A Building and Construction Authority (BCA) board member has resigned over claims the authority is putting paperwork ahead of safety and making “hasty decisions” unilaterally.

Architect and structural engineer Robert Ellul Sciberras said he could no longer contribute to the board in a way that aligns with his professional ethics and values.

“We are getting lost in processes and forms and in hasty decisions, and are missing important aspects that really make this industry safe,” he wrote in a resignation letter seen by Times of Malta.

His resignation to chairman Saviour Camilleri comes as the authority is under pressure following the Jean Paul Sofia inquiry, which found serious legislative and enforcement problems in the construction sector.

Ellul Sciberras said that in the past months the authority had “shifted away from inclusive and objective-orientated” decision-making and prioritised “other factors”.

Accusing the authority of prioritising bureaucracy over safety, Ellul Sciberras called the shift “concerning and a departure from the values and objectives I believe are fundamental to our work”.

His departure means there is now only one architect left on the BCA board, something Kamra tal-Periti president Andre Pizzuto told Times of Malta reflected a lack of expertise within the authority.

Ellul Sciberras said its decisions were “missing important aspects that really make this industry safe” and stressed the importance of involving architects in decision-making.

In the letter, the former board member called for more architects to be appointed to the BCA board, including the professional association representing architects, the Kamra tal-Periti (KTP).

He said that while he continues to advocate for change it must be implemented in “small, steady steps”.

“This gradual approach ensures that adaptions are not only sustainable but also thoroughly considered,” he said.

Thanking the authority for the opportunity to serve, he said he hoped the board would “return to a path that respects and incorporates the contributions of all stakeholders”.

When contacted, Ellul Sciberras would not elaborate on his reasons for resigning.

‘Making it up as they go along’

Pizzuto said Ellul Sciberras’s departure was “indicative of the fact that they [the BCA] are not consulting the people who are most competent”.

Describing the authority as being made up of those without industry knowledge, he said they were “making it up as they go along” and that the chamber had been excluded from important decisions affecting the sector.

“We would like to be more involved in the drafting of new laws, but that has not been happening,” he said, adding that aside from a brief meeting last month, the KTP had not met with BCA officials for over a year after several scheduled meetings were cancelled at the last minute.

But while Pizzuto agreed architects should be more involved in the decision-making process, he said the KTP was not seeking to be involved in the day-to-day workings of the authority as a board member.

Responding to Ellul Sciberras’s charge the BCA was getting “lost in processes and forms”, Pizzuto agreed, saying the authority was “disproportionate in its demands for documentation”.

Pointing to summary of insurance documents as one example – which he characterised as “wholly unnecessary” due to full insurance policies also being filed – Pizzuto said forms such as these were contributing to lengthy delays.

“These delays mean some people are choosing to undertake work illegally, then coming to us to sanction them. Processes supposedly intended to safeguard third parties are in practice incentivising the opposite... it’s so exasperating,” he said.

Meanwhile, sources told Times of Malta the BCA had been in a rush to make decisions since the conclusion of the Sofia inquiry in February.

In a 484-page report, the inquiry gave a damning inditement of the “comedy of errors” within construction site legislation that contributed to Sofia’s death.

BCA reaction

The BCA in a reaction said when asked that it is committed to implementing the applicable recommendations of the Jean Paul Sofia Public Inquiry.

"Thus, the BCA remains committed to safeguard and protect all parties involved in the Construction sector by elevating the standards of the industry and to ensure that those involved follow the best practices," it said.

It added that "With reference to the so-called “new direction that appears to prioritise other factors”, if the so-called “other factors” are the safety of all parties involved, then so be it, since this reflects both the Government’s strategy and the spirit of the Sofia Inquiry."

The composition of the board is established by law as per Article 11 of Chapter 623 - Building and Construction Authority Act, and thus any appointment will be made according to the provisions of the law, the authority said.

PN: Lack of government commitment for proper reform

The Nationalist Party in a statement on Tuesday said the board member's resignation was further confirmation of the government's lack of a serious plan for the sector, as well as inefficiency.   

Instead of tackling the problems highlighted by the Sofia inquiry, the government was continuing to pile on bureaucracy, even though the inquiry report itself spoke of a “comedy of errors” and a serious lack of political commitment for better enforcement of the laws, shadow minister Stanley Zammit said.  

The sector, he said, needed to be modernised through gradual, consistent and transparent reform made after [proper consultation with interested parties.  

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