The destroyed house of Miriam Pace and her family. Photo: Newsbook

The premature death of Miriam Pace is unfortunately not the only one to have occurred due to irresponsible practices in the construction industry. We hear of residents who end up homeless, injured or even buried under the rubble, but also workers, including a considerable number of foreigners, who may be compelled to accept any type of work they are offered, and who are unfortunately thought of only when one of them dies on a construction site.

Time passes, the news value is lost, some ad-hoc short-term “solution” is proposed… but gradually all is forgotten. Let us be honest: who remembers daily the construction industry’s innocent victims if not only their loved ones? In this country it seems that one gets used to everything, to the extent that some even accept a scenario where the abnormal becomes normal, as long as the economy functions.

In its submissions in the public consultation on the new Regulations on Excavation and Construction Practices in 2019, the Interdiocesan Environment Commission (KA) had hoped that the proposed regulations would not just be a populist attempt to impress the general public that something is being done. It is outright scandalous that the Building Regulation Office, instead of setting up and maintaining a register of contractors of its own and ensuring that all contractors are qualified, trained and certified to do the work they are contracted to do, chose to abdicate from its responsibility and rely on the Malta Developers’ Association to keep such register. The KA sees this as yet another proof of the preferential treatment some contractors and so called developers seem to enjoy with the authorities. The authorities and contractors/developers have become interchangeable spokespersons for each other while the rights and views of other stakeholders have been largely ignored.

It has become common practice that submissions on laws, regulations, policies and development applications that are made by stakeholders that are not allied to the construction lobby are summarily dismissed. Government should carry out a major overhaul of its public consultation procedures. Each proposed change in any construction, planning and environmental regulations needs to be fully justified in the document that is issued for public consultation. 

The continuing fall in value of the quality of life in urban areas and of the natural environment comes as a result of an archaic political system. At times, the authorities themselves team up with developers to brush aside the concerns of families, communities and the local councils that represent such communities. The KA, like other entities, feels that the construction industry’s lobbying of political parties and politicians needs to be checked. The issues of financing of political parties and the salaries of members of Parliament should be on the national agenda.

The KA has, for a long time, issued statement after statement warning the authorities under different administrations about the need that the common good be given the highest priority so that the country benefits from real development, that is one which is sustainable. However, the term “sustainable development” has perhaps become the most abused term in development planning and political discourse.

Sustainable development rests on three pillars: environmental, social and economic. With the over-emphasis on the economic pillar, the environmental and social pillars are being abused and demolished. If all the three pillars are not considered in decision-making, “development” does not create wealth which is enjoyed by everybody including future generations. Over the years, the construction industry with its raison-d’être to be pro-business and not pro-person, in spite of its assurances, has shown in a clear manner that it is neither capable of generating a product that is sustainable nor able to regulate itself.

A conversion of minds and hearts from the players in the industry is required.  The KA appeals to honest contractors to speak out and make their influence felt in the changes that are required to be taken in the construction industry. Landowners are a major player in the development frenzy that has taken over the country in the last years. Sellers of land need to reflect on their actions since it useless for them to be shocked and be scandalised by the buildings that replace those they would have sold. They would have been fully aware that the substantial profits they were making were exactly due to such abhorrent structures that they allowed to take place through the sale of their property. This appeal applies to all landowners, individuals and corporate entities, Government, Church entities and religious orders.

The KA feels that the time is ripe for the authorities to clearly show where their priorities lie and, with courage, take the difficult decisions which should have been taken long ago. Such decisions no matter how uncomfortable they may be for a few, are justified for the vast majority of the population. The memory of Miriam Pace and all those who have lost their lives and homes in the hands of the construction industry deserve nothing less.

The Opinion Paper by the Interdiocesan Environment Commission