Konrad Mizzi claimed under oath on Tuesday that the government had rested on the recommendation of the evaluation board when striking the hospitals’ deal with Vitals Global Healthcare.
Dr Mizzi was answering questions in court shortly before announcing his resignation from office in civil proceedings instituted by Opposition Leader Adrian Delia seeking the rescission of the controversial hospitals privatisation deal between the government and VGH.
The suit was filed against Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, the Attorney General, Malta Industrial Parks and VGH. It called for Karin Grech, St Luke’s and Gozo hospitals to be “given back to the people” because contract conditions had not been fully abided by.
When the case continued on Tuesday, Dr Mizzi, who was Health Minister up to 2016, was questioned at length about the selection process leading to the signing of the deal. He explained that when he took over the health portfolio, he had wanted to revamp things.
St Luke’s Hospital, Karin Grech and the Gozo Hospital were outdated, Dr Mizzi said, adding that government wanted to attract a “world-class medical school in Gozo”.
The witness was asked about a due diligence report, the findings of which had been published by assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, advising the government to stay away from Vitals, described as a “sham company”.
Yet, Dr Mizzi replied that the government had appointed an evaluation board and left matters in its hands, adding that the conclusions of that board had been to proceed with the deal with Vitals.
The company had its shortcomings, Dr Mizzi admitted, but they had medical experience.
“They had no medical experience whatsoever. Not even to construct a wheelchair,” rebutted Jason Azzopardi, assisting Adrian Delia.
“Who was on that board?” pressed on Dr Azzopardi, getting a negative reply from Dr Mizzi
“Don’t you know there was Nexia BT on that board, the same firm that opened your company in Panama? What a coincidence,” went on the lawyer.
At that stage, Mr Justice Francesco Depasquale intervened.
“So you relied on the report of the evaluation committee?”
“Yes,” came the reply.
As the minister stepped off the witness stand, his place was taken by Martin Balzan, president of the Medical Association of Malta.
Dr Balzan explained how during talks with representatives of the medical profession, the government had promised a quantum leap in investment in the field.
However, after analysing the latest budget estimates, the association had reached the conclusion that there was a “big question mark between what we were promised, what we were actually getting and what was being handed to the concessionaire”.
Barts Medical School inaugurated last week was just part of the plan, said Dr Balzan. “But that’s not part of the hospital. It does not serve patients.”
Earlier during the hearing, deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, also scheduled to testify, had filed an application requesting an adjournment “since he was caught up in urgent and unforeseen official government work”.
The court upheld this explanation by Minister Fearne.
Dr Mizzi, however, simply sent a message via his lawyer, Aron Mifsud Bonnici, who in turn asked lawyer John Bonello to relay to the court the message that the minister was “likewise unable to attend”.
The message was objected to by Dr Delia and his lawyer, Jason Azzopardi, who stated that “no one was above the law”.
The case continues.
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