The fast growth in the economy is being encouraged without much thought being given to the consequences of overdevelopment on the infrastructure of the country and the effect that this has on people’s lives. The few cases when the Planning Authority refuses to grant a building permit are not enough to show that the government is determined to mitigate the negative effects of overdevelopment on society.
The mega-building projects in the pipeline have created obvious pressures on the human resources required to see that these projects are delivered on time, within budget and the professional standards that such new buildings must observe to make them safe. The importation of 300 Turkish workers to complete a massive office building in Tignè is just the beginning of an influx of low-paid foreign workers from Third World countries to cater for the shortage of manpower in the local construction industry.
Other massive projects include the building of the hotel and apartments in the City Centre project in the former site of the Institute for Tourism Studies, and the extension of the St Vincent de Paul residence. These will be followed by the Gozo Tunnel project and the building of over 500 apartments in the former Trade Fair grounds in Naxxar.
Public policymakers are surely aware of the pressures that this influx of workers, even if they will only be here temporarily, will create on our infrastructure, including the roads system and the health facilities. It is to be expected that some of these temporary workers, especially those in the management categories, will come with their families and will expect to have decent accommodation and schooling facilities.
These mega-projects have already been tainted with serious allegations of abuse of power. Public land was granted to private entrepreneurs with terms that may not reflect market realities. Some massive service contracts bypassed public procurement regulations by including them in opaque public-private partnerships agreements.
Promoters of overdevelopment in government, of planning, business, and the construction industry, seem not to care much about the stresses that this massive development and the importation of a growing number of foreign workers will have on the lives of ordinary people.
Neither do they ask themselves what will happen when the economic cycle turns and demand for offices, commercial and residential property will subside. They even try to rationalise this uncontrolled urge to build every square metre of land available by saying that the future of our pensions system and social services depend on these mega-projects.
Some have understandable ethical concerns about the fairness of exploiting people from Third World countries by paying very low wages to do the work that locals cannot or do not want to do. Developers argue that this as an untouchable principle of capitalism and free market practice. After all, countries in the Middle East have been doing this for decades. So why should we not emulate them?
Malta may be walking into a nightmare of harsh consequences of over-development unless policymakers wake up to the realities of this phenomenon that is already affecting the lives of many people. There are various indications that little planning is accompanying these megaprojects.
Political rhetoric that we can mitigate the consequences of rapid development as we go along is at best no more than pious intentions.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial
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