Clear where responsibility lies in Gwardmanga home wall collapse, Muscat says

The Prime Minister said he had already decided government would be suspending excavation and demolition works before the latest incident and promised to clamp down on rogue contractors and architects

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Sunday that it was clear who was responsible for the collapse of a home wall neighbouring a construction site last Thursday.

The incident was the third such case over a period of just two months, with the government deciding to temporarily suspend all excavation and demolition works as a result.

“Experts have told me that it is clear who is responsible for the Gwardamanga accident, but I won’t be commenting because I don’t want to prejudice the case, but it is clear what happened,” Muscat said.

The Prime Minister was speaking during pre-recorded interview on the Labour Party’s ONE, where he touched upon a range of subjects, including changes in construction industry rules which are to be announced tomorrow.

Muscat said the decision to temporarily suspend works was an obvious one and one he had taken prior to the latest incident. “When the wall then fell on Thursday it simply reaffirmed it and removed some small doubts I had.”

An analysis of the “legal situation”, he said, showed that the country’s laws were adequate, and that it was a minority of rogue contracts who think they can do whatever they want that were causing problems.

Muscat insisted that the legal changes that are to be announced tomorrow, would be looking to close existing loopholes, and to make sure that there is always clarity on where responsibility for decisions lies.

“The government can’t watch over every site, someone needs to be responsible, that is why we are warrants,” Muscat said. He said that expecting the government to watch over every construction site was like obliging it to also oversee the work done by doctors and surgeons in hospital.

He noted that ultimately it was architects who were responsible for the work being done in a construction site, but added that when contractors deviated from the prepared mission statement, the responsibility fell on them.

The new regulations, Muscat said, would ensure that architects can no longer prepare plans without visiting the site, while also creating an obligation for an architect or certified manager to be on site when crucial decisions are taken.

He said he was happy that the Malta Developers Association had also agreed with the suspension. “I told them to speak to those among them who are giving them a bad name,” Muscat said. 

Through a new Building and Construction Authority, Muscat said the government would be creating a one-stop shop for all matters related to the sector. The authority was promised in the last budget, but has so far not materialized.

Muscat can’t understand PN’s opposition to AG bill

Turning to a Bill currently being debated in parliament, which is looking to split the Attorney General’s roles as legal advisor to the government and public prosecutor, Muscat accused the PN of once again being inconsistent.

He said that in recent years, the PN had on many occasions called for the AG’s roles to be split, only to now say it was going to vote against the Bill in parliament.

“From what I can understand, the only reason they are voting against the bill is because they want to AG approved by a two-thirds majority,” Muscat said. “Nowhere in the Venice Commission’s report does it say that the AG should be approved by a two-thirds majority.”

He insisted that this did not happen in any European country, while noting the Justice Minister Owen Bonnici had publicly asked the Commission about the manner in which the appointment should be made.

The PN, he said, had once again been overcome by the negativity of those within it who lacked ideas.

No conflict between Air Malta and Malta Air

Referring to the announcement by Ryanair this week, that it would be setting up a local subsidiary, Muscat reiterated that there would be no conflict between the new airline and Malta’s national airline Air Malta.

The Prime Minister noted that there was nothing stopping Ryanair, or any other airline for that matter, from operating to and from Malta. “Those who think this is possible still haven’t realized we joined the EU,” he said, adding that as a result, Air Malta has, for 15 years, been operating in a state of free competition.

He said that Ryanair could have opened up their new subsidiary without needing to involve the government, pointing to the Irish airline’s new strategy which has seen it open up subsidiaries in Poland, Austria and now Malta. 

“The idea is for them to strengthen the base they have in Malta, with the intention of also having 50 aircraft that are operating in foreign countries and which are brought onto the Maltese register,” Muscat said.

He said that rather than set up the new airline alone, Ryanair had spoken with the government in order to explore possible points of cooperation.  

As a result of negotiations, he said the government had retained a single golden share which “practically” gave the government a veto on decisions taken by the airline.

Referring to concerns about Malta Air competing with Air Malta, Muscat insisted that this was not the case, and those who believed it was hadn’t yet understood how the market worked.

Air Malta and Ryanair, he said, had two very different business models. In addition to Air Malta having offering different seat classes and carrying cargo, he said that a crucial difference in the two models was that people who fly Air Malta would have first made a decision to come to Malta.

“They decide they are coming to Malta and then they try to find the best way of getting here,” he said.

With Ryanair however, he said there were many people who checked what flights were available for a short three-day trip and who booked based on which flights were cheapest and most convenient.

Air Malta, he said, would continue to focus on its strategy of growth and would be seeing its fleet increase to 11 aircraft. On the other hand, he said Malta Air would allow the country’s tourism sector to tap into markets it presently does not have access to, and would be a game changer for the industry in the years to come.

France can be Maltese EU ally after Brexit

Muscat also touched upon the summit of the EU Med Group, which the seven leaders of southern EU states in Malta to discuss matters of common interest.

Before the summit, Muscat held a bilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, which he described as a good opportunity to improve the already good relationship between the two countries.
Muscat said that France could be a major ally for Malta within the EU, especially after the UK leaves.  

The summit, he said, was always very helpful in allowing Mediterranean EU states to coordinate positions they agreed on.

“The idea is not to have everyone say the same thing, but rather to be able to emphasise points where we feel there is agreement,” Muscat said

He added that the meeting had been particularly useful, given that many decisions will have be taken by the EU in the coming months, including who will lead its various institutions and the general direction it wanted to take over the next five years.  

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