The third building collapse in two months has forced the government to take the drastic measure to temporarily stop all excavation and demolition works across the island.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat made the announcement on Thursday afternoon at the start of an emergency meeting with stakeholders in the construction industry.
The meeting was called after a block of apartments collapsed last Saturday in Mellieha, the second incident in as many months. However, the meeting was overshadowed by yet another collapse this morning in Gwardamanga.
Addressing a press conference following the meeting, Muscat announced a number of proposals and a timeline of measures the government will be taking.
Starting on the Monday, Muscat said, a public consultation will be launched on the proposals. The consultation will end Friday, with the aim of having cabinet approve legal changes before they can be tabled in parliament and approved the following week.
Until then, Muscat said, there will be no excavation or demolition works allowed in the country, with the exception of works where architects state that ceasing works will be more of a danger.
Among the measures being proposed in the new regulations, will be a provision requiring an architect or site manager to be on site whenever any crucial decision is taken. This will be over and above the current requirements, Muscat said, adding that their presence on site must be documented.
“Competent persons must have been on site and must have taken the decision with the responsibility that it brings with it,” he said.
Moreover, Muscat said the new rules would be proposing geological surveys in all cases of excavation. “The studies are there for responsibility to be carried not for us to add documents in the authorities’ cabinets,” he said. “The study will be there and it will have a signature.”
Currently, geological studies are required only in cases where excavation works deeper than three metres are being proposed. Muscat said that the majority of major projects already do this as a matter of standard practice, but said that the requirement would now be required across the board.
Fines for contractors not following the requirements laid down in the project’s method statement will increase from €500 to €10,000
In case of a contractor who continues work even if he has been notified to stop, fines will go up from €1,200 to €50,000. “This is a very strong sign that if you are breaking the rules, you are also limited the feasibility of your project.”
Muscat commended all stakeholders present at the meeting, noting that those present had come together to agree on what needed to be done, despite their differing views.
In an immediate reaction on Facebook, Opposition environment spokesperson Jason Azzopardi called the decision a “populist move”, asking since when did the Prime Minister have such power.
In comments to the press following the meeting with the Prime Minister, developers’ lobby boss Sandro Chetcuti insisted that the well-being of residents came first when it comes to the measures which had to be taken in light of the third construction-related incident in under two months.
Chetcuti praised Joseph Muscat’s decision to suspend all excavation and demolition permits, remarking that there could be no “fooling around” when it came to people’s safety.
“The meeting was very positive. The Prime Minister acted as was expected of him,” Chetcuti said, “And he didn’t act out of anger, but out of a sense of responsibility towards the people.”
“There can’t be any fooling around when it comes to the security of residents, and any decisions have to be taken with the interest of the citizen in mind.”