The hospital’s concrete

concrete sampling


The issue came to the fore last September when Minister Konrad Mizzi said that there were problems with constructing additional wards on the Emergency Department of Mater Dei Hospital.  The contractor whose tender had been selected proceeded to carry out the necessary tests to ascertain that the existing buildings had the specified load-bearing properties. It was found that they did not.

All hell broke loose. Questions were asked as to how this was possible. Only one person kept his cool, former Finance Minister Tonio Fenech who, in September ,  declared  that he was not at all surprised by what was being said. He added that he was aware that Skanska, the contractor in charge of the hospital construction project, had repeatedly refused to construct additional floors because (it maintained)  the structure was not designed to carry such additional loads.

How come that only former Minister Tonio Fenech seems to have been aware of the design limitations of the hospital’s concrete?

On the other hand, whilst an inquiry is under way, Minister Konrad Mizzi is unethically disseminating selective titbits of information in order to make heavily loaded political statements.

Arup Group, a UK engineering firm, was commissioned by the government to analyse  the concrete used in the hospital’s structure. The report, which has already been submitted to the government and parts of which are being selectively quoted by Minster Konrad Mizzi, has not yet been published.

Likewise, the government is selectively quoting a waiver agreement between the Foundation for Medical Services and Skanska, signed on the conclusion of the project, presumably putting in writing what had been  agreed when addressing the final list of pending issues between the parties. The quotes being made lead to the conclusion that the waiver agreement was a blanket waiver. In fact, Minister Konrad Mizzi is actively encouraging such a conclusion. A full disclosure of the agreement would make it possible to consider whether the selective quotes are misleading –  as they most probably are.

Contrary to the manner in which the public debate has so far developed, the issue of the hospital concrete is primarily one of quality control on site, that is whether adequate quality control existed on site throughout the duration of the project. Such quality control requires that all concrete used on the Mater Dei project should have been sampled on use and tested according to established standards. Generally speaking, 28  days after use the project management team would have been in possession of the laboratory results on the concrete’s strength.

The questions which logically arise are whether the project managers had results indicating that the concrete supplied was not compatible with the relative specifications and, if such results did in fact materialise,  the manner in which they reacted to them.

The answers to these questions will point to the technical responsibilities arising both professionally and managerially.

Are there political responsibilities? I do not know. However,  the question of political responsibilities could arise if the politicians in charge interfered (directly or indirectly) in the technical decision taking. Political responsibilities  could also arise if the politicians obstructed the Foundation for Medical Services in the performance  of its duties by, for example, withholding funds or by dishing out appointments to persons who were not fit for purpose.

These are undoubtedly issues which the inquiry led by Mr Justice (retired) Philip Sciberras will examine, hopefully in some detail.

The sooner this whole saga comes to an end, the better. It is about time that everybody’s mind is at rest. This includes the taxpayer, who is not yet certain whether he will end up footing the bill.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 31 May 2015

4 comments on “The hospital’s concrete

  1. There is another issue here which is not being considered. I’m referring to the decision to allow hotel owners to add extra floors to their hotels. At the time I raised the fact that the hotel would have been designed to support x number of floors and that adding extra floors may put a load on the structure that it couldn’t bear. At the time I was looking at it purely from a design point of view but what if this practice of using concrete with less than the specified load-bearing properties in order to save money is more widespread than we think?

    • The point you raise is something completely different from the subject dealt with in this blogpost. In such cases, and not limited to hotels, the architect responsible for the addition of the extra floors would have to take the necessary steps to ensure that the structure can carry the additional load.

  2. I just subscribed to Carmel Cacopardo’s Blog because he appeals to my line of thinking.I think that this blog is objective and technically correct.

    I also think that Carmel’s blogs, comments and statements do not insult the reader’s intelligence, appealing especially to those that are not politically blind or politically polarized.

    Although I have labour tendencies, I find his views more close to the truth than can be expected from any politician.

  3. The “field” covered in this article is a veritable mine field. There is selective leaking and quoting from each side which in terms of newspaper “fronts” can be termed to be MaltaToday and The Malta Independent on Sunday. But more of that later.
    In the first part there is reference to words by Tonio Fenech. I feel that the wrong cast had been put on them. If Skanska “had repeatedly refused to construct additional floors because (it maintained) the structure was not designed to carry such additional loads” (key words: not DESIGNED to to carry etc) it was perfectly in order and implied no deficiency in the concrete. So I would suggest that there is nothing further to seek in Tonio Fenech’s words.
    In the wider field there is the danger of selective leaks. So the TMIS emphasises that the WAIVER did not offer any protection from prosecution under local law for defective work — this to overturn the Konrad Mizzi contention that the WAIVER is creating difficulties for the Govt. in its pursuit of those responsible for the defective concrete. MaltaToday responds by publication of a letter from Brian St. John CEO of FMS to Paul Camilleri, Chair FMS to point out that the WAIVER does not permit FMS to keep back the sum of €200,000 from Skanska to pay for repairs on the Mater Dei water reservoirs built with inferior concrete (20Mps against the stipulated 30Mps).
    Then we have John Dalli: MT publishes PART of an email sent to JD by the FMS chair, 6 weeks after the signing of the WAIVER. The e-mail gives some aspects of the agreement but does not mention the waiver clauses. Therefore says MT, Dalli had no part in the drawing up of the document. But TMIS reproduces the WHOLE of the e-mail which strongly suggests that Dalli was heavily involved in the talking that led to the WAIVER, ergo he must carry responsibility. Overall there is the “uncertainty” in the part or lack of it played by Lawrence Gonzi. Did the then PM know of the contents of the WAIVER before it was signed, after it was signed? Certainly on his say so Gonzi did not show it to the Cabinet. So in the end who carries “political responsibility” for this mess which has handed some €0 million to robber barons and is going to cost the tax payer another €30 million to put right?

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