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Malta Is Witnessing The Normalisation Of Unsafe Practices And Illegalities

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An unsecured scaffolding hanging perilously in Balluta was another stark reminder that illegalities and unsafe construction practices have become the norm in Malta.

This time there were no injuries to report. However, it will only be a matter of time before another tragedy hits Malta.

Once again, initial outrage will quickly give way to a business-as-usual mantra while an industry that lacks serious checks and balances is put on a pedestal.

The iconic stretch of houses is the latest in a long line of cultural landmarks that have been subject to controversial development. Carlo Stivala and his brother Michael have used piecemeal applications to quietly take over the stretch of land, which is no stranger to collapses with a balcony collapse at the Barracuda restaurant in 2016 leaving nine people injured.

It is a landmark site in the heart of one of our most bustling tourist destinations. But it has never been exempt from the poor practices the sector unapologetically flaunts at the expense of our livelihoods, communities, and mental health.

But are we even learning anything?

After three apartment blocks came crumbling down in a matter of months, the government promised decisive action and reform. A few months later, Miriam Pace died in her home because of a poorly managed construction site, part-owned by an MDA council member.

Pace had been pulled out of the rubble of her collapsed home, leaving behind a husband and two children. Two architects have been found guilty, fined and sentenced to community work, while an excavator contractor and on-site worker remain in court.

And let us not forget about Jaiteh Lamin, a Gambian worker who fell two storeys at a construction site and was abandoned on the roadside by his boss. He has recovered, and awareness was raised, but health and safety remain an issue, with countless deaths and injuries since then.

Jaiteh’s story also touches upon another dark, often ignored, underbelly of the country: systematic discrimination is alive and growing.

At least two people have already died on construction sites this year, including 40-year-old father Adrian Muscat, who lost his life after a heavy piece of machinery overturned and led to him falling into a shaft.

These issues are nothing new, with leading bodies, including the Kamra tal-Periti and Moviment Graffiti, proposing significant but much-needed reform to a construction industry that is out of control.

Moviment Graffiti even launched a 134-point construction reform proposal, which included introducing a blacklisting system for unlawful developers.

After the scaffolding incident, the Occupational Health and Safety Authority once again called on all stakeholders to work hand in hand to ensure that workplaces are safe for all.

But how proactive is the industry from the get-go?

Enforcement is clearly ineffective

While many operate according to regulations, some continuously operate above the law and have a noose around the entire system.

Illegal works without a permit are commonplace across all of Malta and Gozo, whether that’s Joseph Portelli in Sannat or Carlo Stivala at Barracuda, who had started illegal works without a permit at the site just a few months earlier.

At the time, St Julian’s mayor Albert Buttigieg questioned whether the law was optional for some in Malta. In truth, the proof is all around us.

And even in cases where the Planning Authority steps in and starts to dish out fines, the imposed penalties are practically negligible and ineffective in the face of the industry’s enormous profits.Portelli even said he “would gladly pay the fines” after being faced with a warning notice for illegal works in Sannat.

The current state of enforcement encourages developers to continue with illegal works rather than create a climate that fosters safety and common decency.

Real and long-lasting change begins when everyone who stands to benefit from development shows a real intent in creating something that, at the very least, is safe and sustainable.

This will also only come when the political class takes a strong stand against a sector that it relies on at every election to fund its campaigns.

We must also play our part and lend our ear and support to many residents and workers under pressure from cowboy contractors. Apathy is what leads to the never ending stream of deaths in the industry.

It’s high time that Malta’s authorities buckle down on these illegalities and measures be placed to ensure safety is being prioritised in the workplace.

Do you think Malta needs to do more to ensure safety and mitigate illegalities?

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When Sasha (formerly known as Sasha Tas-Sigar) is not busy writing about environmental injustice, she's probably fighting for women's rights. Follow her at @saaxhaa on Instagram, and send her anything related to the environment, art, and women's rights at [email protected]

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