MaltaToday | 03 August 2008

SAVIOUR BALZAN | Sunday, 03 August 2008

SCANDALOUS is too kind a word

When Lawrence Gonzi wakes up to read MaltaToday he will probably say: “No not again. This Saviour must be obsessed with me.”
But really this time, I feel I am rather justified in saying that Mr Prime Minister should be ashamed of himself.
To even suggest that the Maltese and Gozitan public should pay more for their electricity and pay more taxes when this government mismanages our money, is close to criminal.
The story we carry today talks of procurement procedures thrown out of the window, of contracts for jobs that can be carried out by people still in the government’s employ, and of millions given to private companies when the government could be making its own money and siphoning that money to rekindle much needed life in the medical and paramedical services.
I will not talk of the slow medical procedures in place at Mater Dei and of the overworked staff and of the lacunas in the system.
Neither will I talk of the theatrics – a year ago to be precise – presented to us by none other than this PM when he opened an unfinished hospital to the public in an orgy of food and drink.
We are now faced with damning evidence showing that the PM ignored procurement procedures and gave a direct order to a private company worth hundreds of thousands of liri.
For some unknown reason, Social Policy Minister John Dalli has indicated that he will issue another tender.
The excuse for ignoring procurement procedures is that this company knew where all the wards were and that bringing in a new company would disrupt the patients.
Well, if he wants to know anything about disrupted patients, Dr Gonzi should join the waiting list at Mater Dei for an MRI or be treated at the emergency department and attempt to get a date for an operation.
Dr Gonzi will of course argue that this newspaper may be abetting one company against another. But really, this newspaper could give a flying f*** if the winner of the tender happens to be Group 4 or JF security or anyone else. We are on no one’s take and unlike other ‘journalists’ such as the President of the Institute of Maltese Journalists, we do not represent private concerns.
One can say many things about who wins contracts in Malta but really and truly, the question here is not about who wins contracts and makes buckets of money, but whether we should give the management of our public institutions to private companies. Making pots of money is not the question. If people want to have thousands in their bank account then so be it.
The best example of how this government has no idea what it is doing is undoubtedly the decision to subcontract the parking lot at Mater Dei to a private company. If this is not scandalous than what is?
To run a parking lot, one does not need to be a rocket scientist. The parking lot at Mater Dei could have been a money-spinner for government.
I remember one Gonzi aide telling me last year on the parking tariffs: “Does everyone expect things to be free?” Little did I know at the time what the story behind the parking lot at Mater Dei was all about.
In November last year, the government awarded the tender to the same private company that was running the internal security and bits and pieces of the cleaning contract: jobs which in my view could have been carried out by government employees.
But follow this one.
Gonzi is inundated with complaints about the cost of the tariffs at the parking lot. The PM says he will act. And he does – it is election time by the way.
He reduces the ticket fee by 50 per cent and then secretly waives the €324,000 concessionary fee to the parking company Parksec, who were to pay the government yearly.
And what’s more, he gives – yes gives – €487,000 to Parksec every year for five years.
Parksec plan to earn over €500,000 a year from Mater Dei’s parking visitors, those who come to visit their loved ones. In short, in just five years the government will lose a combined potential income of €6.55 million and that is a conservative estimate.
Now Dr Gonzi, tell me why should a parking lot built by public finances in a public hospital be given to a private company to run? And do you think the health service could do with €6.55 extra cash?
But Mater Dei does not only ask private companies to clean its corridors and cook its meals. It also asks the same company to provide clerical staff and reception staff at the hospital.
You see, to be an efficient receptionist you have to be employed by the private sector and paid ‘s***’. To be a bad receptionist it seems you either have to be a government employee and relatively well paid.
But at the end of the day, the unbelievable sad thing is that the government pays private companies to do jobs but still hangs on to the same government employees who did the job for donkeys’ years.
True and true, Dr Gonzi inherited a colossal mess at Mater Dei, a treasure given to him by Eddie Fenech Adami and former health minister Louis Deguara. Fenech Adami in his last years was only interested in Europe and Deguara was just not fit to be minister.
Yet the lavishness and absolute decadence orchestrated by Skanska, that shameless Swedish multinational, is the fault of the whole Nationalist administration, previous ministers and lackeys – all of them.
We have a footprint and decor with the profligacy of a Saddam Hussein palace and yet we still do not have certain life saving drugs on our NHS list.
If Gonzi wants me to mention them, I will. It is a pity the dead cannot come to my rescue.
We still have limited availability of useful scanning machines and we are years away from screening programmes and worse of all, and more importantly, we lack medical staff.
The scandal at Mater Dei is not about downright corruption. It is however dishonest and wrong to leave the management of this country in the hands of these people.
If Dr Gonzi thinks that the solution at Mater Dei is replacing one sub-contractor such as Louis Farrugia’s Multigas and with Caqnu’s Poligas, then we are really missing the wood from the trees.
If Dr Gonzi wishes to subcontract each and every service at our public hospital he should really consider privatising its management and operation and start thinking about a massive overhaul in our health insurance system. He should think private insurance.
That way, I will not worry about where my taxes are going.
If Josie Muscat or Frank Portelli wish to use private companies to clean their halls and wards, or private companies to run their reception centre, and private companies to cook their meals, and a private company to offer a security arrangement and a private company to take care of the parking, then good for them.
But as Josie and Frank would gladly tell you it does not make good business sense.
So why would it not make good business sense for a businessman, but good business sense for silly government?
The answer, I am afraid, is because the money managed by this government comes from our pockets and not from the politicians. As my good aunt once told me, “I wouldn’t trust them buggers to sell me a second hand car!”
How damn right she was.

