Flip-flopping Abela – Kevin Cassar
On 24 February 2023, after a devastating court judgement rescinded the Vitals-Steward deals, Prime Minister Robert Abela was nowhere to be seen.
As the nation eagerly awaited, Abela’s government issued a two-line statement: “The government is analysing the ruling. It will ensure the national interest is protected.”
That sounds strange when considering what the court said on the suspect €100 million Steward bailout clause: “The court is certain that no person with the national interest at heart would ever enter into such agreements.”
It took Abela two weeks before he found his tongue. Suddenly, Abela transformed into the tough-talking superhero, confronting the evil Steward and determined to save the country.
“The government will be very strong and demand that Steward Health Care refunds the money,” he said on his political party’s channel.
Four days later, the bodybuilder machismo vanished. Abela spent a whole hour in parliament defending Steward, waxing lyrical about all the work Steward had done, the hundreds of thousands of patients they had treated, the projects they completed.
He unleashed his fury onto the Opposition, which dared to propose a motion condemning the hospitals’ deal. He accused PN MP Adrian Delia of lying and distorting the court’s judgement.
He threatened to ask the Auditor General to investigate “this allegation by Adrian Delia” and establish whether “there was any grain of truth” in Delia’s claims that Vitals-Steward had taken €400 million and didn’t return that value in infrastructural projects or medical services.”
The country’s problem, for deluded Abela, is Skanska. At least Skanska delivered a new hospital. Vitals didn’t.
Why can’t Abela make up his mind? Is there or isn’t there money to be reclaimed from Steward? Why did he promise to be strong with Steward and then praise them for the “state of the art care” at Gozo General hospital?
Why was Abela extolling Steward for the projects it completed when the court slammed the poverty of evidence Steward brought to show what work it had carried out?
The court detailed the company’s catalogue of failures: no medical tourism beds, no additional rehabilitation beds, no new Gozo hospital and minimal refurbishment at Gozo General Hospital.
Yet Robert Abela dedicated his whole parliamentary speech lauding Steward for its achievements.
Whose side is Abela on? Why does he attack Steward one day only to lavish the highest praise on it the following?
The answer lies in a website Steward set up in the last few days. It promises to “give unprecedented public access to the financial details relating to the hospital concession”.
“This is our duty to the Maltese people,” Steward said. That’s a direct jibe at Abela. Labour spent years concealing information about the concessions from the public. It notoriously hid the Memorandum of Understanding, even from the National Audit Office, which Abela’s now asking to investigate the concession.
The last time they tried, Konrad Mizzi refused to speak to them. The government refused to provide the necessary information. Labour refused to table the hospitals’ agreements in parliament.
When it finally did, those agreements were so heavily redacted that they were worthless. Labour intentionally hid the key milestones the concessionaires were obliged to reach. When they invariably failed to reach their targets, Labour moved the goalposts to accommodate them.
Steward is now on the attack. Abela is swiftly retreating. He knows Steward has compromising and devastating information about the stinking mess Labour made with Vitals. Steward has started to leak that information.
“We found a concession in disarray,” Steward declared. “There were no management accounts for three years”.
“We took on a business that was unable to cover salaries, had no established management accounts and no annual statements filed”.
Our government was responsible for ensuring Vitals had the necessary financial backing and expertise to run the concession. Instead, Labour waived all requirements and kept postponing Vitals’ obligations.
“VGH could not raise any financing and were relying on bridge financing from individuals,” Steward said. Vitals had collapsed. Labour was panicking. Barts was at the point of ending its Gozo project because of a lack of facilities. Its students were still being housed in temporary premises “unfit for purpose”.
Steward accused the government of failing to have overseen the previous concessionaire. “There was no tangible evidence of improvements in medical service delivery or quality of care,” Steward noted. And the Barts project was “just a hole in the ground”.
Steward found a complete disaster when it took over: “Non-essential administrative personnel were laid off”, it said, saving €1.8 million. Who were these unnecessary administrative personnel costing us €1.8 million? Steward found that Vitals was renting “unnecessary real estate”? What were these?
Steward inherited seven luxury vehicles from Vitals that it swiftly sold off. But there were inadequate transport facilities for patients. Steward discovered that Vitals hadn’t paid national insurance for its employees. Labour had done nothing about it.
Vitals also brought in “additional companies” – a direct reference to Technoline – “to establish exclusive contractual supplies bind”. Steward reported that it “cancelled all questionable agreements, especially those providing exclusivity in procurement”.
Steward hasn’t even started using its arsenal. “VGH obscured their ultimate beneficiaries through multiple layers of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands. Those holding companies were moved to Jersey when scrutiny on BVI companies increased,” Steward added.
That is Labour’s biggest con. The nation doesn’t even know who Vitals’ ultimate beneficial owners were until journalists’ investigations revealed them.
Their own “real deal” is now exposing Labour’s filth.
Steward’s biggest revelation is that its revenue between 2015 and 2021 was €540 million, not €400 million.
€50 million of that was spent on professional and legal fees.
Vitals left €62 million behind in liabilities and hadn’t even fulfilled a single contractual obligation when it left. Yet Steward was compelled to pay Vitals and third-party investors €29.3 million upon taking over.
“Perhaps the government was in collusion with VGH,” Steward said. Perhaps?
No wonder Abela’s panicking. No wonder he’s flip-flopping.