The take-over is (almost) complete
The history of the Maltese Parliament has many glorious pages and many not so glorious pages. Monday was one of the latter.
The meeting of the Public Accounts Committee received a letter from the medical association MAM and UĦM asking for an investigation by the Audit Office into the entry of VGH into the management of three hospitals – the Gozo General Hospital, St Luke’s Hospital and Karin Grech Hospital. Now the PAC is the only parliamentary committee that has a majority made up from the Opposition and the government is in a minority. But the government minority in PAC latched on to a request by Opposition MP Claudette Buttigieg to the Health Committee on which she sits to discuss the VGH and requested that the discussion be shifted from PAC to the Health Committee. Now this might seem to be a discussion on angels on pinheads, but it is not. It has significant and sombre repercussions.
It means that the takeover by a private company (on which there are many questions and doubts) of three of Malta’s
hospitals is not studied by the Audit Office nor discussed by the PAC on which there is a majority of Opposition MPs and instead discussed by the Health Committee on which the government is in a majority.
PAC was set up precisely to offer checks and balances, albeit limited, and this suggestion by the government side bypasses it entirely. It is true there is the Plenary where any issue can be raised but here the government has a majority, now slightly reduced, but no discussion in Plenary can compete with the informal and less restricted methods of the PAC.
And although the heads of the Audit Office complained on Monday they have a huge workload in front of them and so implied they would be hard put to tackle the VGH issue as well, there is an additional impelling reason why the VGH issue should be tackled at PAC with the help of the Audit Office.
Nor is it a question which committee gets to discuss the VGH case as if this is a question of precedence. It is simply a matter which committee is best suited to discuss the matter.
Now the issue, like Solomon’s baby, is in front of the Speaker who is expected to decide (hopefully not by cutting the baby up!) and we await his decision. But at the same time we cannot but express our disappointment at the soft, velvet, intransigence with which the Labour minority attacked the issue. Minister Owen Bonnici has this habit of appearing all light and reason while underneath he is steel and does not budge one inch. Claudette Buttigieg on her part was ready to withdraw her proposal to the Health Committee but this aperture did not find a corresponding aperture on the part of the government minority. Fortunately, PAC chairman Tonio Fenech kept his cool and did not succumb to the temptation of calling for a vote (something that happened in the past and which had deleterious impacts on cohabitation between government and Opposition) much though this must have been constantly at the back of his head.
The takeover of the three hospitals by VGH is now practically complete without a proper discussion in Parliament and without any discussion by the unions representing the workers with the new owners.