A large crowd of people answered the Nationalist Party's call to protest in front parliament on Thursday evening, as MPs debated the millions paid in a "fraudulent" hospitals deal annulled by court.
Amid chants of “thieves” and “arrest them”, protesters held cutouts of fake cheques addressed to "Vitals/Steward" for €400 million in reference to the millions spent by taxpayers for the failed hospitals project.
The controversial hospitals' privatisation deal was originally signed with Vitals, with the concession being handed to Steward Healthcare in 2018. A landmark judgment declared the deal “fraudulent” and ordered that St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals be returned to the government within three months.
The protest took place as parliament debated a private members’ motion filed by PN leader Bernard Grech and PN MP Adrian Delia, seeking to force the government to sue Vitals and Steward for money received since the contracts deemed fraudulent were signed.
Grech called the protest for what he described as the government’s lack of a response to the party's motion.
At around 6pm, protesters set up a table outside parliament to sell Maltese and PN flags to demonstrators.
“It’s no longer a matter of party,” one person said ahead of the protest.
“It's a matter of Malta and its people.”
Across the street, police took guard behind the metal barriers that have stood in front of the parliament building since 2019.
Speaking to the crowds after emerging from parliament, an animated Grech said he had been precluded from speaking in the House while Robert Abela had taken up most of the time.
He criticised the Speaker for failing to adhere to the rules, describing it as a "parody of democracy".
Grech said that by not appealing the court decision, the government had effectively accepted this was a fraudulent deal cooked up by fraudsters.
"The prime minister is terrified. The moment he stops being tied to the most corrupt politician in history, he is in trouble... no wonder the crowds are out in the streets," he said in reference to Abela's connection with Joseph Muscat.
Grech did not just point a finger at the prime minister but at the others involved in the deal: “Where is the Attorney General? Where is the police commissioner? We want everyone to take responsibility."
Addressing those present, Delia said parliament had now been "seized", the same way three hospitals had been taken away.
He said it was incredulous that for one hour in parliament, Abela had chosen to defend "foreign fraudsters".
According to an investigation by Times of Malta, taxpayers have paid at least €355 million net to Vitals and Steward Healthcare to date.
On Wednesday, Steward appealed the judgment which annulled the concession granted to it by the government.
On Thursday it submitted a termination notice to the government, citing "non-rectifiable defaults on the part of the government of Malta".
In a damning statement, Steward said it was "disappointed" at the government's failure throughout the engagement.
In response, the government said it was ready to immediately take over the running of the hospitals.
After the protest, the crowd headed towards the makeshift memorial for assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had written extensively about the hospitals' deal.
At the monthly vigil held opposite the memorial, Occupy Justice activist Louiselle Vassallo slammed those in charge of the country for insisting that they were the victims in the hospitals' deal.
“With all due respect, if it is true that you were not aware of the hospitals’ work, then that makes all of you incompetent.“And from the other side, if you really are capable representatives, then you are accomplices, every single one of you,” she said.
Echoing her sentiment, Repubblika co-founder Robert Aquilina questioned the government’s lack of responsibility in the court’s “fraudulent” ruling.“It is surreal that despite the unprecedented sentence, no one has taken responsibility. They have not taken political responsibility let alone criminal responsibility,” he said.