From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
PPP By Stealth: Company Eyeing Up Balkan PPPs Fails to Treat Coronavirus Patients in Malta

Steward Healthcare, the American company eyeing up lucrative PPPs in Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia has failed to respond to the needs of Coronavirus patients in Malta.

The private company which bought a multi-billion euro concession for just €1 to run three Maltese state hospitals has been sending those diagnosed with the virus to state hospitals. According to a report by The Shift News, any patients presenting with the virus at the hospitals it is supposed to be running, are being sent to the main state hospital which is already past capacity.

Steward is being paid €70 million per year by the Maltese government for up to 99 years. It bought the contract for just €1 from Vitals Global Healthcare after the latter ran up huge debts, burned through millions of taxpayers money and did not fulfil any contractual obligations. The deal is now under criminal investigation as it was revealed that some of the owners and investors in the two companies were the same. Government ministers involved in brokering the deal have been accused of involvement in the fraud as well as receiving kickbacks.

When the concession was sold and the Maltese taxpayers lost millions, the private investors behind the deal made millions from both the sale, and the continuation of  the contract under Steward’s name. 

Malta with a population of some 493,500 has over 150 cases of Coronavirus with no deaths reported so far. Mater Dei hospital, the country’s main medical facility is currently treating patients. 

Those who were found to have the virus in Gozo, Malta’s sister island were transferred from the Steward-run facility, to Mater Dei. This puts the burden back on the state run facility while Steward is still being paid to run the other hospitals.

An investigation by Exit found that despite the failures in Malta and the pending criminal case, investors Ali Shaukat Ghafoor and Ram Sri Tumuluri approached the governments of Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia touting their experience in Malta as a success. Plans are in the pipeline to run similar healthcare PPPs as well as possible leisure facilities on prime coastal real estate, despite the widespread evidence of corruption.

Vitals and then Steward signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Montenegrin government and then another was signed between the Albanian Ministry of Health and the Montenegrin Ministry of Health paving the way for deals to be negotiated in both countries. The Albanian government then drafted a PPP law that would allow private companies to take over state hospitals and benefit from state funding.

Both Ghafoor and Tumuluri made multiple trips to the three Balkan states to negotiate the deals with the respective Prime Ministers and senior government officials. The deals have also been brokered with the assistance of disgraced ex-Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. 

He resigned in January amid national protests over links discovered between him, his cabinet and the assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Since his resignation, he has been lobbying the new Maltese Prime Minister to hand over more money to Steward.

Albania could lose more than €40 million a year to healthcare PPPs.