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Reining in building contractors

Sandro Chetcuti’s “points system” proposal to curb abuses in the construction industry could have made a brilliant April Fool’s joke. The situation has been allowed to get out of hand so much now that few believe the industry can be effectively checked.

There is no harm for Mr Chetcuti, who is the president of Malta Developers Association, to try to bring errant contractors under some sort of control, but few believe they can be tamed. The Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, sounded a bit naïve when he described the proposal as a breakthrough, when it has not even been launched. Or he may have simply wished to humour the contractors. After all, his government has been pandering to their lobby quite openly. 

Mr Chetcuti said his proposal was for a points system similar to that used to penalise drivers for traffic offences, but he did not expand on it. Nor did he say who would be running it. Not much thought appears to have gone into the proposal yet, but it comes only months after the association’s president announced they were working on a register of developers, which the association had intended to manage itself.

This newspaper’s reaction to self-regulation by the developers was not enthusiastic. Its doubts on its possible success was based on the fact that experience has shown only too well that contractors have become a law unto themselves. They flout rules and regulations so often and in such blatant manner that they project themselves as untouchables.

This can very well be testified by the hundreds of people who live close to construction sites, and also by those on whose property developers have been given permits to build additional storeys.  Quite often, builders make the life of these people unbearable through their uncaring attitude, and the sheer, continuous inconvenience they create, very often unnecessarily or through sheer negligence or non-observance of the rules.

The situation is made even more unbearable because developers would seem to have no time limit within which to complete construction. Their stock-in-trade excuse is that there are not enough workers around to get the job done. But if this is the case, should not developers take this into consideration before even starting the work?

Despite repeated pleas by the association to its members to go by the book, developers carry on as before since there is no enforcement, or if there is, it is so weak that warnings are ignored. The end result is disorder.

It will be great if the association were to bring some order through the management of the register it has in mind to launch, but as it is we’ll say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If the association is convinced that, through the register and a points system, errant contractors could be reined in, well, they are both worth trying out.

Mr Chetcuti must have raised quite a few eyebrows when he said that developers were not interested in turning Malta into a construction site. Malta already is a construction site, and if the building frenzy keeps going at this rate, more parts of the island will be turned into a veritable concrete jungle. Much of Malta’s past has already been lost. Is it not time to consider some moderation?

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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