said the report on the hospital structure compiled when Dr Sant was prime minister should be published.
PRIME MINISTER REPLIES
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the government never said it would not act to recover damages. What he had always said that the contract clauses made it harder.
It was not the government that surrendered, he said, but people such as Brian St John, former CEO of the Foundation for Medical Services (FMS) who in 2011 told the FMS that they could not recover damages for weak concrete in a reservoir.
Minister Konrad Mizzi said Alfred Sant had engaged a new company in 1996 and started introducing controls on the Mater Dei Hospital project, but he was stopped by the general election and the new PN government then gave a blank cheque to Skanska to design and build.
He said the present government on learning about the inferior concrete had immediately engaged with Skanska and it would fight it tooth and nail. It was the PN government and Brian St John, Simon Busuttil's choice at PN headquarters, who gave up in 2011 when weak concrete was found in a hospital reservoir.
What the inquiry found was that suing for damages now was made more difficult because of the closure agreement signed by the previous government, its acceptance of the waiver when the reservoir issue cropped up, and its failure to conduct further tests throughout the hospital when those defects first resulted.