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Opinion • November 14 2004

Jeg tror der er en fejl på regningen
(I think there is a mistake in the bill)

Louis Deguara’s ministerial Jaguar parked itself next to Castille, no driver to be seen but somehow still with the engine running.
A stationary car that runs on diesel I am told spews more toxic fumes than 1000 cigarettes puffed together at any one time. I too have a diesel car, but I am not the Health minister and I do not take responsibility for introducing a Kabul styled smoking ban.
Now In-Nazzjon is a great newspaper if you happen to feed cats canned mackerel in dark alleys.
It is Tuesday morning and a day after Dr Gonzi announced he had concluded his successful negotiations with the Swedish company Skanska, and In-Nazzjon painted Dr Gonzi like US General MacArthur wading through the water and liberating the Philippines from the nasty Japs.
Instead of spelling out the facts, In-Nazzjon pasted its story with numbers and the fictitious conclusion that the PM had struck a deal that put Malta’s coffers before the financial interests of the Swedish multinational.
The simple truth is that the contractual agreement with Skanska in the year 2000 spelt out in very clear terms that the cost for the hospital would be 95 million.
What happened since the year 2000 was simply a case of unpredictable managerial incompetence.
As Dr Gonzi smiled and smiled, flanked by the man who left the Jaguar’s diesel engine on, and his ever faithful Tonio Fenech, no one cared to ask the Prime Minister why the bill has turned out to be tens of millions more than 93 million.
Now, the PM knows the general public finds it difficult to digest numbers. One of his advisors, the one who leaves his TV production meeting to provide him with ready made spun ideas, knows all too well that numbers are inanimate, unpalatable, very unreal and ghostly.
In other words, if you say the project will cost only Lm139 million the public will say; “ Gee, its only 139 million.”
The way we would have like the PM to put it, and he did not for obvious reasons, is: “Gee, we budgeted for 93 million and now we have spent an extra 46 million.”
The truth is that the Maltese government has succumbed to the negotiating skills of a Swedish giant.
Somewhere, the executives of this multinational must be drinking themselves to death with moonshine and munching on impossilble fermented fish to celebrate their amazing profitable Maltese business project.
In no corner of Europe, would Skanska have been allowed to act in such a way.
They have treated us like a Third World banana republic, which is probably what they think of us.
Which hospital has taken this long to be built?
This hospital kicked off after the intervention of a certain Father Charles Vella of Cana fame in 1991 and 1992. In 1991 Lawrence Gonzi was Speaker of the House and still had to be discovered by Richard Cachia Caruana.
Father Vella’s mentor was a certain Don Verzé, a man who has been investigated and whose hospital in Milano has treated the medical ailments of Bettino Craxi and Silvio Berlusconi, two men who have much in common when it comes to allegations of corruption.
Somehow Eddie Fenech Adami was impressed with Don Verzé and after that, it was the San Raffaele, then Tal-Qroqq and after that the aptly named Mater Dei. Don Verzé has long disappeared and so has the bubbly figure of Father Vella, but the bill for Mater Dei has not.
Throughout all these years, the Nationalist government has boasted of Malta having a modern hospital for its modern populace.
It sounds more like a bulletin from Pyongyang. Mater Dei is a white elephant capriciously managed by incompetent civil servants under the lazy gaze of politicians.
Last Monday Fenech Adami’s successor informed the nation that on the 1 July 2007 or precisely 15 to 16 years later, the hospital would be finally operational.
Gee, this is truly impressive.
In-Nazzjon, which is certainly not Malta’s answer to blinkered journalism, conveniently omitted reference to the fact that the 1st July is Premier Gonzi’s birthday.
Surely, just a case of coincidence. If it were not a coincidence it could definitely be described as a bitter touch of megalomania.
Whatever it is, it is clear that the hospital is as important to the PN as juicy profits are to Skanska.
The Swedes will be smiling for decades, and at cocktail parties some of their ageing reps will continue to poke fun at their last meeting with the Prime Minister.
Very true, but now you know why Swedes take 15 years to build a hospital and produced and directed the blockbuster porno, Deep Throat. Mater Dei is a blot on Skanska’s cv and an unforgettable trophy for the Nationalist government.
If I could get a hold on some graffiti artists I would ask them to daub the walls of Mater Dei with the Swedish words: Jeg tror der er en fejl på regningen (I think there is a mistake in the bill).
I am sure Skanska would not mind billing the Maltese people once again for the clean up operation. They could present it as a projected cost. Alternatively they could allow the graffiti on the blue chimney and label it as Richard England art.
And the Prime Minister who has agreed to pay the projected costs invoiced by Skanska would surely oblige and promptly pay.
I am getting the uncanny feeling that this government is looking more like the handicapped political period of Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici.





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