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The people’s right to know

It should not take journalists to try and uncover, in dribs and drabs, the truth of who and what lie behind the two billion euro deal for three State hospitals. It is the public’s right to know, directly from the government itself.

Firstly, because the property belongs to the Maltese people, not to the persons who happen to occupy positions of power at this time.

Secondly, because it is the public health service that is at stake.

Thirdly, because in a free and democratic society, the government has an obligation to its citizens to be transparent in all its dealings, so that it may be held accountable by them.

But this principle has long been thrown to the dogs and is lying in shreds, as the pattern continues of legitimate press questions being met with stonewall after stonewall.

What we are left with are bones of contention: the unanswered questions and inevitable speculation. They fill the information vacuum while independent journalists from several media houses, going back to the late Daphne Caruana Galizia, painstakingly attempt to peel back the many layers of the onion that is Vitals Global Healthcare and its concession to operate the three hospitals – the people’s property.

It would not be like this if the Prime Minister had a scrap of respect left for his citizens. How dare this so-called socialist government suppress their right to be informed and treat them with such contempt?

Unfortunately for the government, not all of the people have been fooled by the hype, not least because it came during Konrad Mizzi’s time as health minister – he of Panama fame – and was sandwiched between two health ministers and medical practitioners, Godfrey Farrugia and Chris Fearne, for whom the people’s health is a genuine priority.

Let’s say it outright: there can only be one reason why the government has been so secretive about the Vitals project. Only one reason why it kept so much of the contract under wraps, why it signed a secret MoU before it called for proposals, why it dealt with a company that had no experience in healthcare provision when its purported aim was to improve healthcare, why it sold the contents of the hospitals for a single euro, why it never revealed who the real beneficiaries are…

That reason is money.

More precisely, some people were set to make truckloads of it from this deal, whether directly or indirectly, and they wanted to conceal their identity and their methods. There is no other logical explanation for such secrecy.

If it were not the case, if the parties involved were purely trying to improve the country’s health service, the government would have been free to be open and transparent about it. And please, let it not hide behind the usual smokescreen of ‘commercial interests’ – that excuse does not account for the opacity of the dealings.

It is scandalous that the government has been so dishonest with its citizens in a matter so sensitive as their health, quite apart from what may lie hidden behind the deliberately complex structure underlying Vitals, leading all the way back to the British Virgin Islands.

The deep suspicion that there is something very rotten in the whole affair is fully justified given the background of alleged kickbacks and money laundering, impunity and shackling of law enforcement that continue to snap at the heels of the government’s inner circle.

Who is improperly or illicitly getting richer off the people’s backs? This is the million-dollar question.

And it will not go away.

The people demand answers. Even more so because Vitals has now failed spectacularly and it is selling off its hospitals concession.

Before the company disappears, the people want to know exactly what it gave back for the millions it received in taxpayer funds. They want to be assured that their money is not lining the pockets of a corrupt few. They want to be sure they haven’t been robbed.

And they don’t want to wait for the National Audit Office to conclude its investigation before finding out, if ever. They want to know now. It is their unassailable right.

Meanwhile, journalists from across the media are closing in. They can’t all be silenced.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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