The Appeals Court confirmed a lower court’s decision that Steward Health Care are to be thrown out and Karin Grech, Gozo General, and St Luke’s hospitals are to go back to the Maltese public.
The Appeals Court departed from the first court’s decision, saying this wasn’t just a case of private interests cheating idiots working for the government. “It is the opinion of this court that the way the story evolved does not show that one side cheated and the other side was too innocent to realise, as the first court believed. What led to the simulated contracts that were not intended to give high quality medical services but to reach other objectives were a result of the collusion between the appealing companies and leading officials of the government and its agencies.”
The ruling led to the decision that Steward do not alone pay the costs of the court case as the first court decided. Instead, a share of the cost (half the cost of the first court case and a third of the appeal) will now be borne by taxpayers who will have to pay court costs on behalf of the prime minister, the attorney general, and the heads of state agencies responsible for administering public assets and lands.
Today’s decision is the last chapter of the court case brought by then Leader of Opposition Adrian Delia.
The Appeals Court dismissed the distinction Steward Health Care wanted to make between themselves as shareholders and the company which they bought when they acquired the hospitals. In their appeal Steward accepted that the concession to VGH was probably fraudulent. The court agreed. The company Steward bought used to be VGH. The Appeals Court ruled that the fact that the company has new owners doesn’t mean it is not responsible for its actions before the take-over of the business.
The Appeals Court underlined that “from the very beginning, it was clear that the intention behind the agreement between the government and the appealing companies (Steward) was not improvement of medical services but something else. From the beginning there were indications that the concession to (VGH/Steward) was not doable and was not intended to yield what it apparently was meant to.”
The Appeals Court was far more scathing of the conduct of government officials than the lower court: “The reaction of the people with the responsibility to protect the country’s best interest when they saw milestone after milestone go by with no result was not to seek the remedies provided by the contract but to continually extend timelines in favour of (VGH/Steward) without expecting anything in return. On the contrary, payments of millions of euro continued to be made to (VGH/Steward) … This was done to give the impression that everything was moving forward instead of exposing early on that the project was not doable.”
Elsewhere, the judges say that the evidence “confirms the suspicion that the intention behind the concession (to VGH/Steward) was not the improvement of medical services but to serve as an instrument to flow money from the country’s coffers to the pockets of (VGH/Steward).” The judges quote without naming Health Minister Chris Fearne by saying the concession was not “the real deal”.
In scathing criticism of the authorities, the judges say that they do “not know why those who had the duty to protect the country’s interests failed to do so and instead were more concerned with (VGH/Steward)’s interest to the point that when they responded to the application the (government) defended (VGH/Steward) and it was only when this appeal was filed that they switched to defending the court decision that said (Adrian Delia) was right.
“The fact is that (the prime minister, the attorney general, and the heads of the state’s property agencies) failed in their duty to the country and they failed to seek the remedies they were supposed to. It had to be (Adrian Delia, then Leader of Opposition) that took the initiative to protect the country’s interest by seeking the remedy of abolishing the concession and its subsidiary agreements.”
An inquiry into alleged criminal misconduct by government ministers in the VGH/Steward concession requested by Repubblika in 2019 is ongoing.