The Malta Independent 21 May 2024, Tuesday
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Government to set up new Construction Directorate, Abela says after another construction death

Monday, 22 April 2024, 15:39 Last update: about 29 days ago

The government will be setting up a new Construction Directorate, Prime Minister Robert Abela told journalists on Monday as he faced questions after another death in a construction site last Saturday.

Following questions regarding an incident in Sliema last Saturday where a construction collapse led to the death of a foreign worker, Prime Minister Robert Abela gave updates on the current status of the implementation of reforms, such as enforcement of regulations, following the recommendations of the public inquiry into Jean Paul Sofia's death and the government's stance on developers, contractors, and employers who shirk the responsibility of the health and safety.

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As soon as the Sofia public inquiry was concluded, Abela said that the government set off on the road towards implementing its recommendations and that rate of implementation is progressing every day. He said that every week, the inter-ministerial committee is meeting and creating the working plan for the implementation of the measures.

Abela announced that there will be a Construction Directorate, the regulatory system of which and the way in which it will work is being prepared.  He did not elaborate on the exact details of what this directorate will be responsible for or who will run it.

"I have great sorrow for what happened last Saturday," Abela said, adding that "without pointing fingers, the responsibility lies on everyone who works in this industry."

On one hand, he said, there is the responsibility of the governmental regulatory bodies to enforce the observation of the regulations, but on the other hand there is the importance of those working in the sector following the regulations themselves.

"We cannot accept a 'cowboy attitude'," Abela said. He went on by saying that he would ensure that there will be an "iron fist" on whoever is responsible for what happened last Saturday. He said that we would not tolerate someone who thinks that they can do what they want on the workplace, whatever the sector, and cut corners, at the cost of a worker's health and life.

We saw what happens when there are those who do not observe regulations and call them a burden, Abela said, adding that such regulations are not a burden but rather are there to protect the health of workers and those working in the sector.

He added that this doesn't apply only to construction, but to all sectors, citing the manufacturing industry and the maritime industry as examples.

Abela said: "Our will is crystal clear; the Sofia public inquiry will be implemented - every recommendation, possibly including other measures not outlined by the inquiry." He added that the government believes that this sector should be strongly regulated.

For Abela, it is not acceptable that the construction sector that has been in existence for such a long time, with inexistent regulation, be left to work like this. He added that the same can be said for enforcement with more human resources needed to uphold the regulations.

"Government made a clear promise on this: not only to give updates and report to Parliament on the work that is being done, but also - and I definitively gave my word upon the publication of the inquiry - that the measures will be implemented," Abela said.

Abela said that there is an ongoing process of implementation within the BCA, but warned that the country needs "realistic and pragmatic solutions."

He said that the solution is not to stop all construction, but rather to increase enforcement and regulation. "Strong enforcement will not permanently eliminate all accidents; if I said so I wouldn't be being realistic or honest, but it will minimise the risk," Abela said.

He added that there are many ways to minimise risk; be it through government entities as regulators and enforcers, but also through contractors and developers shouldering their responsibility. Abela said that everyone must understand that the repercussions for those who do not obey the regulations will not be small: it won't be a matter of fines or suspensions, but criminal proceedings.

Abela went on to appeal to the authorities responsible to investigate Saturday's incident well. "I understand a magisterial inquiry is ongoing: I don't want to hear any talk that we must wait for one thing or another; do your job, and all those who did wrong must pay immediately."

He said that the nationality of the victim doesn't make a difference, as the victim is a human being who has left a family and he said that it is "crucial to emphasise this message that someone must think twice before abusing of regulations."

Abela said: "I am being careful about what to say so as not to prejudice the proceedings on Saturday's incident and in order to avoid allegations that I gave an opinion on the case allowing anybody to get off easily, but I expect our investigative authorities, perhaps in contrast with the case of Jean Paul Sofia, to take immediate action."

The Prime Minister said that God forbid the country gives up on the idea that we are capable of carrying out effective enforcement and regulations.

"Economic growth must never come at the cost of a worker's health. Our work as a government is to understand that economic growth is important to improve the quality of life of our citizens, but at the same time, that no one must pay for this with their life," Abela said. He added that everyone who doesn't abide by the rules must pay the price and that such behaviour is unacceptable.

He went on to say those who break the rules will face immediate proceedings, and, "in anticipating what may happen, I will not accept months of waiting for a magisterial inquiry. It is not acceptable in this case. No one should try to evade the justice system by using technicalities. I am expecting the investigative authorities to carry out the investigation independently and in full autonomy."

Abela said that if someone did wrong, they will pay and they will shoulder the responsibility. He said that he also believes the judiciary must send a strong message. He added that this applies to every situation where the employer is responsible for the health and safety of their workers and any third parties.

"There aren't enough resources for enforcement but we are allocating the necessary finance for there to be more resources and there are formal calls out for people to work in these entities," Abela said. He went on to say that the BCA was conceived following a report he commissioned in 2020 that showed that the country had a sector that lacked an authority responsible for construction. 

"As of 2020, we grabbed the bull by the horns; we started a process of reforms which created a system of regulations in an unregulated sector," Abela concluded.

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