A four-person panel led by a retired judge will be reviewing the laws and oversight systems governing the construction sector following Monday’s fatal building collapse, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Wednesday.
Fielding questions from reporters, Abela said it was “clear that something had failed” and the government wanted to establish exactly what had gone wrong and rectify it.
Miriam Pace, a 54-year-old mother of two, died when her family home was reduced to a pile of rubble when it collapsed into a next-door site which was being excavated.
Police have arrested and are questioning six people - all linked to the excavation works - in relation to the death.
Abela said it was not yet clear whether any state entities had failed their duty to prevent the incident, but if they had then he wanted to know exactly how.
The panel appointed by the prime minister has been tasked with reviewing excavation and construction regulations. Abela announced the panel members during a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
Retired judge Lawrence Quintano will lead the panel of experts, which will also feature engineer Adrian Mifsud and court experts Mario Cassar and Mark Simiana. Mifsud is a geological and structural engineer, Cassar is a construction-related expert while Simiana is a lawyer.
While there was no deadline for their recommendations, Abela said he wanted them to complete their work as soon as possible.
The prime minister said he had called for more inspections of construction sites to be carried out going forward, but insisted that the number of onsite visits had already increased significantly in recent weeks.
'Angry and hurt'
Speaking earlier on Wednesday, Abela said he was “angry and hurt” by the building collapse.
Progress cannot be achieved at this price, at the cost of human life. A man has become a widower and mother and wife has died in her home- Prime minister
Abela said this had happened in the name of increased productivity and economic growth, and raised questions about what kind of society the Maltese wanted to be.
“Progress cannot be achieved at this price, at the cost of human life. A man has become a widower and mother and wife has died in her home,” Abela said.
The prime minister said others had also lost their life in the pursuit of economic growth, singling out foreign workers who died on construction sites and other workplaces in Malta in recent years.
The public, Abela said, deserve action following this case.
He said he wanted to be more direct in his comments on the case, as he had a strong opinion on the matter, but he did not want to be interpreted as putting undue pressure on the magisterial and police investigations.
Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit is leading an inquiry into the building collapse, while the police have arrested six people linked to the neighbouring construction site in Ħamrun.
Meanwhile, Abela told the conference about his vision for Malta’s economic future. This, he said, should not be dependent on low paying jobs.
Opposition calls for public inquiry
The Opposition called for a public inquiry to establish what led to the tragedy and to establish whether the government had done everything possible to avoid it.
It argued that the government had ignored all the signs that followed other, similar cases in the past months.
It was the government’s duty to ensure that all necessary protection was given to third-party properties next to construction sites through legislation and enforcement. The government could not pass on such responsibilities to third parties, the PN said.
The prime minister had to realise that serious laws were not enacted following tragedies but before these took place so as to prevent them.
The government was responsible for the present situation and it could not shirk from its responsibility. Political responsibility for Miriam Pace’s tragic death had to be carried by minister Ian Borg, who was responsible for the reform and legislative changes, which reform had clearly failed.
Giving a statement on Facebook later, Dr Delia said the people had expected the Prime Minister to provide the necessary resources for the required enforcement to be carried out so that people who lived close to construction sites would have their minds at rest.
But although he acknowledged that this was an urgent matter, no deadline was given as to by when the committee which had been set up had to conclude its work.
No offer was made to help people affected by construction works psychologically. Such help could have been provided immediately without the need to wait for the technical committee’s report.
The law, Dr Delia insisted, should start to be enforced immediately.