Jaiteh Lamin fell two storeys from a building site in Mellieħa and fractured his spine.
Rather than call an ambulance, the man who employed him, Glen Farrugia of J&G Farrugia Ltd, allegedly put the badly injured Lamin on a wooden plank and shoved him in the back of a van.
The pathetic coward didn’t even have the decency to dump him on the front steps of Mater Dei. He drove to a quiet country lane in Selmun and abandoned Lamin on the side of the road like just another fly-tipper dumping garbage on public land. His only concern was getting away with the decisions he’d made for his own short term gain.
Passers-by eventually found the 32-year old Ghanian curled up in a ball on the roadside, crying and saying he didn’t want to die.
“He told me to tell the police I had been hit by a car,” Lamin said later, in hospital. “I asked him why are you treating me like this? And he responded ‘What else can I do’?”
All the usual organisations issued all the usual condemnations.
The Malta Employers Association demanded the “elimination of the black economy”.
And the Chamber of Architects called it “a stark reminder that some industry operators are yet to reach basic levels of responsible behaviour grounded in humanity and compassion”.
Other responses were more self-serving.
In a country where paper laws exist in abundance, UĦM Voice of the Workers chief executive Josef Vella said the incident could have been avoided if the government had set up the employment contracts portal the union has been requesting since 2016.
The Malta Developer’s Association wants you to know the contractor wasn’t a member, and the incident “threw bad light on the industry”.
Always one to take a stand for the rule of law, President George Vella said he hoped the responsible person would be found and would face justice: “Who allegedly abandoned him in such a cruel manner should pay for his actions”.
‘Alleged’ and ‘should’. Slippery words from the man who felt “deeply hurt” by angry crowds who demanded his resignation after the public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia found the entire Cabinet — of which Vella was a member, and a staunch defender — complicit in her death.
Prime Minister Robert Abela showed a similar reluctance to condemn the concrete kings. “If indeed true,” he said, “this is totally unexpected. I am informed that the police have already started investigating the case”.
Hours after the story came out, Abela held a pre-budget consultation meeting with the Malta Developers Association, where he told them the construction industry should remain an economic motor in Malta — but it better go carbon neutral.
They must have been comforted to know the Continuity Prime Minister was still in their corner.
Abela had already leapt to their defence the day before, after his Finance Minister Clyde Caruana made threatening statements about the need for Malta to end its dependence on endless building for economic growth.
The prime minister’s first priority wasn’t the long term good of the nation. It was to reassure the builders that “Clyde Caruana never said we should stop construction”.
Social media and newspaper comment sections provided an interesting sample of the larger public reaction. While outrage, anger and empathy were the norm, the most alarming comment I noted from the foreign community was the comment which wasn’t there. I didn’t see anyone express surprise that something like this happened in Malta.
Of course, the expat community had its own rude dose of reality when COVID struck. As other EU countries were extending economic support to all residents regardless of which passport they held, Economy Minister Silvio Schembri made it clear that in this country that “charity begins at home.”
“The moment foreign workers lose jobs,” he said, “they will have to go back to their country”.
Foreigners are disposable in Malta, and it isn’t only a question of racial discrimination or preying on vulnerable migrants.
The stark difference between the expat experience and the plight of men like Jaiteh Lamin — trapped in the desperate position of working under the table for an unfair wage to send money to his wife and children — is that foreign workers with EU passports can walk away from Malta without much worse than bad memories of the country and lessons learned.
Internet portals were also awash with comments that verged on excuses: ‘Yeah, but the PN did it, too!’ and ‘Why was he working in Malta without a permit?’ I’ll tell you why. Because Maltese contractors were happy to exploit him.
The human rights NGO Aditus hit the target closest to the mark, describing the roadside abandonment of Lamin as “the result of a system that dehumanises the individual as merely a cog in the wheel of an insatiable industry”.
And it is insatiable, you know.
The construction industry acts with total impunity, building wherever they want, ignoring safety regulations, and donating to parties to keep greedy politicians under their thumb.
Builders in Malta will not stop until they’ve gobbled up everything. When they run out of room to spread their hideous limestone impetigo over every last patch of open space, they’ll turn their eyes to the heavens and start building up.
The only real talk of reform came after cavalier builders crushed Miriam Pace to death beneath the ruins of her family home. You can see how much has changed since her death. Despite facing charges of involuntary homicide, the contractor in question — Ludwig Dimech — was given over €1 million in direct orders from Ian Borg’s Infrastructure Malta.
Nothing will be done this time, either, despite the outrage of decent people shocked by the amorality of a man who could dump an injured human being on the side of a road and run away.
It’s the pattern this industry has followed all along. You don’t have to look very far back to see it.
Just last week, a 51-year-old worker from Gambia was critically injured when he fell 1.5 storeys at a job site in Siġġiewi.
The day before, a 41-year-old worker fell one storey from a construction site in Marsascala.
In June, a 40-year-old Italian man fell four storeys to his death while working on a factory roof in the Ħal Far industrial estate.
In May, a man was hospitalised when the roof of a construction site in Fgura collapsed on top of him.
Earlier that same month, a 30-year-old Egyptian man fell one story from a construction site in Ħamrun.
In April, a 38-year-old Albanian fell six stories to his death from a building site in Marsascala.
In November 2019, a 16-year-old Syrian fell from the fourth floor of a construction site in Swieqi.
It goes on and on and on.
These are just the incidents we know about because someone died or was taken to hospital. They couldn’t be hidden or blatantly ignored. In each case, we were told police are investigating, and an inquiry is being held.
Heard anything about them since? Me neither.
Safety standards are a nuisance in Malta, and migrant workers are disposable. Amoral builders don’t just hire desperate people for a pittance in order to avoid employment permits and paying a fair wage. They do it because they won’t have any duty towards that person when the inevitable ‘accident’ happens.
If a black man falls off a building site because no one has time for safety standards, or is crushed beneath a load of stone because untrained Charlie was working the crane again, so what? Plenty more where he came from.
Why would you expect change from within when the only reforms to Malta’s transactional approach to the rule of law came as a direct result of outside pressure?