Seeing your entire world come crashing down around you is already nightmarish as is, but for the residents of Pietà and Gwardamanġa who were the victims of accidental building collapses in 2019, time has only served to rub further salt in the wounds.
However, one of the most vocal residents has spoken to Lovin Malta about how she now feels “hopeful for the first time in months”… and it’s all got to do with a phone call she received seven months ago from a man who introduced himself as Robert Abela.
“A few days after the collapse, I got this phone call,” she recounted. “He asked me in a cheerful voice if I was OK. I replied, ‘Are you serious? How can I be OK?’ And I just spilled everything I had at that moment.”
Janet Walker had proceeded to tell Robert Abela (who was back then an MP) about everything that was on her mind… including the fact that she wasn’t allowed to go back inside her home to get her passport.
“The police station didn’t want to write any sort of paper for me to take to the Passport Office to make a temporary one,” she said. “They told me since I knew where it was, it was neither stolen nor lost, and nobody was allowed inside. Not even me.”
“At that moment, Robert Abela told me: ‘I’m going to help you’.”
My first reaction was, “Wait, who are you again?”
“His name didn’t ring any bells, and even when he said his name again, I had no idea who he was,” Janet told Lovin Malta, smiling.
“True to his words, though, he kept his promise.”
Some days later, Janet received a phone call telling her that each family was to be given 10 minutes to get all the necessary things. “When we went on site, someone told me, ‘You are the first to enter, and don’t come out without the passport’.”
“It was then I realised. It was Robert all along.”
Fast-forward to December, and Janet still had Robert Abela’s number in her phone… so she decided to send a message to the prospective Prime Minister.
“I wished him well in the elections, and asked him if he would help us in some way should he become Malta’s Prime Minister,” Janet recounted. “His answer was simple and straight to the point: ‘Remind me on Saturday’ (election day).”
“We’re still waiting… but it seems something has happened.”
“To be honest, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to message right after he was elected, so I waited,” Janet admitted. “But I did send him my congratulations on the day of the results.”
“A couple of days later, I reminded him again of our situation,” she continued. “He answered me in a minute and said he took note.”
“Yesterday, I tried my luck again. In a few minutes, I received a call. A man told me that the Prime Minister had ordered him to call me.”
“He was meant to organise a meeting with the Justice Minister,” she said. “We are still waiting, but it seems something has happened. Also, in today’s interview, he mentioned my passport again.”
“For the first time in months, I’m finally hopeful.”
Earlier today, during a visit to the offices of the Malta Developers Association in Gwardamanġa, Robert Abela spoke about cases like Janet’s.
“Ideally these things should not happen,” Abela started. “But if they do, I believe we need a mechanism where residents are immediately provided with an alternative residence and other remedies to lessen the inconvenience as much as possible.”
Abela went on to say that he was “saddened” by the incident, going on to say he had initially intervened personally… a fact which Janet has now confirmed.
Of course, much still needs to be done, and amidst the hope lie months of frustration.
“What frustrates us most is that you know you are right, but you’re just stuck at the mercy of others,” Janet told Lovin Malta. “And we don’t want mercy, we want what is just and right.”
“A few days ago, works restarted. We check who the STO (Site Technical Officer) was, and he wasn’t an engineer or architect as the law now states,” she continued. “So all the works in Malta stopped for the days, they came up with this STO idea, held all the works until they filled this list… and yet these guys still used someone else!”
“We reported this to the BRO (Building Regulation’s Office), and they stopped works,” Janet sighed. “So after all this hassle, it was us that found out that the STO was no architect or engineer. I think they’re just testing our intelligence at this point.”
Just up the road from Janet’s house, more families have been waiting even longer for closure on their own destroyed properties.
“You destroyed our house and you didn’t leave us anything,” Caroline Micallef, one of the victims of the collapse, said on Facebook earlier today. “It’s been nine months, and there isn’t any form of agreement. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
“You destroyed our lives and our families.”
With much left to be done and the one-year anniversary of the tragic accidents fast approaching, the affected residents continue to live in frustration and confusion.
But maybe, just maybe, the relationship formed between one of the residents and the MP who ended up becoming Prime Minister could help bring some closure to a gaping wound nine months in the making.