Testimony heard at the Jean Paul Sofia Public Inquiry from architect Maria Schembri Grima, ex-chairperson for the Building and Construction Authority, where she claimed the Kamra Tal-Periti (Chamber of Architects) is the public’s point of reference for “structural issues” on construction sites, is “not true at all” according to KTP President André Pizzuto.
While naming the KTP as the enforcers of structural issues, Schembri Grima faltered in front of the board when trying to name the authority responsible for enforcing construction-related matters.
Contacted by The Shift, Pizzuto said that the KTP’s “remit is checking negligence from the architect’s side of things”.
But when it came to construction “the reality is that there is no authority responsible, no one, it is a massive lacuna.”
Pizzuto explained that the Chamber does not have the resources to check on and enforce issues with structural plans, nor was it ever designed to do so.
“The situation is a complete disaster,” he said, “it is unclear to the public who is tasked with enforcing what. There should be one central regulator doing so, not 24 different bodies.”
According to a 2019 analysis by the KTP, 24 different regulatory bodies oversaw various aspects of the construction industry, leading to “excessive bureaucracy” and “a lack of clarity on responsibility and liability”, among other issues.
When asked about the soon-to-be-introduced construction contractor licensing structure, Pizzuto said, “The BCA is going to enforce this new licensing regime. But if they’re not serious about it, it’s useless.”
He further noted that the criteria upon which licences may be suspended or removed has not even been made public.
Commenting on the role of the Site Technical Officer, introduced through a legal notice in 2019 as a site liaison between contractor and architect in the wake of several construction incidents, Pizzuto called the role already “somewhat redundant given that civil law does not cater for its introduction.
“It will become even more so once licensing is introduced.”
He said, “The STO is meant to ensure the method statement is being followed. The mess of a ‘reform’ in 2019 involved a new role in the process just to avoid licensing for contractors.” he said the government was “bending over backwards so that the contractors are not held responsible”.
Describing the construction, development and real estate industry in broader terms, Pizzuto characterised the situation in Malta as one in which “people suspend their disbelief, we pretend that we’re like any other country, but things are not normal at all.”
He noted how the Chamber has spent years advocating for more streamlined administration, regulation and enforcement of the industry “which is nowhere near standards abroad”.
He referred to a 2019 construction regulation framework published by the KTP that included an analysis of the construction industry that is now being undertaken once again by the Jean Paul Sofia public inquiry board.
Schembri Grima resigned from her post as Building and Construction Authority chairperson last February following a widely-reported incident in Birkirkara which saw debris falling onto a public road when dangerous demolition works she was overseeing were carried out on the site of an old telephone exchange that Gozitan rogue developer Joseph Portelli, who she is closely associated with, is turning into an apartment block.
Following the incident, the KTP opened an investigation looking at “potential breaches by any of the architects involved in the project, including the architect in charge of the project [Schembri Grima] and the site technical officer”.
On the status of the proceedings, Pizzuto said the initial stage of investigations into the incident was being wrapped up, with formal proceedings in which Schembri Grima is expected to appear before the KTP Council expected to begin soon.
The Jean Paul Sofia public inquiry board, presided over by Ombudsman Joseph Zammit McKeon with Deputy Auditor General Charles Deguara and architect Mario Cassar serving as its two additional members, has so far held three sessions of the inquiry in which it heard from ministers and former and current chairpersons of the various authorities involved in regulating the industry.