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MALTATODAY 30 January 2022

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12 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 30 JANUARY 2022 NEWS MATTHEW VELLA A memorandum of understand- ing hammered out by the Mus- cat administration with Steward Healthcare, would have allowed the American hospitals conces- sionaire to sell the Barts medical and nursing training school to a real estate investment company. The non-binding MOU was ap- proved by Cabinet in 2019, but never formally sealed because of the political crisis of Decem- ber 2019, when Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech was charged with masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. According to the MOU, it was agreed that Steward could trans- fer the Barts Medical School in- to a "separate and distinct con- tract", without any change to government's ownership rights in the Steward concession agree- ment. MaltaToday understands the plan was to allow Steward to sell the property to American hospi- tals landlord Medical Properties Trust. MPT has a real estate in- vestment trust worth $13.3 bil- lion in hospital facility assets. The capital from the sale would be used by Steward to cover its loans, while the property would be leased back from MPT. Until 2020, Steward was owned by Cerberus Capital Manage- ment, which then sold a 90% stake to a management group led by Steward's CEO Ralph de la Torre. According to MPT's fil- ings with the financial regula- tor, Medical Properties Trust formed a new joint venture with De la Torre and other executives on Steward Healthcare Interna- tional, which runs the hospitals in Malta. Steward in America received $200 million in cash for the sale of Steward Internation- al, while the Malta assets were valued at $27 million. Former tourism minister Kon- rad Mizzi disputed with Malt- aToday assertions that he had been the minister to carve out the agreement with Steward. "That's incorrect. The MOU was drafted and negotiated by an inter-ministerial committee comprising senior officials from both the ministry of health and the ministry responsible for pro- jects [Mizzi's tourism ministry PPP agency Projects Malta in its portfolio) and various advisors." Mizzi insisted that the MOU in 2019 was subsequently pre- sented to Cabinet and approved. MaltaToday is informed there were objections from health minister Chris Fearne, over what sort of ownership rights MPT would have on the Barts campus buildings once the 30-year con- cession expires. Mizzi said he did not have ac- cess to technical documentation and that he could not ascertain details about the matter Malt- aToday was referring to. "Pre- sumably this may be related to a mechanism to raise finance for project development," he said, prompted by MaltaToday on the sale of the Barts school to MPT. The concession of three state hospitals to Steward's predeces- sors, Vitals Global Healthcare, is the subject of a magisterial inquiry; with negotiations be- tween Steward and the Maltese government on a potential exit price reportedly at a stalemate. The government is still bound to finance Steward's labour force, to run the three hospitals. But a court case filed by Na- tionalist MP Adrian Delia, which he claims proves Steward has not fulfilled its concessionaire's obli- gations, could potentially lead to the rescission of the Steward contract. If that happens, a new legal tussle could ensue, with Steward litigating for a €100 million penalty for government default. Barts campus assets earmarked for property sale to hospitals landlord Steward International's CEO Ralph de la Torre with former PM Joseph Muscat athe Barts campus in Gozo. Under the clauses of a 2019 'non-binding' memorandum of understanding, Steward wanted the green light to sell the campus to a separate real estate investment trust, in return for a capital injection MATTHEW VELLA THE Nationalist Party's des- ignated spokesperson Peter Agius has denied having had his role pared down internally, over complaints that he was overshadowing constituency MPs. Agius, a European Parlia- ment candidate who contest- ed in 2019, was appointed par- ty spokesperson in 2021 in a bid to lead outreach efforts by the Nationalist Party. Agius would appear side by side with both incumbent MPs and new candidates, introduc- ing press conferences as well as carrying the party's official line on a variety of issues. But his prominent role ap- peared to conflict with de- mands by MPs to take over press conferences, as well as with the visibility of PN leader Bernard Grech in putting out the party's political line. In a comment to MaltaTo- day, Agius said his return to his Brussels posting, where he previously served as a speech- writer to European Parliament president Antonio Tajani up until 2019, was necessary after having used up his personal leave allotment. "The PN is the only means through which we can change this country and bring solace and solutions to workers and businesses, and new prospects to our younger generations. It is with this in mind that, al- though not being a candidate myself for the general election, I accepted Bernard Grech's re- quest to be the party's spokes- person, a role which I fulfill in close collaboration with all candidates and party leader- ship," Agius told MaltaToday. "This mission meant that I have used all my person- al leave and weekends over the past eight months to be in Malta for the party, to ad- vance Malta's cause as a PN volunteer, inspired and driv- en by the hundreds of party volunteers which give days of their time for the country and party in our villages and in Dar Ċentrali. Next week I will once again be on the ground in Gozo and in Malta, pitch- ing our case for a better Malta, knocking doors, chasing every vote." Agius still keeps an active presence on his social me- dia pages, but his visibility in press conferences was signifi- cantly reduced since 2021. He is currently a European Parlia- ment employee. Agius was originally tasked to "revive interest in the PN" – as one source had described the appointment – by spread- ing the PN message through new ways of communication and updated use of traditional methods. The insider indicated that Agius's role will include the coordination of voices in Bernard Grech's announced 'partnership of ideas' to secure popular approval by reaching out to those on the fringes of politics. Peter Agius's 'spokesperson' role appears to have moved to backburner Peter Agius: back in Brussels for work commitments

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