How many more accidents must happen in the construction industry before the country decides to do all that is necessary to effectively regulate what is possibly the most wayward sector of the economy?

Following the collapse of an apartment block in Guardamangia, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat quickly cautioned against jumping to conclusions and the developers’ chief, Sandro Chetcuti, appeared all too ready to again make a case for self-regulation.

The way Dr Muscat phrased his remarks gave the impression he is blissfully unaware of the situation on the ground. Hundreds of people living close to construction sites all over the island are enduring inconvenience and, sometimes, hardship lasting several months because of the unprofessional and uncaring attitude of developers/ building contractors. In some cases, households are put in manifest danger or are made to suffer damage because of the incompetent manner some contractors or the workers they are responsible for carry out work on site.

While it is inadvisable to pass judgement on the latest building collapse before all the facts are made known, and while it would also be incorrect and unfair to accuse all developers and contractors of unprofessionalism, there is general agreement that quite a number of such developers and contractors are not going by the book.

Maybe, as Dr Muscat has pointed out, people do not know to whom exactly they should lodge complaints over construction abuses but it is general knowledge that blatant shortcomings have plagued the industry for years now. There is no shortage of proposals on how to control wayward contractors in what has become a frenetic drive to change the face of the country into a nondescript concrete jungle. However, intentions and plans to check abuses have not produced any tangible results.

Mr Chetcuti has been quoted saying that the spate of accidents at construction sites over the past months, some of them fatal, underlined the importance of having a self-regulated sector. He said this would be possible if it were to be made mandatory for developers to register with the Malta Property Foundation, a partnership between the Malta Developers’ Association and the government.

Self-regulation is the last thing the industry needs. It is a shame that when the industry is engaged in such frenetic development, the situation has been allowed to get out of hand for so long. Such registration, when it is finally introduced, ought to be entrusted to an independent authority, such as the proposed Building and Construction Regulator, certainly not to the developers.

Unfortunately, the regulatory authority proposed in last year’s White Paper on the industry has not seen the light of day yet.

The Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers plans to submit its proposals to the government in the coming days. Like most people, architects feel the rate of construction accidents, whether resulting in damage to neighbouring properties, injury or even death, is unacceptable.

It considers current legislation to be characterised by excessive fragmentation of responsibilities and is, therefore, rightly calling for an urgent overhaul of the regulatory processes. When the regulations do not even establish minimum basic training competencies for site managers, not even as basic a requirement as literacy, it is clear the time for the dragging of feet is long over.

The country expects effective regulation of the industry now. 

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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