Exalco Group CEO Alex Montanaro has advocated for Malta’s construction industry, stating that not every developer, building contractor, and architect is solely focusing on profit.
The local construction industry has been under immense criticism in recent years, particularly due to overdevelopment across large parts of the country. This is coupled with professional shortcomings especially when it comes to the lack of care for the health and safety of employees and neighbouring residents and establishments, as evidenced by the deaths of Jean Paul Sofia last year, and Miriam Pace in 2020.
As part of an opinion piece published on Times of Malta on Sunday, Mr Montanaro said that as someone working in property development, it is “disappointing” to see the “understandable criticism” directed towards each stakeholder of the industry.
“It feels as though all are bad cowboys, ruthless and greedy profiteers, and careless negligent bullies,” he said.
“The truth is that there are excellent architects, developers and contractors, but unfortunately, yes, there are cowboys who should be ‘named and shamed’ and held to account,” he remarked.
This comes after new rules governing the licensing of contractors when it comes to demolition, excavation, and construction came into force last July. Minister for Planning and Public Works Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi has since emphasised that all construction workers need to be “trained, qualified, and licensed”.
Mr Montanaro, who is vastly experienced within the industry, noted that “serious stakeholders” such as the Occupational Health and Safety Authority are indicating that they want reforms and changes that will make the industry “safer, more professional, and self-disciplined”. “Indeed, it is high time for urgent action,” he emphasised.
“There needs to be a separation of the ‘wheat from the chaff’, and while the good guys of the industry need to stand out and be respected, the bad guys need to either urgently mend their ways or else be removed,” he explained.
Aside from effective rules and regulations, he also pointed out that effective enforcement and other specific changes need to be implemented.
Mr Montanaro said that especially in instances of major projects, the applicant or developer who applies to the Planning Authority for the full development permit should “reach out and engage with relevant NGOs and local councils where the development will take place”. In such cases, the applicant should “disclose transparently what the proposed development consists of”, and work on reaching a consensus with NGOs and local councils. This is also the case with neighbouring property owners and residents, as it is a “matter of paramount importance” that contractors working on a site have good relations with them.
“There needs to be a strong effort for contractors to adopt a certain protocol and code of behaviour based on mutual politeness and respect with the neighbourhood where a building construction is taking place,” he highlighted.
He added that developers and contractors “need to show empathy and clearly demonstrate that they care and are sensitive to any negative issues that may arise and are a concern to owners of houses next to, or close to, the building site”.
He suggested that contacting nearby neighbours prior to commencement of works on site should become a standard practice in the industry, in order to invite “good communication, a good rapport” and also stretch out a “hand of friendship”.
“The negative image of contractors as being bullies who ride roughshod over all and sundry has to be eradicated. There will be times where neighbours could be unreasonable and unfriendly, but by and large these are a minority,” Mr Montanaro reaffirmed.
He also called for more frequent independent inspections of building sites by professionally trained inspectors, and any shortcomings highlighted “have to be addressed urgently”, with the contractor or developer considering the inspectors as “vital team players in the overall aim of ensuring that appropriate health and safety standards are achieved”.
Mr Montanaro added that both skilled and unskilled workers in the construction sector have to undergo properly regulated training, while the wearing of protective clothing “must be enforced and practised without fail”.
“It is unfair to dub all developers as greedy profiteers”, he said, as many developments are a “long-term investment, taking years for the investor or developer to redeem costs and earn profit”. He remarked that such developments are “not out of greed” and are “certainly not cases of ‘earning a quick buck’”.
“The industry can be a tough and time-consuming one, involving years of hard work to purchase the property, to obtain the permit, and to actually construct the development,” Mr Montanaro said.
He also emphasised that leading developers should embrace principles such as corporate social responsibility and environmental, social and governance values more, as it would “enhance the construction industry with more professional operators and go a long way to a significant raising of the bar”.
“Every building development should be constructed in a way that enhances and complements the surrounding environment. An aesthetically pleasing building, apart from its own success, will add value and contribute holistically to a whole locality,” he continued.
While he pointed out that reforms in the construction industry together with upgrades in health and safety standards are “absolutely essential”, developers and contractors have to also “continuously improve on quality and on their image and public relations”.
Mr Montanaro founded Exalco Properties Limited in 1986 and has served as Managing Director since its inception, being primarily responsible for implementing the company’s policies, developing its strategic plans, and overseeing its operations. The group, formally Exalco Holdings Ltd, also includes Exalco Finance plc, which acts as its finance company.
Exalco Group CEO Alex Montanaro / Alan Carville
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