Vi­tals Global Health­care not al­lowed to speak to me­dia with­out gov­ern­ment per­mis­sion

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - Kevin Schem­bri Or­land

Vi­tals Global Health­care can­not speak to the me­dia un­less it ob­tains the gov­ern­ment’s writ­ten con­sent, a con­tract tabled in Par­lia­ment shows.

On Wed­nes­day the gov­ern­ment pub­lished the three agree­ments reached with Vi­tals Global Health­care cov­er­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Karin Grech Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Hospi­tal, St Luke’s Hospi­tal and the Gozo Gen­eral Hospi­tal. VGH was the pre­ferred bid­der for the pub­licpri­vate part­ner­ship.

The con­ces­sion is for 30 years and in­cludes cap­i­tal in­jec­tion of €220 mil­lion over the com­ing two years. The con­tracts were tabled in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives by Health Min­is­ter Chris Fearne.

The Health Ser­vices De­liv­ery agree­ment con­tains a par­tic­u­lar sec­tion on public re­la­tions and pub­lic­ity, which states that VGH may not “com­mu­ni­cate with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the press, TV, ra­dio or other com­mu­ni­ca­tions me­dia on any mat­ter con­cern­ing this agree­ment or the ser­vices” with­out prior writ­ten con­sent by gov­ern­ment.

In ad­di­tion, “in the event of any en­quiries (in­clud­ing those by the me­dia, Par­lia­ment or any gov­ern­men­tal or of­fi­cial body) be­ing re­ceived by the con­ces­sion­aire (VGH) about this agree­ment or the ser­vices, the con­ces­sion­aire shall im­me­di­ately re­fer the mat­ter to gov­ern­ment, and will make no for­mal or in­for­mal re­sponse to such en­quiries with­out gov­ern­ment’s prior writ­ten con­sent”.

The par­tic­u­lar clause states that gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion in re­la­tion to the afore­men­tioned is fi­nal and con­clu­sive.

Through this clause, gov­ern­ment has ef­fec­tively is­sued a gag order on the re­lease of all pos­si­ble in­for­ma­tion from VGH di­rectly to the me­dia. Yes­ter­day, The Malta In­de­pen­dent high­lighted a clause in an­other of the con­tracts pub­lished (the Ser­vices Con­ces­sion agree­ment).

The clause, re­gard­ing con­fi­den­tial­ity, men­tions com­mer­cially sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion. Gov­ern­ment blanked out many pages in the con­tract, as well as in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to time­frames and pay­ments.

The con­fi­den­tial­ity clause how­ever does not ap­ply to any disclosure of in­for­ma­tion by the gov­ern­ment to any other rel­e­vant public bod­ies, in­clud­ing Par­lia­ment, “should the gov­ern­ment con­sider it nec­es­sary to ful­fil any le­gal or po­lit­i­cal obli­ga­tions which it may have”.

In ad­di­tion, a sep­a­rate clause within the Ser­vices Con­ces­sion agree­ment reads that the gov­ern­ment “re­tains ab­so­lute dis­cre­tion whether it dis­closes any in­for­ma­tion to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the Au­di­tor Gen­eral, the Ac­coun­tant Gen­eral, the Par­lia­men­tary Om­buds­man and any other public body, with­out any need of con­sult­ing or ob­tain­ing the con­sent of the con­ces­sion­aire for this disclosure”.

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