State agency Projects Malta has been ordered by a court to divulge the names of the members who sat on the evaluation committee of the hospitals' concession agreement, awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare.
The judgment brought to an end a two-year saga which started in April 2018 when Times of Malta journalist Jacob Borg had been denied the information, requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
Meanwhile, hours before the judgment was delivered, some of the names of committee members emerged during separate court proceedings related to the public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
It transpired that the committee was presided by Projects Malta chairman James Camenzuli, while Robert Borg and Manuel Castagna were among the other members and focused on the financial analysis of the bidders.
Camenzuli testified that the committee met about 10 times and that two of the three bidders were disqualified as they were deemed not to be compliant due to missing bid bonds and documentation. That left VGH as the sole bidder.
Contract awarded in 2017
The contract in question had been awarded in 2017 when VGH had been granted a 30-year concession to run St Luke’s Hospital, Karin Grech and Gozo General Hospital. In return, they were to receive around €50 million per year from taxpayers’ money.
Questions had immediately been raised about the transparency of the adjudication process which fell under the responsibility of then Minister Konrad Mizzi, as well as the fact that VGH had no experience whatsoever in the medical sector.
Moreover, a series of contractual obligations to invest in new medical facilities were not honoured by VGH, which transferred its concession to US Group Steward HealthCare at the end of 2017.
In July, an investigation by the National Audit Office concluded that VGH should have been disqualified from bidding because of “collusive behaviour” with the government through a secret agreement made before the tender had been even issued. A month earlier, Mizzi had been expelled from the Labour Party over another controversial deal - a windfarm project in Montenegro.
Publishing names poses no threat to privacy
In its decision, an appeals court presided by Judge Lawrence Mintoff noted that divulging the names of the members would not pose a threat to the privacy of the individuals concerned. On the contrary, such information was required, proportional and justified in the public interest with respect to the Freedom of Information Act.
It was also pointed out that such information could not, in any way, jeopardise the adjudication process for the simple reason that it had been concluded.
During proceedings, Times of Malta had argued that in its role of public watchdog it was bound to investigate and ensure that public contracts were being awarded as a result of a transparent process. Consequently, it needed to have the required information to be able to scrutinise the process.
Timeline of events
- April 6, 2018 - Projects Malta denies Times of Malta's request for the names of evaluation committee members on grounds that no specific document had been requested.
- May 2, 2018 - Times of Malta seeks redress before the Data Protection Commissioner saying the refusal went against the spirit of the law and was something which could be easily acquiesced. However, Projects Malta insists such information was “personal” and consequently could not be divulged.
- July 30, 2018 - Data Commissioner rules that the refusal by Projects Malta is justified.
- August 16, 2018 - Times of Malta challenges the decision before the Data Protection Appeals Tribunal.
- March 26, 2019 - Tribunal rejects appeal and Times of Malta seeks redress before an appeals court.
- September 2, 2020 – Court overturns decision ordering Project Malta to give the requested information.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us