Architect Marisa Schembri Grima is under investigation by her peers at the Kamra tal-Periti (Chamber of Architects), the body confirmed on Thursday while at the same time calling for the control of contractors in an industry being “overrun by anarchy”.
The Kamra opened the investigation last Saturday to establish whether the now infamous incident on Psaila Street Birkirkara – where the former GO Exchange is being demolished by contractor Polidano Bros for a project involving construction magnate Joseph Portelli – “gave rise to potential breaches by any of the architects involved in the project, including the architect in charge of the project and the site technical officer.”
The architect in charge was Schembri Grima, who resigned from her position as Building and Construction Authority chairperson this week in the wake of the incident that saw large slabs, bricks and rubble falling from the site onto the surrounding street because of haphazard and unmonitored demolition work.
The chamber stressed that it was not immediately implying any wrongdoing and that its fact-finding exercise will establish “whether any professional malpractice did indeed occur”. If the chamber’s council determines a potential breach, the architect will be afforded the right to exculpate themselves as provided for in the Periti Act.
The Building and Construction Authority on Wednesday fined contractors Polidano Bros (headed by Charles Polidano, ic-Caqnu) €5,000 while site manager Mark Agius was fined €3,150. Another €2,000 fine was meted out to site technical officer David Muscat, who was tasked with observing sensitive works that might affect third parties.
No further action, however, has yet been taken against the architect involved, Schembri Grima.
The Building and Construction Authority that Schembri Grima heads had issued her with clearance, as Joseph Portelli’s architect, to begin demolition work on the large building on 1 February.
The Shift has in the past pointed out how Schembri Grima’s appointment at the BCA’s helm had been grossly unethical and marred with conflicts of interest.
The Shift had also revealed how the architect was defending Portelli and his associates over their completely illegal concrete batching plant in Kercem, Gozo, which was built on public land in broad daylight and over which the government has not taken any action in the past four years.
Even though Prime Minister Robert Abela had been warned several times about the conflict of interest, with NGOs and the chamber itself having informally pressured him to not re-nominate Schembri Grima to the post after the last general election.
Chamber calls for control of ‘unscrupulous cowboys’
The chamber insisted that, irrespective of “any professional shortcomings, no architect can possibly control unscrupulous cowboys with questionable competence at the wheel of heavy machinery toppling over buildings into public spaces as witnessed in Psaila Street”.
It observed that while architects’ professional conduct is heavily scrutinised the same cannot be said for contractors.
“Those [contractors] involved will suffer no consequences for their actions as not only is there no comparable disciplinary procedure for contractors to that of the Kamra, but there is not even a licence to lose.
“Without a deterrent of a real and effective punishment, the industry is overrun by anarchy, which is tempered solely by the goodwill of those architects, developers and contractors who feel a moral and ethical obligation to uphold standards against all odds.”
Ic-Caqnu blames architects as relationship with Portelli is being ‘reviewed’
Polidano Bros in a statement insisted it was not responsible for the debacle and that it had been acting in line with regulations and on the instructions of “professionals” – i.e. the architects in charge of the site.
“As per standard procedure, a Method Statement for these works was prepared by the architect engaged by the developer/owner which identified the process by which the demolition should take place,” the company.
It insisted it had followed the architect’s methodology at all times and that specialised machinery had been used for the job.
The company insisted it acted in accordance with the instructions of the developer as well as the architect and the site technical officer.
Polidano General Manager Ian Napier said the company would not accept a situation “whereby the developer seeks to shirk their legal and moral responsibilities and shift blame onto a sub-contractor when they themselves were duty-bound to oversee the project and intervene if any actions were not being carried out according to their instructions.
“Polidano will also be reviewing the nature of its relationship with this particular developer and considering its position on the site in question as well as explaining to the authorities that the fine imposed on the sub-contractor is both unjustified and unwarranted.”
Il-ħmar iwaħħal f’denbu!
This Authority is in shambles, and is one of the most useless Authorities in circulation. How on earth can a perit who is literally busy in his private business due to her association with Portelli, be the Chairperson of the regulator’s board? Conflict of interest galore. The Governnent’s opposing forces of this country should re-unite on this and ask for an internal investigation or inquiry to make sure that her involvement in the Authority did not bring with it corrupt practices and other dangerous perils. We cannot afford to have the regulator of the construction sector so weak anymore.
Wasn’t there supposed to be a regulatory legal notice written by an architect turned lawyer that was supposed to plug all holes and get some sense into the building industry? Seems that more holes were drafted in than plugged. The result is a Prie Minister that wants the inquiry into the death of a 20 year old is done in secret,after all the laws and good practice in the building industry were broken . Is the PM more guilty that the whole lot? Where is the architect-lawyer ? Dressing up for carnival or for the next funeral?
Let’s look at the logic here. Architects are a warranted and highly regulated profession. When drawing up development plans, architects are legally liable for up to 15 years if their building designs develop major faults in such buildings. In addition to designing a building, the architect must draw up a set of instructions on how to build the building he/she designed – the method statement. Insanely, architects are also responsible for ensuring that construction companies follow their method statements.
Construction companies are a totally unregulated industry where any Joe Bloggs can wake up one fine morning and decide that he wants to be a building contractor.
So in Malta we regulate the professionals designing our homes but not the people that built it.
How many tragedies have occurred because of badly designed buildings versus the wreckless building methods used by contractors?
Building contractors should not be exempt from regulation just because they bank role the 2 major political parties.