The issue came to the fore last September when Minister Konrad Mizzi said that there were problems with constructing additional wards on the Emergency Department of Mater Dei Hospital. The contractor whose tender had been selected proceeded to carry out the necessary tests to ascertain that the existing buildings had the specified load-bearing properties. It was found that they did not.
All hell broke loose. Questions were asked as to how this was possible. Only one person kept his cool, former Finance Minister Tonio Fenech who, in September , declared that he was not at all surprised by what was being said. He added that he was aware that Skanska, the contractor in charge of the hospital construction project, had repeatedly refused to construct additional floors because (it maintained) the structure was not designed to carry such additional loads.
How come that only former Minister Tonio Fenech seems to have been aware of the design limitations of the hospital’s concrete?
On the other hand, whilst an inquiry is under way, Minister Konrad Mizzi is unethically disseminating selective titbits of information in order to make heavily loaded political statements.
Arup Group, a UK engineering firm, was commissioned by the government to analyse the concrete used in the hospital’s structure. The report, which has already been submitted to the government and parts of which are being selectively quoted by Minster Konrad Mizzi, has not yet been published.
Likewise, the government is selectively quoting a waiver agreement between the Foundation for Medical Services and Skanska, signed on the conclusion of the project, presumably putting in writing what had been agreed when addressing the final list of pending issues between the parties. The quotes being made lead to the conclusion that the waiver agreement was a blanket waiver. In fact, Minister Konrad Mizzi is actively encouraging such a conclusion. A full disclosure of the agreement would make it possible to consider whether the selective quotes are misleading – as they most probably are.
Contrary to the manner in which the public debate has so far developed, the issue of the hospital concrete is primarily one of quality control on site, that is whether adequate quality control existed on site throughout the duration of the project. Such quality control requires that all concrete used on the Mater Dei project should have been sampled on use and tested according to established standards. Generally speaking, 28 days after use the project management team would have been in possession of the laboratory results on the concrete’s strength.
The questions which logically arise are whether the project managers had results indicating that the concrete supplied was not compatible with the relative specifications and, if such results did in fact materialise, the manner in which they reacted to them.
The answers to these questions will point to the technical responsibilities arising both professionally and managerially.
Are there political responsibilities? I do not know. However, the question of political responsibilities could arise if the politicians in charge interfered (directly or indirectly) in the technical decision taking. Political responsibilities could also arise if the politicians obstructed the Foundation for Medical Services in the performance of its duties by, for example, withholding funds or by dishing out appointments to persons who were not fit for purpose.
These are undoubtedly issues which the inquiry led by Mr Justice (retired) Philip Sciberras will examine, hopefully in some detail.
The sooner this whole saga comes to an end, the better. It is about time that everybody’s mind is at rest. This includes the taxpayer, who is not yet certain whether he will end up footing the bill.
Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 31 May 2015