Hurrah, hurrah, it is Joe Said!
I usually find it difficult to wake up in the mornings. It gets more tough when you learn that Joe Said, the present chairman of Lombard Bank and Maltapost, gets appointed Heritage Malta chairman.
I know Joe Said, many people do not, and I can tell you just as no one expects me to be the Vatican’s defender of the faith, the last thing anyone expects is for Mr Said to be chairman of Heritage Malta.
Joe Said is a businessman true and true and he likes particular facets of business which in my far from humble view, make his position as Heritage chairman questionable.
It is of course a subjective comment. But this man dislikes the press, despite his direct link with the Independent (that newspaper that everyone now knows sell far less than MaltaToday).
I worked for him when at the Independent, and I can tell you the only one thing that resembles his style in quality and potency is an oak casket of fermented Swedish herrings.
On Thursday I phoned Dolores Cristina, the woman and the minister responsible for our heritage, and asked her if she found Joe Said’s business interests to be a problem.
She said: “Why should it be a problem?” I said, yes well. I should have known and I should have told her, “Well would you employ a smoker to run an ammunitions dump?”
But then I said what the heck, Dolores, like the rest of the government seem to believe that they know it all.
Joe Said will of course look at Heritage Malta as he looks at a private company, but really Dolores cannot let this man treat it as he has treated Maltapost. Heritage Malta is all about preserving Malta and stopping places like Tigne Point turning into regurgitated cement.
Said is of course always arrogant with the press. I am sure that when he sits and drinks and eats away with his business friends, all of them renowned for their big interests in speculation and property and for having changed the face of Malta and Gozo, he will curse MaltaToday for having had the temerity to even ask a question.
The last time I met he told me off, as he broke off in his Sliema English, telling me that I should be grateful to Albert Mizzi. I had forgotten for a moment how close they are to each other.
He pointed out to me how benevolent Mr Mizzi had been in restoring parts of Manoel Island. I listened, but again I should not have. I usually feel bad if I keep everything to myself, I should have told that this kind of tokenism is one way of justifying the sins carried out against the land from the massive construction spree and development.


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