Editorial | It stinks to high heaven

This is why the country should take stock of the situation and develop robust laws that make people in public office, including elected officials, accountable for their actions


Revelations that former prime minister Joseph Muscat received consultancy payments from a Swiss firm with links to the original concessionaire of the hospitals contract are damaging.

The latest journalistic investigation carried out by Times of Malta, OCCRP, and The Shift, goes further than what had already been known about Muscat’s consultancy job with the Swiss company Accutor.

In the latest instalment, it was revealed that one of the firms named Accutor from which Muscat had received payments had originally been named VGH Europe and was set up by Ram Tumuluri, an investor in the Malta VGH company.

The information available in the public domain so far closes the circle of how money flowed from the Malta hospitals concessionaire to Accutor and from Accutor to Muscat. The former prime minister denies his consultancy had anything to do with the Malta hospitals operations, insisting he will fight what he has called “false claims” tooth and nail.

It has to be seen whether the magisterial inquiry into the hospitals deal concludes that criminal action should be taken against Muscat and others, who occupied high public office. The inquiry has not yet finished its work, four years after it started upon a request filed by rule of law NGO Repubblika.

No other prime minister in Malta’s history has ever been implicated in potentially criminal acts as Muscat has been. This is not something to be taken lightly.

But irrespective of who the inquiry indicts, the truth of the matter remains that the hospitals concession contract was conceived with ill intent from day one. The Auditor General has provided ample proof of this in three voluminous reports covering the deal from inception to its final transfer to Steward Healthcare.

The nail in the coffin came earlier this year when Judge Francesco Depasquale annulled the contract on the basis of fraud and the fact that agreed milestones were not achieved.

And while all this is being played out in different fora, the Maltese people have been denied what was promised – a new Gozo hospital, a refurbished Karen Grech Rehabilitation hospital, and a new St Luke’s that would primarily house medical tourists.

But it is not just the promised €200 million in investments that has failed to materialise. The lost opportunity cost of making further investments cannot be ignored either. Not enough public money was pumped into existing hospital facilities and staff because of the hefty payments that were being made to VGH and Steward. This has led to overcrowding in hospital and lengthier waiting times for medical interventions.

Whichever way you look at this deal and its wider political ramifications; it stinks to high heaven. It is the epitome of bad governance and corruption, which is why no stone should remain unturned to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.

Bad governance erodes the implied trust that binds all actors in a democratic society. It harms the State, the individual and business. No one is immune from the ill effects of bad governance.

Bad governance distorts the market because it creates unfair competition to the detriment of legitimate firms that act ethically.

This is why the country should take stock of the situation and develop robust laws that make people in public office, including elected officials, accountable for their actions.

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