The Malta Independent 29 May 2024, Wednesday
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Jean Paul Sofia public inquiry - Contractors' regulation blocked by Cabinet before 2022 election

Monday, 18 September 2023, 09:40 Last update: about 9 months ago

A cabinet memo proposing a public consultation on new regulations for the construction sector was shot down two months before the last elections to avoid a conflict with building contractors, the public inquiry into Jean Paul Sofia’s death has heard.

This statement, along with the draft bill itself was presented to the public inquiry by lawyer Jason Azzopardi, after asking to testify.

Azzopardi stated that a senior government official had spoken to him after the death of Jean Paul Sofia, stating that the regulations that government had promised to propose regarding the regulating of contractors, had already been drafted and had been blocked by Cabinet.

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The lawyer testified that a senior government official had spoken to him after the death of Jean Paul Sofia, stating that the regulations that government had promised to propose regarding the regulating of contractors, had already been drafted and had been blocked by Cabinet.

Azzopardi presented a draft bill signed by minister Aaron Farrugia and Parliamentary Secretary Chris Agius. The bill, according to Azzopardi was tabled to Cabinet in 2021 and aimed to regulate and license contractors, as well as establish the skill level requirements of construction workers.

The inquiry is probing the administrative structures and systems surrounding the construction industry and its safety.

Sofia died in December last year when a building still under construction at the Corradino Industrial Estate collapsed. Five other men were injured in the collapse.

Since then police have filed criminal charges against several individuals, including the contractor and the site owners.

The public inquiry is being led by Ombudsman Joseph Zammit McKeon and was set up by the Prime Minister following insistence by Sofia's mother and friends that culminated into a protest outside Castille earlier this summer.

10:55 That concludes Azzopardi’s testimony as well as today’s session. Thank you for following. A short summary of today’s session will be posted shortly.

10:52 Jason Azzopardi further explained how his source told him that if the regulations had gone through, Jean Paul Sofia's death could have been avoided.

10:50 Azzopardi’s source stated that the draft bill went no further as the bill would infuriate the contractors’ lobby two months prior to the general election in 2022.

10:44 Azzopardi presents a draft bill signed by minister Aaron Farrugia and Parliamentary Secretary Chris Agius. The bill, according to Azzopardi was tabled to Cabinet in 2021 and aimed to regulate and license contractors, as well as establish the skill level requirements of construction workers. The bill was meant to be passed on to public consultation. Azzopardi explained that during a Cabinet meeting, a decision was taken to “consult with stakeholders,” before taking any other step.

10:40 Azzopardi has stated that a senior government official had spoken to him after the death of Jean Paul Sofia, stating that the regulations that government had promised to propose regarding the regulating of contractors, had already been drafted and had been blocked by Cabinet.

10:29 Jason Azzopardi has now taken the stand on his own wish, stating that he is in possession of documents which he wishes to present.

10:26 Zammit McKeon has asked Mallia whether or not the agency he heads inquires on the competence of the prospective employees, to which Mallia responds that JobsPlus vets the employees. In 2017, Mallia explained, a decision was taken to introduce a “declaration of suitability,” which the employer must fill out to indicate why the prospective employee is suitable to be given permission to work in Malta.

10:21 Mallia has explained the process of Identità’s role in the importation of third country nationals. The board thanked Mallia for his detailed explanation, as Zammit McKeon is now focussing on the employer’s role in the process.

10:14 Next on the stand is Colonel Mark Mallia, the CEO of Identità, formerly Identity Malta.

10:05 Zrinzo Azzopardi admits that he is “open to proposals” in order to amend the current shortcomings in the system, stating that he has requested an analysis on the existing gaps from the law faculty. The minister added that the ongoing attempts to regulate and license contractors would lead to having a qualified person on construction sites.

09:51 “So there is a flaw in the system,” stated Ombudsman Joseph Zammit McKeon. He noted that stakeholders have already expressed their concerns that in certain cases, self-regulation could be the only way to stop failings.

09:47 The minister is now being questioned on the OHSA’s power to conduct effective inspections. The board stated that in the case of the accident that killed Jean Paul Sofia, the board was told that even if OHSA had conducted inspections, no failings could have been noticed.

09:43 The minister avoided answering directly, stating that, “Azzopardi was ready to move on.”

09:40 Earlier on during Zrinzo Azzopardi’s testimony, he was asked to respond to statements made under oath in a previous sitting. The minister assumed that the court was referring to comments made by ex-BCA chairman, Karl Azzopardi, who had said that he resigned due to disagreements with Zrinzo Azzopardi regarding the future of the authority.

09:34 Ombudsman Joseph Zammit McKeon questioned the planning minister on the roles and coordination between the BCA, OHSA and Planning Authority, saying that the board would like peace of mind that these entities communicate during their enforcement efforts. Zrinzo Azzopardi responded by stating that even though coordination does happen between the entities, they can never be treated as the same entity as, “their roles are completely different”

09:31 Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi took the stand once again on Monday, as he provided the court information regarding financing within the Building and Construction Authority as well as the Occupational Health and Safety Authority. Ombudsman Joseph Zammit McKeon questioned the planning minister on the roles and coordination between the BCA, OHSA and Planning Authority, saying that the board would like peace of mind that these entities communicate during their enforcement efforts. Zrinzo Azzopardi responded by stating that even though coordination does happen between the entities, they can never be treated as the same entity as, “their roles are completely different”.

09:10 The next witness is Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, the minister responsible for planning. He is also testifying a second time.

He submits documents regarding BCA and OHSA and how much they were allocated in the last budget. The other document concerned statistics in a University study. 

09:04 Caruana submits an "exhaustive list" of figures and documents, including business plans, figures, BCA and OHSA documents, financial plans and recurrent expenditure.

Zammit McKeon asks if the minister has any information regarding staffing of these entities.  That information needs to be obtained from the Office of the Prime Minister, Caruana says. He leaves the stand.

09.02am Finance Minister Clyde Caruana is called to testify for the second time. He submits some documents in a grey file.

 

 

 

 

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