[WATCH] Scales tipped in favour of developers, Graffitti activist tells politicians

The construction industry and its practices came under the spotlight on TVM’s Xtra

From left: show host Saviour Balzan, Moviment Graffitti activist Andre Callus, Opposition spokesperson Toni Bezzina, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, and Malta Developers General Secretary Michael Stivala
From left: show host Saviour Balzan, Moviment Graffitti activist Andre Callus, Opposition spokesperson Toni Bezzina, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, and Malta Developers General Secretary Michael Stivala

Building regulations ushered in last year were “just for show” and the scales remained tipped in favour of developers, Graffitti activist Andre Callus said.

He laid the blame for Monday’s fatal tragedy in Hamrun squarely at the feet of the two major parties, accusing them of “tiptoeing around” the construction industry.

“The policies that have been implemented and reformed under different administrations have all been done with the aim of benefitting developers… the scales have been completely tipped to their side,” Callus said.

He was taking part in a discussion on TVM’s Xtra, hosted by Saviour Balzan, on Thursday.

“When we opened the doors to this wave of development, we changed the policies to give developers everything they want, and we did not put in place a structure to regulate how all this development should happen,” he argued.

During the lively and oftentimes heated debate, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis acknowledged the gravity of a situation, which he described as “indefensible”.

“More work needs to be done so as to beef up the reforms carried out in 2019… it is clear these were not enough,” he said.
Government has set up a technical committee that will review the policies and practices within the construction industry and identify where the problems might lie.

However, Opposition spokesperson Toni Bezzina accused the government of dragging its feet, insisting that the reforms of 2019 did not go far enough in the first place.

“We have been applying pressure since June 2019… The amendments to the 2013 construction regulations were a step in the right direction, but they were definitely not enough,” he said.

The Nationalist MP argued that Prime Minister Robert Abela’s decision to set up a committee to “reform the 2019 reforms” shows that he himself does not believe that the work carried out last year was sufficient.

Bezzina said the first thing that must be done is provide the Building Regulation Office with adequate resources and finances to ensure that proper enforcement can be carried out.

Bezzina also argued that, since construction methods are continuously evolving, the government must make certain that all those involved in the sector are given the necessary training to ensure that they remain up-to-date. 

Malta Developers General Secretary Michael Stivala said his association, more than anyone else, wanted things to be taken seriously, and to ensure that no one abuses the system.

Stivala said the MDA is being unfairly targeted, noting that the association did not have the power to act but was merely an NGO representing developers. 

“We work to ensure that our industry becomes a more professional one, and that cases like this do not happen,” Stivala said, stressing that “it is unacceptable for us that third parties are treated badly, or that a builder causes damages to third parties”.

The general secretary said that the MDA is working hard to tackle the problems within the industry, noting that the association had taken it upon itself to compile a register of contractors.

Such a database, Stivala argued, is the first step towards a country in which all contractors must be licensed by the government in order to operate, which is currently not the case.

Stivala also called out for further reform, stating that more regularisation, licensing, and training of workers is needed, and insisting that everyone must shoulder responsibility.

The sentiment for reform was echoed by all those on the panel, with Zammit Lewis noting that “development which is allowed to run rampant is destroying people’s lives”.

The minister said government’s message is that all stakeholders should avoid politicising the matter and work together to ensure that the country can move forward and find a balance between the interests of the economy and people’s quality of life.

Bezzina agreed, appealing for reform and unity.

“Let us sit down together to make certain that tragedies such as these will not happen again. Unless we unite together, these problems will continue. Everyone’s opinion is important but there must be a commitment from the government and everyone else to pull the same rope, so that we will finally solve this problem,” he said.

Callus meanwhile, said that while there is currently a lot of fear and anger, this can also be an opportunity for change. 

“Unless we see a radical change in our attitude towards the construction sector, incidents like these will continue to occur,” he said, adding however, that if the people put enough pressure change will happen.