Since the government has been silent over several major aspects of its secret deal with Vitals Global Healthcare, the company granted a concession to run three public hospitals for up to 99 years, it has been up to the press to probe. The Shift News has collaborated with The Sunday Times of Malta to present the outcome of investigations on the deal.
In the summary of findings, published in The Sunday Times, we answer key questions. It becomes clear that VGH was obviously not a sound choice from the start, and it is clearly the Maltese people who emerge as the losers. Since 2016, taxpayers have been paying millions to people who evidently had a questionable track record. There is nothing much to show for it, as they now pack their bags and leave (positioned to continue profiting from a project they never delivered, for years to come).
For the first six months of the contract in 2016, VGH received more than €16 million in payments. In 2017, it received €18 million. On the last day of Parliament for 2017, the government got approval for an additional €17 million to be passed on to VGH for the same year.
The approval for the doubling of funding arrived just a day before the government made the announcement that VGH was being sold to Steward. Investigations by The Shift News revealed that at that time a key company in the VGH chain faced insolvency (bankruptcy) charges in the British Virgin Islands.
According to concession ‘milestones’ in the contract (blacked out by the government, but The Sunday Times of Malta has revealed nearly all the important hidden text of the deal in a number of stories), Vitals had to deliver a new medical school for Barts in Gozo by July 1, 2017, 50 additional beds at Karen Grech and St Luke’s by January 1, 2017 and 80 new rehabilitation beds for St Luke’s Hospital by September 30, 2017.
VGH has not delivered any new service or constructed or refurbished any of the hospitals.
Salaries to the overwhelming majority of healthcare professionals in these hospitals, amounting to many additional millions a year, are still coming out of government coffers.
Discussions on the sale of Vitals to Steward started a month after legal action was taken in the BVI. New documents submitted in Maltese courts by a panicked investor confirmed what we knew, but they also shed new light on the scandal. The Shift News has been analysing and pursuing leads from the documents submitted, which also exposed other hidden investors.
The impact faced by Malta’s national healthcare service as a result of VGH’s troubles is unclear. The Prime Minister’s Office has not provided answers to questions sent last week, after The Shift News reported that a late night meeting was held at Castille on 20 December in an attempt to facilitate the transfer to Steward Healthcare. The legal action taken in Malta aims to stop the deal until the investor is convinced his interests are safeguarded.
Further investigation has also exposed the fact that VGH signed another secret agreement on a hospital deal with the government of Montenegro, just as they did with the government of Malta. When murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had revealed VGH members giving a presentation on hospitals in Montenegro, the company had downplayed reports saying “nothing is decided yet”. New documents and reports discovered by The Shift News confirm her findings.