Seven days. That’s how long it takes Malta to forget Miriam Pace, the mother-of-two who was crushed to death when her home collapsed. Seven days is all it takes to forget the systemic failings of the construction industry which probably led to her death and will likely lead to others.
Last Saturday, less than a few hundred people turned up for a protest outside the rubble that used to be the home of Miriam and her family. Everyone else just contributed their thoughts and prayers. I’m sure God has enough leftover for the next tragedy in Malta.
Those who turned up should be praised. Their presence could make a difference.
It would have been more effective had they been joined by the tens of thousands of people who left Facebook comments, likes and shares from the comfort of their armchairs. The same tens of thousands who expressed outrage over the last collapse, and the one before that, and the one before that.
But while social media outrage can convince a politician to make a few nice statements about how he plans to solve the problem, it is only sustained protest that can yield the long-term results and action we really need to see. And the same applies to our efforts to tackle rampant environmental degradation and corruption.
Even the media is partly to blame here. We reported endlessly when the building collapsed. However, most journalists and editors stayed home and did not join the protest to express their disgust.
No doubt some were busy covering Malta’s first case of the COVID-19 coronavirus but you can’t blame people for calling the media exploitative when we do little to put our words into action.
With over 15,000 people living between Hamrun and Santa Venera, it’s clear that even residents and next-door neighbours of Miriam Pace failed to show up and express their concern.
When it came to Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta flooded the streets in the thousands last year. But unfortunately, Miriam Pace was an everyday woman from Hamrun, and not an internationally-revered journalist from an upper-middle-class background with supporters in droves. Does that make her less worthy of attention from the Maltese public?
With an out of control construction industry that steamrolls over public concerns with government backing, Pace’s death could also be considered a state-sponsored assassination.
We’ve seen Robert Musumeci and Sandro Chetcuti-proxy Michael Stivala parade around insisting that everything is a-ok as if they’re the ones who should be trusted to rein in the industry when they’re the ones who brought us into this mess. It’s almost like a rapist promising to lead support services for their victims.
Besides, it’s far too easy for them to say that laws work when enforcement has been intentionally kneecapped to become an ineffective rubber-stamp.
Rather than take drastic action, Prime Minister Robert Abela passed the buck on to a committee. The waiting game begins and make no mistake about it, money-hungry developers will use the period to influence the outcome until all we’re left with is watered-down legislation that does nothing to solve the problem, just like what happened a year ago.
Just think how chuffed Chetcuti, Musumeci, and their ilk would have been when they saw such a low turnout. And as if to provide a reminder of the nation’s collective apathy, Anthea Brincat and Caroline Micallef, victims of previous collapses, made it clear that their issues are yet to be solved, despite promises to do so.
A proper registration and licensing system for contractors has failed to kick-off, despite the government promising urgency after a series of collapses in Malta. The Building and Construction Agency, which replaced the much-maligned Building Regulations Office, is plagued by the same issues of inadequate resources and even weaker legislation.
Meanwhile, yesterday, a construction worker fell three storeys. He’s lived, but many others have not been so lucky. We even saw a man dangling from the side of a building before he tumbled to his death, and have done nothing.
And that’s not to say that the worker’s trauma stops there. As journalists, we’re often guilty of placing much more attention on fatal incidents, but there are scores of construction industry workers who are left permanently damaged by on-site accidents. The industry is lined with broken limbs, backs, and necks.
We’ve let pivotal moment after pivotal moment just fly past and promises of change crumble into nothing. The construction industry is stained with blood, and it’s time for a wholesale cleaning. But we are the ones who have to demand it.