Construction industry reforms being drafted ‘without sincere consultation with experts’ – Architects

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The country’s construction reforms are not taking into account experts’ research and knowledge, President of the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers Andre Pizzuto said on Monday.

The government has been working on construction reforms, which were prompted by the March 2020 collapse in Hamrun that claimed the life of Miriam Pace. Four people have been charged over her death. 

Addressing the press on Monday, Pizzuto said that the Chamber is concerned with the developments seen over the past weeks relating to the Building and Construction Authority Act.

“The Chamber has been pushing for a reform for 14 years. Finally,  Parliament is discussing it, with the potential to introduce reforms which include the introduction of a new authority to regulate this sector.”

He said that the Chamber has always attempted to provide support for this reform, always seeing it as a positive step. The Chamber made a number of proposals for amendments to ensure that the introduction of this authority will be as good a step as possible, so that no more lives will be lost, he said. “However, requests for a meeting with the authorities were not heeded.”

“As we read the draft of the bill, we asked for consultation meetings via emails on 18th January and 11th February before the bill was to be discussed in Parliament, as well as on 18th February, after it was agreed between the Government and Opposition that the Chamber needs to be consulted.”

“With regret, I must note that none of our requests were entertained to date, furthering our concerns that a law that could benefit the common good will not reach its intended objectives.”

 In 2019, “we had also written to the Chairperson of the Standing Committee dealing with matters related to the industry to deliver our presentation to its members to raise awareness about the gravity of the situation and what needed to be done about it. Our request was denied. We are thus concerned about the apparent lack of awareness about the consequence certain articles which will be voted upon in Parliament will have on the health and safety of the public and on the industry”

He said that one entity which did note what the Chamber had to say was the Technical Committee appointed by the Prime Minister. “It emerged clearly that, not only did the Committee listen, but it understood and conducted its own the research, as evidenced in various sections of the Committee’s report.”

“Is it possible that those tasked with drafting this bill cannot spare 75 minutes of their time to understand the concepts behind the Chamber’s proposals for industry reform, as the Technical Committee had done?”

“Everyone that has been hit hard by this industry, particularly those who lost their lives and their families, do not receive the respect they deserve, with rules and laws being written without genuinely consulting the sector’s experts.”

He highlighted that the Technical Committee’s report states that “The way responsibility is split during the building process is currently unclear and has been rendered even more confusing by the requirements of a particular legal notice.”

“It also reads that the current system the role of the Site Technical Officer (STO) falls short of providing the required technical authority and participation which is required in certain building projects as the admissibility criteria for a person to act as STO do not raise the bar sufficiently and the current functions of the STO are not clearly defined”.

“It is crystal clear that the legal notice 136 of 2019 was written without any knowledge of the industry and international practises… they need to listen to our technical advice.”

The President of the Chamber also noted that the Bill will lead to a lack of transparency, as well as ambiguous laws on who is in charge.

“The only structure that exists is the board, that decides its own procedures. The law also gives the board the ability to delegate, but it is not clear on what it can delegate or not delegate, neither does it show the procedure of how this delegation works. This could lead to abuse and lack of transparency.”

Pizzuto pointed out that procedures which are not specified in the law, cannot be contested or appealed when breached. “With all its limitations, the current Building Regulation Office’s procedures are established by law, and if any of its officials infringes them, one can file an appeal.”

“We appeal to the government to amend the draft of this bill to make it more transparent.”

The Chamber is also worried that with this law, any powers or obligations vested in the Authority may be delegated to a non-governmental organisation. “We asked the government to explain why this new concept is being introduced. We also want to ask whether the licensing of contractors will be handled by non-governmental entities, and we also referred this point to the Ombudsman.”

He said that the Chamber was flabbergasted at the suggestion there could be the intention to delegate enforcement to the LESA. “How can one not be concerned when one hears such statements made in Parliament?”

According to civil code, periti and contractors share the burden of responsibility together for 15 years, but the periti do not choose the contractors, as the contractors are chosen by clients, so the periti are bound to them. “We need assurances about the competency of the contractors – we can’t have them being handed out licenses without knowing this.”

The Chamber said that that licenses need to come from the State, in the same way that periti get their licences.

 “Our proposals are based on research conducted over 2 years, we encourage the government to listen to us like the Technical Committee did.”

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