Editorial | Sunday, 17 May 2009
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The Mater Dei haemorrhage

MaltaToday’s report on the squandering of millions of euros in public monies for security, car park, and clerical outsourcing of duties at Mater Dei has been vindicated by an audit report by the National Audit Office which has revealed severe shortcomings on the part of government authorities and the finance ministry in terms of public procurement, among others. The report was presented in parliament this week and is available for viewing on the NAO website.
When this newspaper first reported the details of three contracts, one of which was issued by direct order by the finance ministry – then under the Prime Minister’s responsibility – issued by the Foundation for Medical Services to a private company, we remarked that Mater Dei had become synonymous with reckless spending and government mismanagement.
This statement now appears fully confirmed by the NAO report:
1. In late 2007, when Skanska passed Mater Dei to the FMS, the security company employed by Skanska was allowed to stay on by FMS, instead of issuing a public call for tenders. Notwithstanding the fact that FMS took over from 1 January 2008, it only requested approval from the Contracts director-general for the direct order in March 2008 – three months later.
2. Already tantamount to being a direct order issued without approval from Contracts, in May 2008 FMS notified the DG Contracts of a miscalculation in the estimate – the difference between the amount approved by Contracts and the revised cost turned out to be €768,348. Such a gross under-calculation of the real cost at a late period of the contract, means that we will never know whether the tender would have been approved in the first place if the correct value of the direct order were known.
3. Group 4, the company to benefit from the million-euro contract, owns Parksec, which won the contract to manage the hospital’s carpark, was compensated by government to the tune of €487,000 every year for five consecutive years, for Gonzi’s decision to lower the parking rates, after a public outcry last year, and had its €325,000 concession fee waived.
4. Following the migration in November 2007, an excessive number of security personnel employed by the government at St Luke’s were retained at the old hospital. These 50 workers were left to guard an empty hospital: as the NAO states, security of SLH should be achieved “with less human resources and at a lower cost”. We ask: why weren’t these security officers redeployed at Mater Dei?
At the time of MaltaToday’s report, the revelations forced us to revisit the popular perception of Mater Dei as a “state of the art” hospital, as happily trumpeted by the Nationalist government.
One wonders how, apart from the medical equipment and luxury items such as satellite TV at the hospital, this country still finds itself hampered with the inability to secure long-term contracts for our top doctors, who instead prefer working in the private sector to the detriment of the national health service. We ask why the country’s health centres are insufficient to meet the demand currently being met by the E&A department at Mater Dei and why more is not invested in primary healthcare? We ask why paramedical staff should not get a revision package to match that awarded to the doctors?
The answer now seems clearly rooted in the government’s inadequate ability to secure value-for-money contracts for the management of this hospital, resulting in million-euro contracts outsourced to private companies. Such lavish spending would have been better spent on improving the standards of our health service elsewhere.
The NAO report has brought home the true extent of mismanagement at Mater Dei: the hospital which cost €600 million. It is now the Prime Minister, as the then de facto minister of finance under whom the Foundation for Medical Services, which managed Mater Dei Hospital, who has to answer to the shortcomings of these three contracts and the responsibility he will take for what has happened in Mater Dei.
The NAO report also highlights the importance of the independent media in any democracy. When public procurement rules are flouted in the manner as revealed by the audit investigation, it is the independent media’s duty to make such irregularities public. It was only after these reports in MaltaToday that Labour MP Charles Mangion asked the NAO to investigate the claims. And they have been all fully substantiated and confirmed.
This haemorrhage at Mater Dei just confirms our worst fears that the safe pair of hands boasted by this government is not all what it is made out to be.

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The Mater Dei haemorrhage


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