The two architects involved in the construction project which Miriam Pace’s house collapsed into last March have not had their warrants to practice as architects suspended, The Malta Independent on Sunday can reveal.
Roderick Camilleri, who was the project’s architect, and Anthony Mangion, who was the project’s site technical officer, still both hold valid warrants to practice as architects, even though they are currently facing charges related to the death of 54-year-old Miriam Pace last March.
Miriam Pace’s home on Triq Joseph Abela Scolaro in Hamrun collapsed into a construction site next door on 2 March last year. Pace was found dead in the rubble of her own home some hours after the collapse.
Four people – Camilleri, Mangion, contractor Ludwig Dimech, and construction worker Nicholas Spiteri – have since been charged with involuntary homicide in connection with the case. Camilleri, Mangion, and Dimech are also facing charges of making a false declaration.
Mangion is also facing charges of having failed to be on site as site technical officer when important decisions which posed a risk to third parties were taken, while he, Dimech, and Spiteri were also separately charged with failing to comply with the project’s method statement.
All four of the accused have pleaded not guilty and all have been granted bail.
Now, this newspaper can reveal that both Camilleri and Mangion still hold valid warrants to practice as architects which have not been suspended, even though they are facing criminal charges.
Both their names and warrant numbers – 650 for Camilleri and 97 for Mangion – appeared in the list of warranted architects published in the Government Gazette on 12 January this year.
Questions sent to the Periti Warranting Board confirmed that architects who have had their warrants suspended would not appear in the annual list, and they also subsequently confirmed that both Camilleri and Mangion have not had their warrant suspended.
Asked why this was not the case, the Board replied that “since the case is still sub judice, at this stage, any decision would be premature.”
The Board also noted that such a decision would not fall within their remit, and referred to the current Periti Act in this regard.
What does the law state?
The Periti Act, which regulates the practice and profession of an architect. It states that no person can practice the profession without holding a warrant – which itself can only be obtained after at least four years of education, at least two years of training under a warrant-holder, and after an examination before the Warranting Board.
The Act also governs the suspension of warrants in Article 15. Here it states that the Board can, by notice in the Government Gazette, “suspend, revoke or cancel a warrant or registration of a partnership of warrant holders” if they have been found guilty after an inquiry by the Chamber of Architects of any of the following acts or omissions: “dishonesty, misconduct or gross negligence in the exercise of his profession; conduct discreditable to the profession; failure to comply with regulations with respect to professional standards or practices; failure to comply with any condition attached to a warrant issued under the provisions of Article 17 [which governs the issuing of a fresh warrant to someone if it is deemed necessary].”
The Board may also suspend or revoke a warrant if the warrant holder has been found guilty by a competent court of an offence under the provisions of the Periti Act, or if the warrant holder has been found guilty by a competent court of a crime “affecting public trust or of theft or of fraud or of knowingly receiving property obtained by theft or fraud.”
Article 13 of the Act meanwhile states that “a conviction by any competent tribunal for any crime liable to imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, other than involuntary homicide or any other crime against the person excusable in terms of the Criminal Code shall be a cause of perpetual disability to obtain or retain the warrant.”
The Warranting Board however can remove the disability at any time, as per Article 13.3.
The tragedy of March 2 and its aftermath
With court proceedings underway, several testimonies have shed a clearer light on the events which claimed Miriam Pace’s life last March.
The courts heard how Pace had been “anxious and afraid” when construction work started next door. It heard how some days after the construction works kicked off, a dividing wall adjoining a garage behind their home had collapsed when the wall surrounding the building site was pulled down.
The incident had terrified Pace, and the family, along with a neighbour, met the developer Malcolm Mallia, the architect Camilleri and the contractor Dimech to voice their concerns about the excavation, saying that they could not, by law, come without two and a half feet from their wall.
The architect had allegedly brushed off those concerns, saying that “that was the old law,” and explained that they would only use a trencher if rock-cutting was done right next to party wall.
“Mela ma tafx kemm tiswa’!” [“Don’t you know how much it costs!”] both the architect and developer had allegedly told the neighbours, whilst agreeing to carry out a rock sample test and get back to the neighbours before carrying on with the works. No feedback was ever received however, the court heard.
Works continued at the site, and the court heard how an excavator was in use underneath the Pace household just 22 seconds before the same house collapsed.
After the tragedy, Mallia was suspended by the Malta Developers’ Association, while it also emerged that Camilleri – the project’s architect – was a shareholder in the development company behind the project.
The development itself is for the total demolition of the existing structures, the excavation of the site and the construction of basement garages, class 4B shops, and apartments at ground, first, second, third and receded floor levels which go as high as six storeys.
The three-page method statement for the excavation stated that “the adjacent properties are low lying structures, and as a result there are no major loads imposed on the rock surface for the time being. Consequently, the chance of any unplanned collapse of the third-party structures is a minimum.”
Roderick Camilleri signed the method statement as the project’s architect; however, it was up to Anthony Mangion as the site technical officer to make sure that the method statement was adhered to.
In reaction to the tragedy, Prime Minister Robert Abela had appointed a four-person panel to review building laws – which hadn’t even been in place for a year after three houses collapsed in separate incidents between April and June 2019 – and to propose reforms for the construction industry.
That review has now been concluded, but the Prime Minister has – thus far – refused to publish it, leaving the Pace family “baffled” and a host of other associations and NGOs disappointed and shocked.
The Prime Minister has defended the situation, saying that the reforms proposed by the panel are already being presented to Parliament so they can be enacted into law.