Malta’s Commissioner for the Environment and Planning has called for drastic changes in the out-of-control construction industry, a damning report published a few weeks after a fatal collapse claimed the life of Miriam Pace has revealed.
Most notably, Commissioner Alan Saliba calls for residents neighbouring construction sites to be given more power over what developers can and cannot do on neighbouring property.
The focus has been firmly on the construction industry since Pace’s death, with questions surrounding weak enforcement and even weaker legislation continuing to grow.
These issues are nothing new. Saliba even uncovered that all construction incidents since 1996 were due to nearby developments, with the exception of one case in Marsa.
Saliba notes that the Building and Construction Agency, which was formed in August 2019 after the collapse of three buildings but has done little in the sector, remains a key issue.
The BCA does not even have the power to review or overrule architects’ mission statements, and the Commissioner stressed that for serious changes to be realised, the BCA must become fully equipped with resources that reflects the size of its industry.
The report also recommends that the powers to oversee all of Malta’s construction-related responsibilities be taken away from the Planning Authority and be placed in the hands of the Building and Construction industry.
Another key issue remains with developers, contractors, and architects often passing off the buck to one another when major issues arrive, with the Site Technical Officer often to blame. To address the issue, the report noted that the role should not serve to shift liability from the actual main players.
This, he said, would place mandatory obligations on the developers to employ licensed operators, and create a “clear hierarchical and legal responsibilities down the line” enforced through strict regulations on subcontracting.
For example, the Architect of the site neighbouring Pace’s home, Roderick Camillieri, had declared that risks were minimal in a method statement that is riddled with spelling mistakes. Meanwhile, the excavation contractor has had two sites for breaching regulations in the last and is linked to a recent road cave-in in St Julian’s.
Greater deterrents, through criminal procedures, fines, and more direct actions were also needed “to restore discipline in the industry”, Saliba explained.
It remains to be seen whether promises of change from Malta’s Prime Minister will result in any major improvements for the crucial agency. The Commissioner’s recommendations should help. However, the Ombudsman’s office has been too often ignored by the central government.