Il-perit-żviluppatur

Il-mewt ta’ Miriam Pace midfuna taħt ir-radam li sa ftit qabel kien jifforma id-dar tagħha f’Santa Venera ħasad lill-pajjiż. Waqgħet dar oħra, imma din id-darba l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni ma kkawżatx biss ħsara imma wasslet ukoll għall-qtil ta’ persuna. Għax it-tejatrin ta’ Ian Borg, Joseph Muscat u Sandro Chetcuti, wara l-inċidenti tas-sajf li għadda kien nissel l-impressjoni falza li kollox kien taħt kontroll. Imma dan, sfortunatament mhux il-każ.

Huwa ġustifikabbli li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni kollha titqiegħed taħt il-lenti, għal darba oħra kif ukoll għal kemm-il darba jkun hemm bżonn. Dan jinkludi li tkun eżaminata l-imġieba tal-periti.

Bħala riżultat tad-dibattitu pubbliku li għaddej ġie osservat li l-perit inkarigat mix-xogħol problematiku f’Santa Venera għandu interessi oħra, lil hinn minn interess professjonali fix-xogħol ippjanat. Huwa ukoll azzjonist fil-kumpanija li applikat għal permess u li f’Jannar inħarġilha mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar il-permess PA6459/19. Jirriżulta li dan il-perit għandu f’ismu 10% tal-ishma fil-kumpanija li f’isimha ħareġ il-permess tal-iżvilupp: MCZMC Developers Limited. Għandu interess li jara li l-investiment li għamel jirrendi.

Id-dibattitu dwar jekk huwiex etikament korrett li perit ikollu interess fi proġett ta’ żvilupp li hu inkarigat minnu li jmur lil hinn minn interess professjonali mhux wieħed ġdid. Ilu għaddej kemm f’Malta kif ukoll lil hinn minnha.

Il-Kodiċi dwar l-Imġieba għal dawk fil-pussess ta’ warrant biex jipprattikaw ta’ periti fil-gżejjer Maltin jifforma parti minn skeda annessa ma’ regolamenti intitolati Regolamenti dwar il-Kamra tal-Periti.

L-iskeda hi msejħa Kodiċi dwar l-Imġieba Professjonali. Kienet oriġinalment imfassla fl-1969 imma ġiet emendata fl-2010. Il-Kodiċi b’mod ċar ifisser li Perit f’Malta “ma għandux jokkupa, jassumi jew xjentement jaċċetta kariga li fiha l-interess tiegħu jkun kontra d-dmirijiet professjonali tiegħu.” (regolament numru 1). Iżid jipprovdi li Perit “jirċievi rimunerazzjoni biss bid-drittijiet professjonali tiegħu li jitħallsu mill-klijenti tiegħu u/jew bis-salarju tiegħu li jitħallas mill-prinċipal tiegħu. Hu ma jkunx jista’ jieħu rimunerazzjoni minn riżorsi oħra relattiva għax-xogħol u għad-dmirijiet fdati lilu.” (regolament numru 2)

Dan ifisser b’mod mill-iktar ċar li Perit ma jistax jinvolvi ruħu fl-investimenti dwar propjetà inkella bħala żviluppatur ta’ propjetà li dwarha jkollu involviment professjonali. Id-dħul tiegħu għandu jiġi unikament mix-xogħol professjonali u mhux minn qliegħ ġej minn negozju jew żvilupp ta’ propjetà. Fi kliem sempliċi u li jinftiehem id-dħul tal-perit għandu jkun mis-servizz li hu jagħti u mhux billi jieħu sehem fl-ispekulazzjoni tal-art u l-bini.

Minkejja dan, xi qarrejja bla dubju għandhom esperjenza differenti. Uħud ikunu sorpriżi meta huma u jaraw propjetà li jkunu interessati biex jixtru jiskopru li l-persuna li żviluppat din il-propjetà u li qed tfittex li tbigħilhom tkun ukoll il-perit inkarigat mix-xogħol. Filwaqt li fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi ma jinqala’ xejn straordinarju, fil-każi fejn jinqalgħu problemi n-nies tħossa skomda targumenta ma’ perit-żviluppatur. Meta jinqalgħu l-argumenti dwar il-propjetà żviluppata minn perit-żviluppatur, il-perit ma tantx issibu għax hu l-iżviluppatur li jkun fuq quddiem ifittex li jispjega u jiġġustifika dwar id-difetti fil-propjetà. Għax in-nies tirrikorri għand il-perit bħala l-ewwel arbitru tekniku bejna u l-iżviluppatur, ħafna drabi anke jekk huwa jkun il-perit ta’ l-iżviluppatur stess. Imma meta l-perit u l-iżviluppatur ikunu l-istess persuna dan ma jistax isir. Għax il-perit ma jagħtix biss servizz lill-klijent tiegħu imma b’mod indirett iservi ukoll lil kull min ikun effettwat minn dan l-istess servizz.

