The fulcrum of much-needed reform

These reforms will affect a lot of people. They will affect our families, consumers, first-time buyers who also need a place to live

54-year-old Miriam Pace was buried under the rubble of her home after it collapsed on 2 March 2020 in Hamrun
54-year-old Miriam Pace was buried under the rubble of her home after it collapsed on 2 March 2020 in Hamrun

It is not fair, and by no means acceptable, for families near construction sites to have to live in fear.

This sentiment expressed by my colleague Chris Agius on Saturday is one that I think we all share.

The building and construction reform, is crucial. It will bring about increased safety, peace of mind, and a strengthened and more sustainable industry. It will also ensure that this industry indeed remains strong at such as important stage of the development of our country.

When I spoke about the importance of changing the narrative surrounding the construction sector -- it did not go down well with some.

But I am sure about what I said. In fact, today I am even more certain.

But I’d like to clarify some things as I feel I could have been misunderstood or misquoted.

When I said that I am not comfortable with the narrative that we have today in construction and planning, I did not say that this narrative will be changed through magic, or some PR exercise alone.

The narrative is to change by enacting tangible change: by making reforms, and implementing the measures that we need to see happen, that the people expect, and that falls in line with Government’s vision towards a strong economy, a sustainable industry and safe neighbourhoods.

This needs to be done hand-in-hand with stakeholders, and with good faith, not by using victims for political gain. From periti, engineers, contractors, developers and site officers: we need to work with them, and not behind their backs.

We are already making changes. A few days ago we announced a number of measures: beefing up the BCA’s enforcement by doubling inspectors, and engaging a pool of experts to make checks on method statements.

These inspectors are tasked with regularly monitoring any development projects as deemed necessary to ensure that they are in-line with administrative procedures, as well as current laws and regulations. They investigate all reports of alleged irregularities and ensure that enforcement notices are always followed. This is done by regularly visiting sites and recommending appropriate action, maintaining all case files and keeping the enforcement information system up-to-date.

We also announced a new freephone for the public to report any potential irregularities during construction site works, in order to address the concerns of the public and ensure that everyone feels safe in their home. These measures will continue to provide peace of mind to families and ensure the industry is more secure and sustainable.

Crucially, we will not be giving shocks to the industry. This reform is long-term, just as the 35-page Quintano report suggests very clearly that the measures should be long-term. There are some measures that need to happen now, immediately, and others that need to happen in the coming months and years. I want to do this with all stakeholders because I know the difficulties that they face every day in order to avoid accidents and tragedies.

Quintano and his technical team provided us with a report on an inquiry requested by the Prime Minister. But aside from the magisterial inquiry, the Prime Minister, at that time, correctly called for an inquiry lead by the former Magistrate who gave us a report which was made public. The Quintano report is not the Government’s blueprint but it is a good basis for discussion.

This Authority will be an Authority on the same level as the most important authorities in our country, brining under one roof and leadership the Building and Construction Agency, the Building Regulations Board, the Building Regulations Office, and the Masons Board.

This will be an Authority with the best professionals and officials in order to increase scrutiny and compliance which people expect, and rightly so.

I will be discussing with the main stakeholders the measures with which we will mitigate dangerous practices and the way that method statement scrutiny is done. We will discuss further obligations and responsibilities of all those involved including politicians. The need for licensing, registration, and classification of all those involved. Here I am seeing that we have an agreement in order to begin with the work that is the most dangerous -- that of excavation. We are also seeing that we have more modern technology in the sector. We are also looking at an educational and informative campaign in order to empower the public even further.

For the first time, we will have a National Building Code focused from the beginning on three crucial sectors: Demolition, Excavation, and Structures. This is an industry that requires the necessary skills and tools. Here we have a large skills gap.

Here I need to mention the big mistake that was closing the trade schools in our country and now today not only do we not have the regulations, licensing, and registration, but we also don’t have trained workers in such a crucial sector. For this reason, we are already discussing with the industry the skill cards which have already begun to be administered by BICC which now requires us to move towards VINFL - Validation of Informal and Non-Formal Learning.

This is basically an assessment of the existing operators on what they know and don’t know. This is crucial and needs to commence immediately. We are looking at a one-stop-shop so that persons can have one place for everything that has to do with construction sites, rights, energy performance criteria, and many others.

These reforms will affect a lot of people. They will affect our families, consumers, first-time buyers who also need a place to live. It will affect developers, periti, engineers, contractors, industry, the price people pay for their homes, workers in the industry, green economy, and climate change.

To these, I promise them to work to modernise the industry, safeguard it and strengthen it. I’m proud that this reform will become a reality, and that with these measures we will move towards more modern practices which do well for our environment, allowing this industry to be a pillar in our economy.