Despite shift, Marthese Portelli says her stance on new building laws unchanged

Former Nationalist MP Marthese Portelli has argued that her stance on the revised building regulations which came into force in July 2019 has remained unchanged since taking up her new position as Director General of the Malta Developer’s Association (MDA) in March 2020, despite a shift in tone highlighted by the Chamber of Architects’ (Kamra tal-Periti) on Thursday.

Portelli’s stand was questioned when the Chamber said that it was “perplexed” at a statement made by the MDA, which praised the revised building regulations. In the statement, the Chamber raised a comment Portelli had made in 2019, where she had slammed the government’s regulations as “rushed-decision making” which “sets nobody’s mind at ease”.

Portelli, who was the PN’s Spokesperson for Planning, has abandoned her MP role to take up the position of Director General at the association in March. The move raised eyebrows, especially given revelations on the close relationship between Malta’s main political parties and the construction industry.

The MDA’s statement said that following amendments made in the law in July 2019 the authorities now had “sound, precise and established parameters” to determine who was responsible for incidents such as the collapsing of houses. The statement was released as a reaction to reports that four people were charged with the involuntary homicide of Miriam Pace, who died after her house in Santa Venera collapsed in March.

Yet the Chamber of Architects hit back. “It appears that this was the primary focus of the MDA, rather than ensuring public safety,” according to the Chamber, which deemed the same news of those charged a “reminder that the crisis faced by the building industry is far from over, and has not been resolved through hastily drafted regulations”.

In comments to The Shift, the Chamber’s president, Simone Vella Lenicker said that the Chamber was not sure what to make of the MDA’s statement.

“We felt that what (Portelli) had stated in 2019 is incongruent with the MDA statement … we are assuming her line is now in a position with the association’s,” she said, when asked to elaborate on their reference to Portelli’s previous statement.

Portelli denied any inconsistency in her stance. She told The Shift that not only has her stand not changed, but it is also in synch with the MDA’s position.

“It is positive to have a law that defines better the roles and responsibilities of each player,” she argued, explaining that what she had referred to as ‘rushed’ were specific implementations, such as that of the Site Technical Officer (STO) duties.

“I had insisted that there were not enough professionals who could render STO services in terms of the law. The MDA is all for better regulation to ensure better public safety and is open to discussion,” she added.

Portelli’s statement in 2019, which was also signed by MPs Claudette Buttigieg and Toni Bezzina had listed a number of suggestions which the Opposition wanted to see implemented. These changes included provision of support to people who are entitled to should they end up homeless due to construction site incidents and to offer more resources to the Building Regulations Office and Occupational Health and Safety Authority, among others.

Vella Lenicker told The Shift that, in the past, Portelli’s views were often aligned what that of the Chamber, to some extent or another, and this alignment had instilled hope that her new position in the association would bring about some change.

The Chamber’s president acknowledged that Portelli has not held the position for long and that they had not yet met since Portelli took on the MDA role. She remained hopeful that Portelli would inspire a change for the better.

“We hope that because things have slowed down at the moment then, as a sector, we can take a deeper look at our situation and see that everything is aligned with international regulations so that we can come out of this period more united, and stronger as a whole,” she said.

Vella Lenicker stressed that the Chamber’s current thrust was that the building and construction regulation proposals it had presented, which were also agreed upon by the MDA, were to be implemented “without delay”. The government had committed to implementing the framework as of October 2019.


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