Uħud minn dawn il-periti żviluppaturi huma magħrufa filwaqt li oħrajn jinħbew wara kumpaniji inkella wara sħab fin-negozju.

Għad m’għandi l-ebda tweġiba għal mistoqsija bażika: għalfejn qed ninjoraw l-osservanza ta’ etika professjonali bażika b’mod li nwasslu messaġġ li wara kollox, li xejn mhu xejn, u li dan kollu hu mġieba “normali” u aċċettabbli?

Il-Kamra tal-Periti forsi tista’ tipprovdi tweġiba għal dan. Sa mit-twaqqif tagħha 100 sena ilu l-Kamra tal-Periti kellha r-responsabbiltà li tgħarbel u fejn neċessarju tieħu passi neċessarji dwar il-prattiċi professjonali tal-periti. Safejn naf jien, s’issa, ma jirriżulta minn imkien li ttieħdu xi passi dwar il-periti żviluppaturi.

Meta jirriżulta kunflitt ta’ interess jeħtieġ li nindirizzaw bla dewmien il-kawża ta’ dan il-kunflitt. Li ma nieħdu l-ebda azzjoni jfisser illi is-sitwazzjoni li tkun inħolqot qed tiġi meqjusa bħala li hi riżultat ta’ mġieba aċċettabbli.

Għax illum xejn mhux xejn.

Minħabba li tul is-snin ħadd ma għamel xejn dwar dawn il-periti żviluppaturi hemm min illum iqies li dawn huma żvilupp aċċettabli. Għax għal dawn ir-regoli dwar l-imġieba etika hu djuq żejjed, ħela ta’ żmien u burokrazija żejda. Propjament red tape!

Dan hu fejn naslu meta s-soċjetà tagħna tiżviluppa f’waħda amorali.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 8 ta’ Marzu 2020

The architect-developer

The death of Miriam Pace buried in the ruins of her collapsed Ħamrun home as a direct result of building works in hand in an adjacent property has shocked the nation. The theatrics of Ian Borg, Joseph Muscat and Sandro Chetcuti, in the aftermath of last summer’s incidents had instilled a false sense of security that matters were now under control. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The whole construction industry is justifiably once more under the spotlight, for the umpteenth time since last summer. This spotlighting justifiably includes an examination of the ethical behaviour (or otherwise) of architects and civil engineers.

In the resulting public debate, it has been pointed out that the architect and civil engineer in charge of the problematic works at Ħamrun has more than a professional interest in the works in hand. He is also a minority shareholder of the limited liability company which applied for and holds development permit PA6459/19 issued by the Planning Authority in January. It has been reported that he holds 10 per cent of the shares of the company in question: MCZMC Developers Limited. He thus also has an interest in the returns resulting from his shareholding.

The debate as to whether it is ethical for an architect and civil engineer to have other than a professional interest in any specific development under his direction is not a recent one. Nor is it limited to Malta.

The Code of Conduct for holders of a warrant to practice locally as architects and civil engineers is contained in a schedule attached to subsidiary legislation entitled Chamber of Architects Regulations.

The schedule is entitled Code of Professional Conduct. This code of conduct, was originally drafted in 1969, but it was subsequently amended in 2010. It clearly lays down that a locally warranted architect “must not hold, assume or consciously accept a position in which his interest is in conflict with his professional duty.”(rule 1) Furthermore, it is provided that a locally warranted architect “is remunerated solely by his professional fees payable by his clients and/or by his salary payable by his employer. He is debarred from any other source of remuneration in connection with the works and duties entrusted to him.” (rule 2)

This clearly signifies that a locally warranted architect is barred from being involved as a property investor or as a developer in property in respect of which he or she is professionally involved.

