More disasters waiting to happen: commission

The parliamentary investigative commission launched by the 12th Saeima to find out the circumstances behind the Zolitūde disaster released its preliminary conclusions to the public Friday, and they have found conditions in the construction sector to be a prevailing “free-for-all of lack of accountability”. Moreover, the current control system, rather than reducing risk, actually suggests the possibility of similar disasters recurring.

While the Saeima commission’s mandate is to continue its full investigation into the Maxima supermarket and shopping center roof collapse of November 21, 2013 in which dozens lost their lives or were injured, leaving the nation and the particular Riga neighborhood especially in a state of shock, its webpage has posted some conclusions and proposals “which have at the moment already crystallized”, writes committee chair Ringolds Balodis (For Latvia From the Heart).

 The commission has concluded that the State Construction Board in 2009 was “irresponsibly liquidated, causing supervision and control of the construction sector to be significantly reduced.”

“The shifting of responsibility to the local governments was not fully thought out and supervised on the part of the Economics Ministry. Weakening of state oversight created conditions for an atmosphere of free-for-all and no-accountability, which sooner or later couldn’t help but lead to a bloody tragedy,” the commission said.

Up until the tragedy the law was so broadly readable that the risks of inadequately designing and performing the construction work were built-in to the entire process, potentially at sites across the land.

Neither local government construction permit boards, nor the state as a whole can ever guarantee the public that buildings are safe, because the responsible authorities do not check if the submitted load capacities are correct and based on properly provided data. Thus it has been proven that the traditional approach of each local government administration having its building control department simply can’t work without a unified control procedure.

At the state level there is no quality-control solution being proposed. Although the Consumers’ Rights Protection Center has been delegated control of construction processes, they are only instigated after problems have arisen or by random choice.

“The system doesn’t reduce risks to people’s safety. On the contrary it creates the conviction that tragedies similar to Zolitūde can happen again,” the deputies believe.

Control of construction in Latvia is insufficiently regulated and in fact is completely declarative in nature, with local governments making formal documentary control on paper only.

There is no solidary responsibility in the laws and regulations between the design author and construction expert managing the build. Current practice shows that in the aftermath of a collapsed building, there is nobody who can be held responsible.

“As a result one can observe an irresponsible footballing inside a legal labyrinth that erodes trust in public administration and the state in general,” said the commission.

The Saeima commission believes the Law of Construction requires amending to avert overlaps and outdated provisions and get them in line with European and international practices.

On Thursday Riga Technical University docent and Zolitūde experiment leader Aigars Ūdris harshly criticized the lack of control and what goes on across construction sites throughout the land as a result.

He pointed out the palpable lack of competence, experience and counting on colleagues to cover any loose ends – assuming that if so many people are working on a job, somebody will take care of all the details as they should be. “This mutual trust without enforcement often leads to sad results, much is left undone, deficiencies are allowed to slip by,” the expert explained, pointing out that “everyone’s responsible, so the real culprit is difficult to find.”

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