Fact-check Malta: Opposition leader Bernard Grech’s workers’ day speech

Like his counterpart Prime Minister Robert Abela, Opposition leader Bernard Grech also used Malta’s workers’ day celebration to launch the Nationalist Party’s electoral campaign during a rally held in the town of Mosta.

Times of Malta sifted through some of the claims made by Grech during his speech.

Claim: Prime Minister Robert Abela also attacked the magistrate behind the Jean Paul Sofia inquiry.

Referring to Abela’s recent criticism of the magistrate behind a magisterial inquiry into the fraudulent takeover of three of Malta’s public hospitals, Grech argued that Abela has previously levelled similar criticism at the judiciary, with his comments reminiscent of those he made at the time of the inquiry into the death of construction worker Jean Paul Sofia, who died in a building collapse in 2022.

This is true. In March 2023, Abela had described the delay into the Sofia magisterial inquiry, led by magistrate Marse Ann Farrugia, as “unacceptable”, prompting condemnation from PN and the law students’ association.

Some months later, in July of the same year, Abela wrote to the Chief Justice urging a speedy conclusion to the inquiry and saying that “more sensitivity needs to be shown in cases like these”.

Abela’s comments on Gabriella Vella, the magistrate leading the Vitals inquiry, are broadly similar.

In January this year, Abela complained about the “exaggerated delays” into the inquiry, saying that it had been pending for almost four and a half years. “Wouldn’t it raise my doubts if the inquiry were to be released between now and the eve of the MEP elections?” he had said at the time.

Now that this has come to pass, Abela has doubled down on his criticism, saying that the timing of the inquiry’s conclusion “was a message”, without presenting any evidence to support this claim.

A previous Times of Malta fact-check found that it is far from unusual for magisterial inquiries to drag on for years. One out of every five pending magisterial inquiries was opened more than four years ago. It also found that magistrate Gabriella Vella completed 41 inquiries throughout 2021, more than most of her fellow magistrates.

Verdict: True.


Claim: €400m were stolen through the fraudulent hospitals deal

The €400m figure quickly became a byword for the scale of the fraudulent hospitals deal, although it was always slightly unclear how this figure was calculated. Grech has frequently used this figure when speaking about the deal, and did so once again during his workers’ day speech.

A previous Times of Malta fact-check delved into this, finding that the exact scale of the money lost remains unknown, with the true costs of the project beyond the beginning of 2022 still not publicly available.

Protesters gathered to denounce the deal last year. File photo: Matthew Mirabelli

By early 2022, the deal had cost the taxpayer €456m in total, including just over €188m in workers’ salaries.

Updating these figures to early 2023, when the deal was eventually scrapped by courts, and excluding workers’ salaries from the equation, brings the figure closer to €350m, not too far from the oft-touted €400m.

But it’s worth bearing in mind that the €350m includes money that went towards keeping the hospitals running, maintaining equipment, and so forth. To date, how much of this money was spent legitimately and how much was stolen is anybody’s guess.

Verdict: Partly false. The true scale of the fraud remains unknown to date. The cost of the hospitals deal, excluding salaries, is likely to have been somewhere in the region of €350m. But this almost certainly also includes legitimate costs that went towards keeping the hospitals running.


Claim: Prime Minister Robert Abela says that life has gotten cheaper.

This claim has been frequently repeated in recent weeks, often attributed to either Abela or Economy Minister Silvio Schembri.

A report by the Nationalist Party’s media outlet Net News report last month misquoted Schembri saying that prices have gotten cheaper, going on to show footage of him saying that inflation (not prices) had dropped by 1.1% from January to February.

This is an important distinction – a drop in inflation does not mean that prices have gotten cheaper. It simply means that the rate at which prices are increasing has slowed down.

Likewise, Abela has frequently commented on Malta’s inflation being on the decrease, but there is no evidence to suggest that he has said that prices have gotten cheaper.

Data from Malta’s National Statistics Office shows that inflation in Malta, like in the rest of Europe, is on the decrease, although food inflation is generally dipping at a slower pace in Malta.

Verdict: False.

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Politics, Uncategorized

Author(s): Neville Borg

Originally published here.