Chris Fearne knew nothing and was not involved in anything. That is what he would have us believe when he testified in court last week.
Fearne did not know that Chris Cardona signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the owners of Vitals months before the request for proposals was issued. He found out from the media. The MOU was not presented to Cabinet. When he asked Konrad Mizzi about it, Mizzi lied, claiming he knew nothing.
Fearne did not know about an emphyteutical concession signed before notary Thomas Vella which came after the MOU. The health ministry was not involved.
Fearne did not know that Mizzi signed a side letter guaranteeing the concessionaire €100 million if the court annulled the agreement.
Fearne did not know who provided the government with medical advice about the Vitals deal after the request for proposals stage.
Fearne did not know about another deal reached between the concessionaires and Mizzi. He only found out later. He has been ordered to present a copy of the deal in court.
Fearne did not know about government’s loan guarantee for Vitals. It was not presented in Cabinet.
Fearne was not aware that Mizzi and Joseph Muscat were negotiating with Steward Healthcare behind his back.
Fearne insisted that the hospitals’ contracts were signed before he became minister in April 2016. So really this mess had nothing to do with him.
But Fearne was parliamentary secretary for health since April 2014. What was he doing during those two years? Fearne claimed he intended to table a memo in Cabinet insisting that “either everything happens under health, or nothing at all”. But only decided to do so on the day Mizzi resigned – how unlucky. Why did he wait five whole years to confront his scheming, devious colleagues – Mizzi and Muscat?
And why is Fearne still defending Vitals now? When asked in court what technical expertise Vitals had, Fearne replied, “they were backed by Harvard”. They were not. Harvard Medical School does not own or operate hospitals. It relies on 15 clinical affiliates and research institutes for access to patient care and clinical training of its students. The claim that Vitals was backed by Harvard is entirely false. And Vitals had no expertise whatsoever.
Partners Healthcare International (PHI) were roped in by Vitals when their complete lack of expertise became glaringly obvious and risked blowing the whole scam. PHI are not Harvard.
The lies Vitals fed us are only now seen in their grotesque magnitude. When Fearne endorsed them in June 2015, the majority of the population was understandably deceived.
Standing with the conman Ram Tumuluri, Fearne claimed that Vitals would invest €200 million, develop a 180-bed state of the art rehabilitation hospital with 80 beds for government use and another 100 for medical tourism, a dermatology Centre at St Luke’s, 300 new acute beds at Gozo General hospital, a total of 350 beds at Karin Grech hospital including 12 dermatology beds.
He propagated more fiction – Vitals would invest heavily in St Luke’s, develop a wellness service providing internal medicine, radiology, family counselling services and a new therapy pool. Vitals, he bragged, would create 1,000 jobs. Fearne emphasised that Vitals would rent the premises from government and pay government doctors, nurses and other hospital staff. Vitals never paid any government employee. And never did anything else either.
Ram Tumuluri had reassured us: The Vitals team has proven experience and competence to operate health services and manage hospitals to the highest standards. Tumuluri had never run a clinic, let alone a hospital. The only thing he was good at was running businesses into the ground, failing to pay VAT, deleting accounting records, and stealing credit card deposits for Christmas reservations at the Nita Lake Lodge.
In 2015 we were told that Vitals’ CEO, Armin Ernst had more than 40 years of experience. But until 2012 Ernst was still following a masters degree in healthcare management. He had been CEO for Reliant medical group for only two years. Prior to that he had been a respiratory doctor. Ernst seamlessly transitioned from Vitals CEO to Steward CEO and president. As Steward CEO, backed by Joseph Muscat, he arrogantly demanded €18 million from Prime Minister Robert Abela to make up for the serious financial problems he had created himself as Vitals CEO and for the government’s failure to effectively oversee his own work at Vitals. Could anybody be more shameless?
Why did Chris Fearne promote Vitals? Why did he obstinately refuse to list payments made to Vitals in December 2016 in parliament? Why did he vote in favour of Vitals in parliament? Why did he only publish heavily redacted versions of the contracts signed with Vitals? Why did Fearne refuse a freedom of information request to publish the due diligence reports on Vitals in 2016? Fearne had been warned repeatedly that despite millions paid to Vitals nothing had been done. Fearne’s reply in parliament was: “the payments made compare well to recurrent expenditure on the same hospitals before”.
Daphne Caruana Galizia had long highlighted Tumuluri’s track record – bankruptcy. Bill Walker of All Equity Mortgage in British Columbia commented that “everything he’s been involved in around here has failed”. Vitals was only created in May 2015, well after the 2014 MOU. When the final agreement was signed Vitals had only been in existence for seven months – but Fearne tried to convince us that they had a “strong track record in healthcare”.
There can only be one of two explanations of why Fearne fueled the Vitals lies. He was either so naive that he was duped, or he put his personal ambition above the public interest.
After feeding us Vitals fantasies for years, Fearne now tries to absolve himself from the rotten mess they’ve left behind. In the meantime, the true owners of Technoline are allowed to continue to scrounge the taxpayer through government contracts.