The Malta Independent 19 April 2024, Friday
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Prime Minister ‘determined’ to implement Sofia inquiry recommendations

Semira Abbas Shalan Wednesday, 28 February 2024, 18:19 Last update: about 3 months ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela said Wednesday that he is determined to ensure that the recommendations published this morning in the public inquiry into Jean Paul Sofia’s death are implemented immediately.

Abela spoke during a debate in Parliament, with Sofia’s mother, Isabelle Bonnici, in the chambers to be part of the discussion. Opposition Leader Bernard Grech requested that Bonnici and Sofia’s father, John Sofia, are present in the House.

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The MPs also held a minute of silence in memory of 20-year-old Jean Paul Sofia, who died in a building collapse in Kordin in December 2022.

The Prime Minister tabled a copy of public inquiry report in Parliament, which he said was published online before he had the chance to read it.

Abela said that after speaking with Bonnici, one central point which both parties agreed on was the need for justice to prevail.

On discussions on how to implement this justice, Abela admitted that there was a time where “we could have been more sensitive,” and ended up disappointing Bonnici and others. To this, Abela said he already had the opportunity to extend his apologies to Sofia’s mother.

“Now, my determination is to not disappoint in the implementation of the recommendations,” Abela said, adding that the construction sector needs a clear, holistic reform, which will bring a form of justice to Sofia, and other victims of construction, where he said there was 81 fatal victims in the sector since 2002.

He said that the main discussion and emphasis will be dedicated to how government will implement the 39 recommendations by the inquiry.

The main principle of each recommendation is the need for the sector to operate on higher standards expected today, Abela said.

Abela said that the first ‘commandment’ is that all those who are not serious in the sector must leave. “Whoever is not ready to raise the standards from tomorrow, they must find a new job,” he said.

He continued that the reform will also be one which puts the citizen’s interests first, in the case of neighbours of a construction site, and all workers in the sector.

Abela said that while the construction sector does make up part of the diversified economy, statistics show that the economy does not depend on this sector, and even if it did, economic growth should not come before the life of a person.

He said that that the inquiry included criticism of the processes and shortcomings in systems and their implementation, but the inquiry did not link the allocation of land to the Sofia incident itself.

Abela said that the inquiry recognised that there were numerous legislative changes in the construction sector, however, it pointed out that there is more to be done with regards to enforcement.

“The inquiry recommends a total and radical change with regards to enforcement, and I agree with the conclusions,” Abela said, adding that the noted fragmentation between authorities and entities is not being beneficial.

Abela reiterated that government will be creating a new cabinet subcommittee aimed to implement the recommendations made, noting that it is not the first time this model was adopted.

“Government alone will not succeed. We need the participation of society as a whole so that we can implement successfully,” Abela said. He added that the inquiry noted that despite all the laws, these need to be complimented with a mentality of reaching higher standards and increased enforcement.

The government’s efforts will also focus on eliminating contradictions and self-regulation in the industry, Abela said, adding that there must be surveillance and scrutiny on those who develop.

He mentioned the Quintano report, commissioned after the death of Miriam Pace in 2020 in her own home, whereby many recommendations were implemented, such as the “crucial change” of introducing the Building and Construction Authority.

“This is the reality we had. 50 years of intensive construction in the country and no government took the initiative,” Abela said.

He continued that the first approach in the next steps is to put the needs of the common citizen first, setting up a helpline as a point of reference where they can report excessive inconveniences or dangerous situations at a construction site.

Abela spoke of a centralised system helping the surveillance of enforcement of all sectors in construction, putting an end to fragmentation and a lack of synergy.

The Ministry for Justice will also professionally assist in such complaints with the availability of architects and legal professionals, he reiterated, while also asking the Environment and Planning ombudsman to extend his role to include the construction sector.

Abela said that by the beginning of summer, through a legislative bill, the OHSA will have new laws which totally reform the health and safety standards on the place of work, and in terms of law any type of differentiation made between standalone buildings and other type of buildings will also cease to exist in the coming weeks.

Another measure which the PM reiterated was also an audit in the processes in the way government land is allocated to developers.

He said that the inquiry focused on a central point; enforcement, and said that there must be coordination between authorities and officials who make inspections.

Abela spoke about the introduction of skills cards and safety cards which were already implemented in other sectors, to continue increasing the skills in the sector, irrespective of the nationality of the worker.

“All workers must be given tools, personal protective equipment, and training on how to use this safety gear,” Abela said, sending a message to contractors and developers to not resort to “fast” work, and the consequences will be large.

Abela said that government has already implemented whilst following the inquiry’s public sittings, such as ceasing anonymity of who vets the method statement of a project.

He said that government has improved a number of procedures, with a holistic audit from the whole process starting from Malta Enterprise to the Letter of Intent, and took stock of the situation, bettered existing practices and introduced new ones, and ensure that the process is transparent all throughout.

Abela said that government will only reward those who are serious and invest in their workers both in pay, and health and safety, and the ‘cowboys’ will be punished seriously with fines or ceasing their operation.

“I believe that with measures from the electoral programme and the inquiry recommendations we will get there,” Abela said, adding that government will now be judged on the implementation of the recommendations, which will be given maximum importance.

He dismissed allegations that he was defending anyone, and said he is determined to show this by implementing the inquiry’s recommendations.

 

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