On Friday, May 27, Hayrettin Kok, 49, father of three, died after falling three storeys in a construction site between Testaferrata and Enrico Mizzi Street, Ta’ Xbiex. He was only identified after his friends posted on social media, with some Turkish news sites reporting he had been in Malta since 2019.
One thing local news sites did not report is that the site in question is a contentious 15-storey tower developed by none other than Michael Stivala, president of the Malta Developers Association.
Stivala, who speaks in soft sanctimonious tones like a missionary on his way to the Congo, has taken a vow of silence about yet another death. Kok’s was the second of the year so far, which has also seen a spike in injuries across various building sites.
Last year, nine workers died and over 2,300 were injured – shocking figures which confirm how the construction industry, more than a ‘catalyst for economic growth’, is a giant meat grinder for the hundreds of imported, underpaid foreign workers such as Kok. At least, we got to know his name.
Instead, the MDA’s roadshow has seen this almighty lobby deflect attention from the goings on in their sprawling Wild West. The cowboys donned their finest suits and rode to places far and wide such as the Office of the Prime Minister and the President’s Palace: here Reverend Michael would find his many tongues to recite his nauseating narrative.
Both performances would give us a better look at Sandro Chetcuti’s ‘successor’. On May 11, two weeks before Kok’s death, and two weeks after a 25-year old Syrian worker met his untimely death in a San Ġwann development, Stivala and his band of jolly men met with the prime minister and some of the finer members of his cabinet, including the ministers for planning and environment respectively.
According to their somewhat ungrammared press release, the MDA “demanded” a political commitment to avoid bureaucracy. This has been a recurring complaint by construction honchos, who make a not-so-veiled case for complete deregulation of the sector at each and every opportunity.
They issued similar statements in 2014 and 2016, even after the newly-elected Labour government split MEPA in two as part of a promise to “reduce bureaucracy”. Now, they have the cheek to go about making demands.
Stivala singled out LESA and the newly-formed Building and Construction Agency as those who contribute to the “extra bureaucracy that is consistently, diminishing of Maltese and Gozitan entrepreneurs (sic).”
He then went on to patronise the environment minister by lamenting the poor state of rubble walls and roads, wilfully ignorant of the fact that the members of his own lobby are net contributors to our islands’ general shabbiness, especially wherever they demolish, develop, and darken under storeys of concrete.
Then came the coup de grace: “Stivala emphasised that when we talk about the environment, we need to look at the big picture and not just object and criticise private development based on envy and selfishness.”
Their innate arrogance makes them think everyone wants to be like them, so they lob the classic accusation of envy at residents while crushing their quality of life- Wayne Flask
Their innate arrogance makes them think everyone wants to be like them, so they lob the classic accusation of envy at residents while crushing their quality of life.
Take Ġzira, Sliema and Msida: you’re lucky to get through the maze of closed roads, hideous towers springing out of nowhere, dust, noise and congestion at all times of day. Lovin Malta’s Planning Web shows that Stivala has at least 44 pending, approved or executed planning permits in these three towns since 2015.
I wonder if it was envy or selfishness which brought the MDA to criticise the public land concessions handed out by the Muscat administration to db and Corinthia.
Yet, the MDA forgot to mention the sale of a public alleyway in St Julian’s to Anton Camilleri ‘tal-Franċiz’ for a scandalous €130,000, despite its €1m valuation and strategic importance for his Villa Rosa project. Stivala’s soul must have throbbed viciously at the lack of “level playing fields”, but I too almost forgot to mention, Camilleri is an MDA board member.
Robert Abela would duly reward their cheek: in the raft of boards vetted but mostly nominated by an increasingly paranoid Castille, the BCA sees one of Joseph Portelli’s architects at its helm, with OPM adviser Ian Borg as her deputy.
It’s no secret the MDA and Portelli don’t like each other, but that’s another war fought silently behind the scenes. However, Stivala and his people got what they wanted: a weak BCA does not only benefit Portelli, whose alleged illegalities are known to all, but also the rest of the industry intent on quashing any notion of enforcement.
On the evening after the MDA’s gig at Abela’s, a Turkish worker fell down an 18m hole on the site of the new Verdala hotel. Royal Hotels’ directors include Denise Micallef Xuereb, Stivala’s vice-president.
The day after, developer Carlo Stivala (Michael’s brother) would make the headlines for a scaffolding left dangling in Balluta.
And yet, they complain of excessive rules.
It is telling that the OHSA, as at December 2021, could only count 35 members of staff in its workforce despite the alarming numbers of injuries and deaths. Perhaps this is the kind of bureaucracy the MDA would also like to do without, while receiving state aid for its members to upgrade their machinery, or extended construction hours in residential zones.
Shortly after Kok’s death, Stivala would sit on a panel at the president’s State of the Nation conference representing Malta’s deadliest industry, as the numbers confirm. The ‘value of life’, including those of hundreds of exploited workers, was not on the agenda.
There is little consolation for the family of Kok, another victim of greed saluted by routine, statistical indifference.
Likewise, thousands of workers on whom the industry preys have little left to lose, except, possibly, for their very own lives.
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