A public inquiry into the Vitals-Steward hospitals privatisation scandal should be set up and led by three retired judges, in which all Cabinet members party to the decision be asked to testify, the constitutionalist Prof. Kevin Aquilina has said.
Prof. Aquilina, who lectures at the University of Malta’s Faculty of Laws, said the result of the court case in which a Maltese court said the controversial 2015 multi-million concession had been rendered null by fraud, should be resolved with a public inquiry to investigate the deal.
Crucially, he said the board should be legally empowered to obtain full and unhindered access to all government documentation, including Cabinet minutes and documents; and to establish penal sanctions for those persons who do not cooperate or engage in diversionary tactics with the inquiry. “Otherwise, it would be another report by a government-appointed board that will remain unimplemented. This has to be understood in the light of the fact that the current government can indeed boast of a robust reputation for sleeping upon reports submitted to it by its own appointed boards and committees,” Prof. Aquilina said, writing in The Malta Independent.
“The Principal Permanent Secretary and Cabinet Secretary should be obliged, through law and subject to a criminal penalty for non-compliance, to provide the inquiry board with all the information that is required of them and of all their officers. All court records in the Delia vs Prime Minister case are to be produced in evidence before the board, including the 24 February 2023 judgment itself.”
Prof. Aquilina added that all ministers, past and present, from the previous legislature and the current, should be required to give evidence in public before the board. “All those who refuse to do so, should they exercise their fundamental right not to incriminate themselves, should be investigated for any criminal responsibility on their part.”
Prof. Aquilina said the proposed law should even provide for a maximum six-month, non-renewable periodi, in which the Commissioner of Police and Attorney General should complete their investigations and initiate prosecution on any hint of criminal liability. “Should this be not the case, they should publish a detailed report why this is no so, that ought to be discussed in the House in their presence and with their active questioning and participation. The excessively poor level of accountability in this country needs to be raised considerably as it leaves too much to be desired.”
He said the inquiry should investigate advice given to government by the Attorney General’s Office, the involvement of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and other government officers, and all members of all adjudicating boards involved in the Vitals/Steward saga, including Bank of Valletta.
“Of course, there are several persons who need to provide answers for this scandal and the faster the government acts to establish such a Board of Inquiry to clean up government, the better. For now, it is Malta’s reputation that is at stake. If our institutions function properly – which they clearly don’t – then we would not have arrived at such national embarrassment.”