The Malta Independent 25 June 2019, Tuesday

TMIS Editorial: A necessary deconstruction of the construction industry

Sunday, 9 June 2019, 11:30 Last update: about 16 days ago

Yet another building gave way yesterday morning and the lives of a grandmother, mother and daughter were only very narrowly spared. The younger two were spared only because they were on an aeroplane that was about to take off when their home collapsed, and the elder member of the family survived only because she happened to be in a room that had not collapsed.

The country very nearly lost three generations of a single family in Mellieħa yesterday in one fell swoop.  Deaths were narrowly avoided yet again this time around, but it must be observed that it is only a matter of time before one of these tragedies results in the loss of life, or even of several lives.

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What will we do then? Scratch our heads and reflect on how hindsight is 20/20?  What we need right now is some foresight, and for some people to take a look at what, exactly, is happening before a tragedy on a far grander scale occurs. 

And, given the rate at which such collapses are progressing, this will be only a matter of time.

Like the recent collapse of another apartment block in Gwardamangia, yesterday’s Mellieħa collapse appears to have been the result of construction works taking place next door.

There is another site in Sliema that has been reported by our sister daily edition, which has left neighbours fearing for the stability of their homes.  A wall of Gozo’s Cittadella also collapsed recently due to neighbouring construction work. 

But along with these reported cases, we have to ask how many other people stand at risk from neighbouring construction projects.

It is not as if the entire construction industry is populated by cowboys, far from it, but it only takes one cowboy developer, as is perfectly evident from cases such as yesterday’s, to claim lives, destroy homes and bring an entire industry into disrepute.

How many other lives are in clear and present danger, such as those of the grandmother left stranded in a room in an apartment with the walls around her crumbled to smithereens.  Her daughter and granddaughter were also just hours from death and narrowly avoided the unthinkable only because they were on an airplane waiting for it to take off at 6am yesterday morning as their home collapsed.

Had they not had that flight yesterday morning, they could quite possibly be dead right now, and the country would be having quite another discussion right now.

And in the meantime, the much-vaunted new construction authority which, according to plans, will take under its wing all matters related to the industry is still far from seeing the light of day. The authority will have the function of regulating the construction industry with the aim of having one regulator to oversee the actions of the BICC (Building Industry Consultative Council), the BRO (Building Regulation Office), the BRB (Building Regulation Board) and the Masons Board.

The government launched the concept last September but, eight months down the road, the authority is still to see the light of day. The latest date for its establishment has now been set, somewhat vaguely, for sometime this year.

It is reassuring that the government said yesterday that it is stepping in to assist the Mellieħa collapse victims, and it stressed that this new authority is in the process of being established, and not a minute too soon. Let us hope that yesterday’s collapse will set things moving from the current snail’s pace to a pace that better reflects the urgency of the situation.

We do not need deaths on our hands, or fingers pointed. What we need is safe building practices for all parties concerned – the builders themselves, the new home owners, and for third parties such as neighbours whose homes are accidentally demolished.

It is nothing short of a miracle that no one has died yet, but let us not push our luck.  Let us act now, immediately, and let us take the kind of action that befits a modern state that is pushing to become as cosmopolitan, on the surface at least, as Dubai or Singapore.

No one could have put it better than the Chamber of Architects, which has been lobbying for change and a truly controlled industry, when it observed yesterday that: “Delay is not an option. The industry is in crisis. We have a complete lack of regulation of contractors, a complete lack of adequate competencies among the workforce, confusion about the various roles and responsibilities on construction sites and building regulations which date back to the 19th century, as well as a serious lack of enforcement. Unless we take immediate action, matters will only get worse.”

We, as a nation, had better take the word of the country’s architects on this one: we need to take serious action now before the cost of all this goes beyond the loss of bricks and mortar and into the realm of the loss of life and limb.

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