Professor Albert Fenech, a former PN MP who had resigned from his parliamentary seat to turn his attention towards setting up a cardiac unit in Gozo with Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) in January 2016, told The Shift that the deal with the concessionaire had “bamboozled quite a few people”.
Fenech stopped working for VGH in December 2018, the same year in which the concession was handed over to Steward Health Care following increasing reports of VGH’s financial inadequacy for the project and the need for the project to be bailed out.
“I was employed to set up the cardiac unit in Gozo, something I’ve always wanted to do. I had everything organised – a CAT lab and a team, we’d even employed a consultant cardiologist for Gozo,” Fenech told The Shift when contacted following the latest NAO report on the hospitals’ deal.
VGH had reached out to Fenech, a veteran cardiologist who had set up Mater Dei’s cardiology unit in 1999, following the government’s refusal to renew his contract in September 2015. According to the cardiologist, VGH had originally sought his services to set up cardiac units in St Luke’s and in Gozo.
“Gozo took priority as the plans for St Luke’s were on paper and no real effort was made in the actual internal modifications necessary. At the time, we were told St Luke’s would take at least two years to be developed so that’s why Gozo was the sensible place to start with, even though the original plans were to build a new hospital next to the old one. Another white elephant,” Fenech stated.
Fenech’s move to the concessionaire was turned into a political maelstrom: disgraced former health minister Konrad Mizzi had pounced on the news, claiming that an ex-PN MP had resigned from parliament to endorse foreign direct investment brought in by the government. Fenech had outlined that the government had nothing to do with his decision to join VGH.
Fenech told The Shift he had “absolutely” changed his mind about the deal which he had previously defended. Fenech had even travelled with a government delegation to Montenegro to pitch VGH’s expansion plans overseas. Through international investigations in collaboration with journalists on the ground, The Shift has shown – in 2019 – how VGH tried to sell its scam in Malta to other corrupt nations.
“I had specifically asked in the beginning whether there was anything shady about the deal because I didn’t want to be any part of it if there was, and they had assured me there wasn’t,” Fenech said.
“I didn’t stop there – Partners HealthCare, which is an offshoot of Harvard University in the US, had carried out two feasibility reports on VGH. They had found them to be okay so that had reassured me,” he added, further stating that problems started arising when the concessionaires started running out of money.
“In Gozo’s hospital, in particular, they were down to the last week of supplies in the laboratory. That’s when we started smelling something fishy,” Fenech said.
“That was it once Steward took over and they dumped all the plans they had for Gozo. When we had cash flow problems for the laboratory, which was my remit, they dumped it, so all that preparation was for nothing,” he added.
Fenech spared no criticism for Konrad Mizzi’s role in the concession deal which saw St Luke’s Hospital, Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital and Gozo’s general hospital handed over to VGH.
“Whenever the name Konrad Mizzi comes up, you smell a rat. His name was involved in those deals because he had sorted it out, which is why I kept on asking the same questions over and over before agreeing to be employed by them. That guy can’t be trusted with anything; they kept on reassuring me, and with Partners saying they were all kosher, I felt confident,” Fenech said.
When asked about what he feels needs to happen with the deal knowing it has been exposed as corrupt, Fenech did not comment directly on what the government should do but instead spoke of his assessment of the Nationalist Party on whose ticket he’d been elected as MP.
“We need a decent opposition. The damned tragedy is that with all the filth that we have been allowing to happen and that we know about given it’s all recorded and documented, very little has been done about it,” Fenech said.
“In spite of all that, people will again still be voting into power the same kind of morally deplete individual. This kind of deal and the information we have about it would have been a gift to any opposition worthy of its name, and yet, they just bicker between themselves,” he added, describing the Party’s overall ability to hold the government to account as “impotent”.
Referring to Opposition Leader Bernard Grech, Fenech said he could not understand how the PN had appointed “an outsider who isn’t an MP as their leader”, adding that he believed this “gives the wrong impression that no one from all the members of parliament of the Party is fit to lead”.