If elected Labour leader and hence Prime Minister, Chris Fearne will revise or even cancel the controversial hospital privatisation contract if the National Audit Office finds serious shortcomings in it.
Speaking in a special episode of Indepth, leadership hopeful Fearne said that there is no doubt whatsoever in his mind that if there are serious shortcomings found in this contract then he will either revise it or even cancel it as a result.
An investigation by the NAO into a deal struck between the government and Vitals Global Healthcare for the privatisation of St. Luke’s, Karin Grech, and Gozo General Hospital has been ongoing for the last three years.
Interviewed by The Malta Independent Deputy Editor-in-Chief Neil Camilleri, Fearne said he is informed that the investigations have now come to an end and the results will be published in the coming weeks or months. He took the opportunity to point out that if he is made Prime Minister he would ensure that the NAO’s office is given the necessary resources to carry out its work in a timely manner, noting that such investigations should not take any longer than six months.
The deal had been struck by Konrad Mizzi – who back then occupied the post of Health Minister; a post which is now held by Fearne aside from also being the Deputy Prime Minister.
In a wide-reaching interview the day after he officially submitted his candidature with the Labour Party, Fearne also revealed that he will look to implement the equal pay for equal work principle within all government department and entities – something which would cost the government €10 million but which would be feasible given the surplus that the government has achieved.
Fearne was asked about his views on the Individual Investor Programme, and said that he is estimating that within the first 100 days of the tenure of the new Prime Minister, the cap for the amount of passports granted would have been reached.
He committed to carrying out a serious analysis into the programme with a wide-reaching consultation with local stakeholders, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. He noted that if there is a need for reform, then it will be reformed, and if it is recommended that the programme is not re-opened then it would not be. He did not however exclude the re-opening of the IIP.
“If we can make a programme which is acceptable to all, and which can be a source of funds for the country without putting it in a bad light – then we will do it”, he said.
Asked about the potential position of outgoing Prime Minister Joseph Muscat within a Cabinet that he would lead, Fearne noted that Muscat himself had said that he would take a step back from decision making positions within the party and the government.
He said that Muscat will not be a shadow or someone turning the steering wheel from the backbenches and a new Prime Minister would no doubt be able to lead with their own agenda in continuity with what has already been done.
Asked whether he would consider giving Muscat a ministerial role, Fearne immediately answered in the negative; “No. Joseph Muscat said himself – and I don’t think it would be a good thing for Joseph Muscat to be in the Cabinet, so no”, he said.
Asked meanwhile about whether he now feels that Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri should have stepped down following the Panama Papers scandal, Fearne said that there should have been clearer consequences and that it was the wrong decision to retain Mizzi as minister without portfolio and for there not to have been more concrete action on that day.
When quizzed on why he had backed these people even in Parliament, he said that he accepts that on that day, it was the wrong decision that more concrete action was not taken.
Fearne is one of two candidates for the Labour Party’s leadership post, and hence for the role of Prime Minister. The Malta Independent invited MP Robert Abela, who is the other candidate in the leadership race, for a similar interview but he has not accepted this invitation thus far.