No end in sight for the construction saga
Ten months after the tragic death of Miriam Pace in her Ħamrun residence, the much-awaited construction industry reform is yet to materialise. It was only this week that the recommendations made by a commission tasked to review existing laws regulating this industry were published.
The tragic death of the 54-year-old mother who was buried alive under the debris of her own house, on the afternoon of March 2 – triggered by the adjacent construction works – was no fluke at all. The writing had been on the wall for months. It was only a matter of luck that there had been no further victims. In June 2019, 77-year-old Maggie Smith, miraculously emerged unscathed when her apartment in the four-storey block in Mellieħa collapsed. Days later, families living in a block of apartments in Gwardmangia had to be evacuated after a wall collapsed. All this happened, just weeks after another group of families were forced to abandon their flat, just around the corner, when part of the block collapsed. Ongoing adjacent construction works was the common denominator in all these cases.
As months rolled by the sense of outrage and injustice among the victims continued to grow as their ordeal was seemingly forgotten, with the authorities’ sense of urgency to do something fading out within weeks. Meanwhile, the resumption of, and indeed the completion of works in these construction sites only served to rub salt into the wound for those affected as they are being denied the right to enjoy their own property. The sequence of events epitomises the knee-jerk approach in which more often than not crises are handled in Malta.
In this case Prime Minister Robert Abela had promised to crack down on the construction industry ‘cowboys’. The appointment of a panel of experts to come up with proposals on how to tighten laws, beef up enforcement and safety, while taking care not to shackle the construction industry was greeted with unanimous support, albeit being a belated move.
Though some might take solace from the fact that arraignments were made before the courts in the case of Pace, the bigger picture is still bleak.
Almost a year down the line, the report by the panel of experts which was handed to the government months ago, was only published this week. Meanwhile, the legislative process to amend the laws has just been launched with the bill for the setting up of a building and construction authority been tabled in parliament. These developments came in the wake of criticism that the government had slept over this problem, despite pledges to tackle it with urgency.
While the authorities dallied over the matter, the Pace family kept calling for justice through Facebook – their only means to convey their grief and frustration. Their ordeal is a vivid reminder that 10 months down the line there is still no end in sight for this saga.