The Malta Independent 11 December 2019, Wednesday

TMID Editorial - Construction: The government backed itself into this corner

Monday, 17 June 2019, 09:59 Last update: about 7 months ago

The construction industry has long been ‘making hay while the sun shines’ at the expense of many residents around the Maltese islands, and people have been highlighting irregularities for many years

The recent spate of construction site tragedies, including the number of injured workers, is a consequence of poor enforcement of regulations and some believing they can do whatever they want. We have all seen images of workmen sitting on a wooden plank off the side of a building, being held by two ropes.

The recent collapses of building walls in sites adjacent to ones under construction has finally stirred the government into action. While it is not yet 100% proven that adjacent construction is the cause for these incidents, it is the most likely story.

Indeed the government took a bold decision last week, freezing excavation and demolition works country-wide, with the exception of cases where such a halt might do more harm than good. But the government doesn’t really have a choice does it? The government’s years of inaction over reported abuses, ignoring the lack of resources in the authorities that deal with this sector is also to blame for this situation in the first place.

Government policies created a construction boom, yet government failed to enforce regulations, failed to give enough resources to authorities like the Building Regulations Office to respond to complaints by residents. Indeed the reason a number of construction companies going rogue, ignoring regulations, is because they know the government is weak when it comes to this sector.

Maltese laws rely on the architects and contractors to ensure everything is ok, with them carrying responsibility, but maybe this is not the way forward. Maybe the authorities should take on more responsibility in this regard, maybe an agency should be setup to watch over the rights of residents surrounding a construction site that looks out for their interests more actively.

The recent damage to buildings adjacent to construction sites brings another concern to mind… why were these buildings so weak to begin with? That is a questions which will also need to be answered.

Health and safety not just of construction workers, but of residents in the area needs to be a priority. The government cannot continue shirking its responsibility to the people. Any contractor found to have used inferior material, or conducted unsafe work should have their licenses revoked. The time for contractors to run roughshod over residents must come to an end. Indeed an article back in 2013 read that Speaker Anglu Farrugia, who was a former PL Deputy Leader, had said that contractors were getting too close to Labour.

Heftier fines will not be enough. So far we have been extremely lucky that nobody has died in one of these building collapses. If one does, and if it is due to excavation works next door for example, it is not only the contractor who would be held responsible, but the government for failing in its duty to protect citizens unless much stricter measures are taken, and enforcement is made a priority.

Indeed such threats to residents are not the only situation that needs to be addressed. The dust generated through construction is not healthy. Spraying water is just not enough, and better more efficient methods need to be found and employed.

Other examples of contractors abusing residents include the taking up of parking spaces without the necessary permits, and leaving the roads in a terribly dusty state.

Residents must come first.

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