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State regulator suspected in favouring flawed blocks producer

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PHOTO: Liis Treimann / Postimees

Technical Regulatory Authority responsible to inspect building materials quality is under suspicion of trying to sweep defective products instance under rug as official summonsed to check blocks at Rae Kivitehas plant tried to avoid the testing.

Technical Regulatory Authority (TJA) says the accusations are unfounded and points finger towards the builders who, the authority assesses, have handled carelessly the blocks produced by Rae Kivitehas caught with defective materials.

In March, construction company Rand ja Tuulberg bought seven loads of blocks by Rae Kivitehas for Ülemiste Business Centre erected at Peterburi Road, Tallinn. The poor quality thereof was spotted as soon as it arrived on building lot. The blocks, which contained large clods of sand and clay, had microscopic fissures.

«We had recourse to TJA who did not wish to deal with our complaint,» said Rand ja Tuulberg construction manager Lauri Matteus. «Regulatory official Sten Luide only arrived two weeks after our application and left without doing anything, having seen a damaged block on a pallet. He claimed the entire batch had been damaged during transport – though a quality block cannot break during transport.»

For their own money, Rand ja Tuulberg ordered testing of the faulty blocks by Technical Centre of Estonian Roads Ltd. Technical Centre of Estonian Roads Ltd, which also certifies blocks by Columbia Kivi owned by the construction company, declared the suspected blocks totally fit for testing.

«We invited the regulatory official to be present so our activity would be trustworthy. Mr Luide, however, begun to seek for reasons not to come, and reasons why we could not do the tests,» complained Mr Matteus.

As the construction company had invited the well-respected expert Väino Voltri to be present as supervisor – who said all preconditions were met for the testing –TJA could not contest the test.

«Mr Luide explained to us that TJA did not desire to conduct the tests as they had no means for that,» recalled Mr Matteus. «By his behaviour, we got the impression that the agency was trying to ignore our complaint.»

As revealed by the test, the crush resistance of blocks from Rae Kivitehas was 30–40 percent lower than prescribed by papers.

«To that, the supplier reacted just like TJA, claiming that we ourselves damaged the blocks during transport. This is absurd as even if a stone could be broken during transport, this does not alter crush strength,» added Mr Matteus.

A best recognised building scientists in Estonia, Väino Voltri expressed concern over the recent trend that instead of essential testing of quality of material, legal trickery is often exercised. «One gets the impression that the production of substandard materials is systemically being papered over,» said Mr Voltri.

Regarding the competency of testing arranged by Rand ja Tuulberg, said Mr Voltri, the only thing that could have been questioned was whether the stones were indeed from Rae Kivitehas and the accompanying documents perhaps falsified. But this was never claimed.

«Somebody of those invited tried to claim that the stones broke during transport. That sound stupid as when a block cannot withstand transport, it is no good to be put into a wall,» said the expert. «It was also said that once stones are out of the factory, they should not be tested anymore; which is also stupid as they must be tested immediately if doubt arises, and the test is done where necessary.»

According to a leading Estonian construction company Nordecon, with quality control of building materials TJA has become too bureaucratic and should be much more active and alert.

«I do not believe they are applying brakes intentionally. Such carefulness may be because of an incident where they lost a court dispute as not all facts were sufficiently documented and established,» noted Nordecon CEO Jaano Vink. «Though in this scandal Rand ja Tuulberg participates as owner of Columbia Kivi and is therefore interested in ringing the bell, I say they ring the bell with good reason.»

This March, at construction of Narva industrial park, Rand ja Tuulberg unsuccessfully tried to prove that through a mediator they had purchased substandard building blocks produced by Rae Kivitehas. The producer’s lawyers proved to regulatory officials as these arrived that it was impossible to secure samples for testing as prescribed, that the pallets for stones had been acquired from a source unknown, and that there had been no earlier complaints about said blocks.

In its comment, TJA claims producer of material has not affected them. The authority refers to numerous damaged blocks detected, which may partially have been caused by violating storage and transport conditions set by producer. On storage location at construction site, some of the blocks had been stored on uneven or uncompressed surface in two layered stacks. Claiming neutrality and objectivity, the authority says it is extremely cynical to accuse then in impartiality.

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