Godfrey Farrugia was forced out of the health ministry in March 2014 to pave way for the privatisation deal which saw Vitals Global Healthcare take over three public hospitals.
In a cogent article published on The Shift News today, Farrugia said his resignation from the Health Ministry in March 2013 “was a matter of principle. Then, Vitalis Global Health (later renamed Vitals Global Healthcare) still hadn’t been conceived but rumours in the OPM’s corridors were such that a possible venture could be established.”
“These were never discussed with me,” Farrugia said.
In comments to The Shift News, Farrugia said that before resigning from the health ministry he came under immense pressure to replace Marie Louise Coleiro Preca as social policy minister.
He had declined the offer and chose to resign from the Cabinet because he did not feel comfortable occupying the ministry vacated by Coleiro Preca, who was appointed President.
In his article, Farrugia – now a Partit Demokratiku MP – said “unfortunately, the Vitals pro-shady-business- contract has opened an oozing and infected wound in our national health service not only because of its multi-faceted bad governance but also because it is not a fair public deal.
The controversial concession was signed in March 2016, but has been plagued by controversy since the agreement was signed with Ram Tumuluri, a South Indian-born businessman who signed the deal on behalf of the Singapore-based shareholders.
The privatisation process was led by Projects Malta, which falls under the responsibility of Konrad Mizzi, who replaced Farrugia at the Health Ministry following the 2014 reshuffle.
The investor group behind Vitals Global Healthcare signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the government before it won the tender. The MoU was mentioned in a presentation dated February 2015 given to financial institutions by Vitals in Malta, even though the request for proposals to take over the running of three public hospitals was only published in April 2015, and the tender was officially awarded to Vitals the following September.
In comments to The Shift News, Farrugia said he is all for a Public-Private health mix, however the concession granted to VGH smacks of bad governance since one single company with no experience in running hospitals was awarded a contract which will see taxpayers fork out some €2.1 billion.
“The deal with Vitals was not the sort of deal needed for a sustainable and accessible healthcare system,” Farrugia told The Shift News.
In December 2017, government announced that it approved the sale of the concession to Steward Healthcare a mere 21 months after VGH secured a 30-year lease to operate Gozo, St Luke’s and Karin Grech hospitals. But a VGH spokesperson said the company was still “in negotiations” on the deal.
Predicting that “in a few years’ time, Steward Healtcare will go on to sell the concession once again,” Farrugia said that government has no trust in Maltese companies, NGOs and health professionals.
Pointing out that government completely overlooked other models, including the involvement of NGOs who had shown interest at offering services in public hospitals, the former Labour whip questioned whether proper due diligence was carried out by Projects Malta which falls under the responsibility of Konrad Mizzi.