Notwithstanding all this, readers would however easily point at a number of cases, both recent as well as not so recent, as to their being surprised when viewing a property which they were interested in purchasing to get to know that the developer was also the architect in charge of the development in hand. While in most cases no particular problems arise, there is always a feeling of uneasiness when dealing with the architect-developer with such a blatant conflict of interest.

At times, when there are problems associated with the property being purchased it is not possible to distinguish between the architect and the developer. The developer takes over while the architect takes a back seat. A situation which fits perfectly into George Orwell’s description in his Animal Farm: looking from man to pig and from pig to man again and not being able to tell which is which!

A number of these architect-developers are known, while others hide their identity behind corporate structures and/or business partners. The question to which I have no clear answer is: why has such a blatant disregard of professional ethics been permitted as if it is the “normal” acceptable behaviour?

The Chamber of Architects, maybe, could supply an answer. Since its foundation 100 years ago, the Chamber has been responsible for enquiring into “the professional practices of architects and civil engineers”. I am not aware of any action initiated by the Chamber in respect of any architect-developer to date.

When a conflict of interest arises, the removal of the cause of the conflict or withdrawing from the situation which gives rise to the conflict is essential. Taking no action signifies accepting the situation as the normal acceptable behaviour.

Through lack of action over the years we are currently on the brink of transforming the unacceptable into the “new normal”. This is the amoral society at its best.

published in The Malta Independent : 8 March 2020

In Malta it pays to ignore planning law and policy

planning authority

The planning amnesty announced earlier this week has been in the pipeline for 18 months. In the initial stages of the debate – on 8 February 2015 in an article published in this paper – I had described it as The spoils of environmental crime.

The need to promulgate an amnesty is a political declaration that there has been a failure of good governance. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence on these islands, where politicians are repeatedly held hostage by various special interest groups. It is has happened with fiscal issues and it is happening with development irregularities.

In 2012,  had through Legal Notice 229 of that year,  the Gonzi-led government introduced a concession related to infringement of sanitary rules in development. On the Planning Authority website, the present amnesty has been labelled as “the new regularisation process”. It is described as a “one-time opportunity to regularise existing unsanctionable non-conformant development located entirely within the development boundaries”. The only practical limitation to the said regularisation is if the said regularisation has an impact on third parties, described as “injury to amenity”. In such instances, the regularisation cannot be proceeded with. However, beyond a general definition of  “amenity” Legal Notice 265 of 2016 entitled Regularisation of Existing Development Regulations 2016 does not  go into any detail on the criteria as to what constitutes “injury to amenity”. This is very worrying as it signifies that third party rights are once more on very shaky grounds, with the Authority deciding each case on its merits.

The proposed regularisation is applicable within the development boundaries. This signifies that no application to regularise development illegalities carried out ODZ can be submitted. However, there are no limitations on the regularisation of illegalities carried out within urban conservation areas and more so on scheduled properties. The Planning Authority is authorised to regularise these irregularities if an application is submitted. It will all depend on the common sense of the individual decision-takers and the inevitable pressures that will be applied to approve most, if not all, of the applications submitted. On the basis of the Planning Authority’s past performance this is very worrying.

This amnesty, like the one before it, sends out one very clear message: it pays not to observe the law and policies. Those who, over the years, have ignored enforcement notices are now being rewarded.

This is ethically reprehensible as, simultaneously, those who have observed planning law and policies are indirectly being punished.  Does anyone seriously believe that after this amnesty there will be an increased observance of planning laws?

In a statement earlier this week, the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers  rightly pointed out that “ ………. these regulations will open the door to severe blots in our built landscape, and will serve to promote the laissez faire attitude of certain developers by condoning the provision of a mechanism for illegalities to become legal.”

The regulations promoting this planning amnesty are vague and open to a wide interpretation. This signifies a clear intent at drafting stage to ensure that the enforcement backlog is wiped out. It is, however, still unclear  whether and to what extent third party rights will be protected unless they had reported the illegality to the authority in the first place.

The whole exercise carried out by the authority is clearly drafted with the specific intent of protecting those who have ignored rules and regulations. Instead of observing the law, it is now possible to pay your way around it. This is now official government policy.

At the end of the day, the Maltese government is sending out a clear message: in Malta it pays to ignore planning laws and policies. Wait for the next amnesty when you can cash in the spoils of environmental crime.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 28 August 2016