The Times, Friday 6th January 2012
When I sat on the Sliema local council, between 2003 and 2009, I had first-hand experiences of how governmental authorities such as those responsible for planning, the environment and transport were practically acting in the interests of the construction industry.
As the only Green local councillor I tried to influence the local council to act in the interest of residents who feel powerless when confronted with land developers and contractors who ride roughshod over their rights.
I was partially successful in persuading fellow councilors, blue and red, on the need to take concrete action. Indeed, the local council started to object to various development proposals, opted to consult residents on important issues and also took action against developers who did not abide by regulations. Some roads were resurfaced after faulty work and some others were actually resurfaced properly, as was the case with St Mary Street. We had also managed to block development such as the massive commercial and car park development at Qui-si-Sana garden and Chalet.
Even though I was very much disappointed that I was not elected in 2009 (having been elected in 2003 and 2006), I still treasure my years as local councillor and I also cherish the fact that I gained a lot of first-hand knowledge on the politics of construction.
Thus, I am not surprised when, all over Malta, I see crass disregard to residents’ rights by various developers and contractors. The pothole plague is a case in point.
I am sure no one believes that Malta has some adverse climatic condition that fills roads with craters. There must be other reasons for this. I am quite positive on two such reasons in this regard.
First, many contractors carry out shoddy work and do not make proper mixes of required materials when resurfacing roads.
When I served as councillor, we had asked the authority responsible for transport to inspect a particular road that was resurfaced and it transpired that the mix was faulty. I am quite sure that this is the case with many roads. Yet, unfortunately, many local councils simply close their eyes to such matters and action by Transport Malta is very infrequent, to say the least.
Contractors are engaged again to resurface roads in a faulty way and make money in the process!
Another reason for potholes and uneven surfaces has to do with the weight of trucks used for construction.
Such trucks are frequently overloaded and, thus, cause damage to roads, pavements, sewage systems and so forth.
If one takes the construction being carried out at the former Galaxy site in Sliema one would immediately witness damaged pavements, potholes and uneven roads in Old College Street, St Ignatius Junction, Depiro Street and Manwel Dimech Street.
Besides, heavy trucks sometimes drive over the precarious bridge in Old College Street. A sign barring trucks from passing over the bridge has mysteriously disappeared. To date, I am not aware of any enforcement in this regard.
Are the Motor Vehicles (Weights, Dimensions and Equipment) Regulations being adhered to? These rules lay down clear specifications on maximum permissible gross vehicle weight/axle weights for different vehicle configurations. I recently asked Transport Malta whether any inspections are carried out in this regard and the reply was that the Enforcement Directorate carries out roadside inspections in line with the regulations.
I hereby invite Transport Malta to publish reports on such inspections and on enforcement carried out.
Various construction projects are also characterised by blatant cases of lack of enforcement: the so-called protective “green nets” used for hoarding. Very often, such nets are simply ceremonial rags that make a parody of the Environmental Management Construction Site Regulations.
By way of example, I have been corresponding with the Sliema local council for almost two months on the fact that the same construction site mentioned above (the ex-Galaxy) lacks protective hoarding to conceal parts of the site, to the inconvenience of residents living a few metres away.
Initially, there was no hoarding, then it gradually began to appear and increase but a whole side of the development remains uncovered. To date, enforcement is lacking.
There is not much that the local council can do on this other than correspond with the respective authorities, which it did. The latter still have to take action in this respect. The same holds for other pseudo-hoarding all around Malta.
Unfortunately, the construction industry still retains disproportionate influence in the politics of the environment.
Needless to say, the lack of regulations on party financing means that contractors can finance political parties and politicians and, thus, invest in having carte blanche on their operations. Besides, both the Nationalist and the Labour parties remain committed to the ideology of endless development, even though the last census showed that a quarter of properties remain vacant.
This is one main reason why Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party will be fielding a number of candidates in March’s local elections in localities such as Balzan, Swieqi, Mosta, St Paul’s Bay, St Julians, Gżira and Attard, among others. The last locality already has a Green councillor, Ralph Cassar, who has been voicing the concerns of residents for years and has helped hinder overdevelopment in some areas.
Residents will have a chance to vote for councillors who have no obligations or ideological affiliations to the construction industry. The alternative is voting for the status quo. In this case, one can only expect more potholes and inconvenient construction practices, blessed by the authorities.
A happy New Year to the staff and readers of The Times.
The author, a sociologist, is chairman and spokesman for economy and finance, Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party.