Cyprus Mail

Auditor-general is just plain wrong

One of the homes destroyed in the Limnes land-slippage

In your article “Another hurdle for homeowners” (Cyprus Mail, 02 April 2019) you mention homes being destroyed in the small locality of Limnes but you do not mention Sheromyli; Zafina; Gouppos; Merika; Koilades; Giousoufis; Kalogeroi; Laonari tou Ali-Bey; Pefkos; Safires; Zimnou; and Goippin, all of which fall within the unstable area of southwest Pissouri which is now fast approaching one million square metres. Homes are not crumbling, they are being ripped apart by landslide fissures.

The auditor-general twice mentions the liabilities of insurance companies. He asserts that risk of landslide is an insurable risk – that is why private housing insurance exists – notwithstanding that he knows, or should know, that landslide is not an uninsurable risk – not least because only the state can remediate a landslide in a developed area. Or is the auditor-general contending that every insurance company is participating in a criminal conspiracy to defraud policy holders? What does he, as one of the most senior officials in Cyprus propose to do about this alleged conspiracy?

“Developers” make convenient scapegoats especially if one ignores that southwest Pissouri is not a homogeneous ‘estate’. Homes were designed and built by several different firms and several individuals, both Cypriot and expatriate. Some as individual homes and some in small groups. If the auditor-general is correct and that negligent design is to blame, then it is strange, to say the least, that in some small developments only some homes are destroyed and those that are destroyed just happen on the line of landslide fissures.

The auditor-general also appears to exonerate structural engineers from liability for professional negligence, but only if they are retained by a developer. This is just plain wrong. All professional people are responsible for carrying out their services with the care and skill to be expected of an ordinarily competent practitioner – whomsoever they are retained by.

After an entire career in building construction – including 20 years in frequent demand as an expert witness – I am at a complete loss to understand the apparent contention of the auditor-general that developers and/or structural engineers have obligations to act as clairvoyants. In addition to answering the seven questions I posed in Cyprus Mail on Sunday (which he will not or perhaps cannot answer) will the auditor-general please explain for my education and the benefit of your readers:

  • What test or calculation could and should have been carried out by an ordinarily competent structural engineer when designing an individual home – for construction in an area designated fit for building – by being zoned for development by the district administration, which would predict a landslide in 20, 25 or 30 years?
  • What test or calculation could and should have been carried out by an ordinarily competent structural engineer when designing an individual home, which would predict that a decade or more in the future the district administration would give building consent for 1,600 homes and then refuse to install a mains drainage system necessary to manage annually some hundreds of thousands of tonnes of sewage water, surface water and ground water.

Instead of confusing your readers by conflating design issues arising from building on clay in Paphos with the consequences of the district administration failing to install a necessary drainage system in Pissouri, the auditor-general should be demanding answers from the ministry of interior, inter alia:

  • Why did Limassol district administration refuse to install the necessary mains drainage system as requested by Pissouri village council?
  • Why, if in the opinion of the auditor-general a developer and/or structural engineer should reasonably have foreseen a landslide caused by a failure to manage ground water, did an ordinarily competent District Engineer fail to foresee the same?
  • Why, when the landslide was notified to the authorities in June 2012, did Limassol district administration at first refuse to take action, and then repeatedly failed to take remedial action, and how much money has been wasted and how many lives blighted because of this deliberate inaction?

The auditor-general states that compensation to evicted homeowners would be a “gift” and that stabilisation works would be a charitable (welfare) act on the part of the government. They would not be either a “gift” or “welfare”. The protection of persons and property are government obligations imposed by law under the European Convention on Human Rights to which Cyprus is a signature nation. The government has stood idly by for seven years and watched homes and lives destroyed. It is time for the government to stop prevaricating and accept responsibility to protect all residents of Cyprus.

Antony Walker, FRICS

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