Health Ministry gives €36 million in direct orders in 6 months, Franciscans clarify their position

Updated to include a statement by the Province of Conventual Franciscans in Malta

Chris Fearne’s Health Ministry has distributed some €36 million in direct orders during the last six months of 2021, according to a list of 256 direct orders published recently in the Government Gazette.

An analysis by The Shift shows that while some of the direct orders may somehow be justified, such as when they include the direct purchase of medicinal products from local agents, which may be bound by exclusivity, many of the millions dished out for services are easily available through various companies that offer competitive prices. Yet, as has become the trend, the government chose to use direct orders and negotiated procedures instead.

Described by health ministry sources as one of the most ‘unique’ direct orders ever given, the ministry paid the Church’s Franciscan Conventual friars almost €70,000 to provide “spiritual services for patients receiving treatment in the UK”.

“This must be the first time ever that friars have put a price to their normal spiritual services,” a ministry source told The Shift.

As has commonly happened in the past few years, where the direct order system has been used and abused, friends and acquaintances made the most out of public funds.

Technoline – an importer in the medical sector connected with the tainted hospitals’ deal, was given a staggering 31 different direct orders worth over €3 million. One of the direct orders, involving the supply of Immunoassay kits (e.g. for Covid-19 antibody testing) costs taxpayers some €2.5 million.

The few local private hospitals on the island have also become regular consumers of publicly funded direct orders.

St James Hospital, run by Jean Claude Muscat, a close friend of Health Minister Chris Fearne, was awarded another €1 million in contracts ranging from the washing of theatre equipment to the provision of MRI scans and swabbing facilities.

Its rival, St Thomas Hospital, owned by former Labour MP Louis Buhagiar, benefitted from some €2 million in direct orders, including a €1.3 million contract with Caring First Ltd – another company controlled by Buhagiar – for the provision of long term beds for elderly persons.

The current chief of staff of Minister Fearne, Carmen Ciantar, who was put on an irregular €163,000 financial package, used to work for Buhagiar when he was still in politics.

The Health Services Group – owned by James Barbara and Silvio Debono – were given a new €0.5 million direct order to provide nurses, while the owners of James Caterers and the DB Group received another €220,000 for care workers at the primary healthcare system.

Other beneficiaries include 360 Legal Services Ltd, the legal firm of Parliamentary Secretary Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, Signal 8 Security Services run by Jovan Grech, a former member of the brutal police ‘riot squad’ in the 1980s, and Mall Systems Limited owned by the current executive chairman of PBS Mark Sammut. Until 2020, Sammut’s wife, Carmen, used to be Minister Fearne’s Chief of Staff.


The Shift has received the statement below from the Province of Conventual Franciscans in Malta.

“The Province of Conventual Franciscans in Malta wishes to set the record straight after misleading articles appeared in local media alleging that the government issued a direct order to pay the Friars for spiritual services offered to Maltese patients requiring medical treatment in London.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that the Province of Conventual Franciscans had responded to a call from the government for expressions of interest after the Congregation which had provided this service for decades was no longer able to do so.

Furthermore, the suggestion that the Friars sought to charge for Spiritual services is incorrect and deeply offensive. When our offer was taken up, we signed a public contract with the government which compensates the Order for living expenses incurred by the Friars in the UK capital and for any arrangements that need to be made for adequate cover to ensure this essential service can continue to be provided to Maltese patients.

While we value the fundamental role of journalism in society, we are dismayed that no attempt was made to make contact with us to verify the facts. Instead, articles have appeared which have had the effect of needlessly tarnishing our reputation and, worse, risk compromising the service provided to Maltese patients receiving specialist medical care in London.”

Editorial note: The report was based on facts published in the Government Gazette, which referred to the direct order as being for “spiritual services”.

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2 months ago

Exorcists ain’t free.

carmelo borg
2 months ago

Ghal li jista ikun dan Jovin Grech kien ta SAG meta sparaw fuq in Nazzjonalisti u korrew gravi lil Mario Pavia li ftit wara kien miet

Albert Mamo
Albert Mamo
2 months ago


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