Sofia inquiry report exposes regulatory failures across the board

From Malta Enterprise and INDIS to the OHSA and BCA, the 480-page report into the death of Jean Paul Sofia puts heightened scrutiny on the construction industry

Jean Paul Sofia died in a construction site that was not controlled by any regulatory authority, according to the public inquiry report into his death.

The report, at a whopping 484 pages, includes a list of recommendations concerning the construction sector.

In its report, the Inquiry Board heavily criticised the relevant construction authorities for failing to take responsibility for the case.

“No one [...] assumed even the slightest bit of responsibility for what happened. As far as the Board is aware, no one bothered to ask ‘why didn’t we conduct a single inspection on this site?’”

The Board also questioned why Malta Enterprise and INDIS Malta did not conduct a site visit of their own, even though the site was contractually set to be finished by October 2021.

“The Board empathises with the family’s argument that, if any of these two entities took steps to relinquish the contract due to this breach, which is what happened after the accident, maybe the accident would have been avoided.”

Indeed, the Board went on to question the transfer of the site to AllPlus Limited. It said it was not convinced that the proper procedures were followed when handing the land to the company. “The amateurish way in which the inspections were carried out ahead of this decision raised more questions than answers,” it said.

Moreover, the Board pointed out that Malta Enterprise does not even ask for the architect’s drawings of the proposed building site. “This means that Malta Enterprise would not know whether, in a 300sqm site, there will be a single-storey, two-storey, or five-storey building.”

The Board also flagged a legislative anomaly on free standing structures, which only last week was addressed by new regulations. The loophole meant that freestanding buildings were technically unregulated, with no oversight from any competent authority.

“What is needed is certainty of rights, whereby everyone knows what is obligated of them, what they face if they fall short, whereby risky work, such as in construction, should be carried out according to regulations that put competence, skill and the ability to work well and safely, at the forefront.”

Regarding the OHSA, the Board said it was inappropriate for the authority to be led by the same person for over 20 years. It suggested that the chief executive should hold a fixed term.

The Board also said it was concerned to hear that the OHSA holds no legal or technical responsibility on matters of public safety, or the protection of third-parties during works. The Board added that it is unacceptable that OHSA officials have no competence in deciding whether a building is safe or not.

The Board also said that the OHSA should “get down from its ivory tower that it built for itself and consider incidents not just as numbers but as grievances that break families”.

Regarding the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), the Board said perit Maria Schembri Grima should have never accepted to become the first chairperson of the authority. “In matters of conflict of interest, objective perception based on ascertained facts is key.” Schembri Grima was later replaced by Saviour Camilleri.

Regarding perit David Xuereb, the Board said his testimony in the inquiry showed him to be cut off from the reality of the OHSA, even making incorrect declarations compared to the chief executive of the authority.

“This sort of behaviour is censurable and should not be allowed to continue as if it’s nothing. [...] The Board is of the opinion that Perit Xuereb should consider his position.

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