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Watch our summary of today’s proceedings by clicking here.

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EN translation of the summary clip:

In case you ever assumed that, for a government payment to be issued, there must be a long list of people double and triple checking each other’s work, you might be a bit shocked by the facts we learned in court today.

In today’s hearing in the case of the Republic of Malta v disgraced former health minister Chris Fearne and his former associates and colleagues, we heard from officials deployed in various branches of government.

Remember that so far, two dominant themes emerged from the testimonies of officials who were somehow involved in the hospitals concession deal:

– multiple claims of being unable to remember key aspects of the deal and

– a lack of clarity about who took which decisions in the various stages which led to the concession.

Today, we can add one more bit.

After we heard the testimonies of the assistant director at the treasury department and the director-general of budget affairs, we learned that these two particular authorities do not usually verify why payments are issued. This is all left in the hands of the ministry.

The treasury department simply receives a kind of voucher that normally features a brief note explaining why the payment is being issued. The budget affairs office – the same one that calculates the financial estimates cited in the annual budget speech – has more visibility, but the fact is that the primary decision about financial allocation largely depends on negotiations between various ministries.

Another problem is the fact that former Department of Contracts director Anthony Cachia insisted that the department he led at the time did not have anything to do with this concession. At the time when the concession was finalised, public-private concessions were not within the DoC’s remit.

This is a problem because while Cachia insisted that the contracting authority in this case was Projects Malta, yesterday we heard former representatives of Projects Malta stating their only role was to serve as administrator.

What we know for sure is this: as attested to earlier today by Cabinet secretary Ryan Spagnol during his testimony, at the end of the day, the buck stops with Cabinet.

Even when there were instances like when former finance ministry permanent secretary Alfred Camilleri insisted that the annual payments to Steward should not be increased, the fact is that it’s the relevant minister along with the rest of Cabinet who get to have the final say.

Though it is true that these annual payments did not increase from 2019 to 2020, we know for sure that in 2021 alone, the government had increased Steward’s annual funding allocation by €40 million, over and above the €50 million they were already raking in.

Today, we also learned that PWC had provided its services to both VGH and Steward Healthcare throughout the whole concession, up until February of last year when PWC terminated their engagement with Steward after the court annulled the concession.

For us to learn more about why PWC kept offering their services to the concessionaires in spite of the vast amount of information which indicated that the concession and the shareholders behind it were suspect, we will likely have to depend on whether the defence or the prosecution decide to summon PWC representatives as witnesses again. There were no further questions about this today.

See you on Tuesday.

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