PM tells construction sector to ‘shape up, or ship out’; Grech calls for ministers' resignation

Sofia inquiry: Addressing the House, Robert Abela warns non-compliant construction workers to pack their bags, while Opposition Leader Grech called for the resignation of the Prime Minister and implicated ministers

Robert Abela exiting Castille with Jean Paul Sofia's parents, Isabelle Bonnici and John Sofia (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Robert Abela exiting Castille with Jean Paul Sofia's parents, Isabelle Bonnici and John Sofia (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Updated at 5:48pm with Prime Minister's speech and at 6:42pm with Opposition Leader's speech

Determined to implement the recommendations from the Sofia inquiry, Prime Minister Robert Abela stated that workers in the sector need to either comply and change their ways or quit their job.

“First commandment: Whoever is not serious in this sector must understand their presence is not needed. Whoever is not serious in this work, go find a new job tomorrow,” Abela said on Wednesday evening.

Prime Minister Robert Abela was addressing parliament following the publication of the conclusions of the Public Inquiry into the death of Jean Paul Sofia.

The report’s damning conclusions exposed regulatory failures by a number of government authorities, which ultimately led to the death of the young construction worker.

The parents of Jean Paul Sofia, Isabelle Bonnici and John Sofia sat next to MPs following proceedings after an agreement between government and the Opposition. It was Bonnici’s wish to be inside the Chamber during the plenary debate.

SEE MORE: Sofia inquiry report exposes regulatory failures across the board

Addressing the House, Abela insisted that all recommendations will be addressed by a Cabinet sub-committee. He acknowledged that the government was not sensitive to the issue at the beginning and assured that he has already apologised to Sofia’s family about his stubbornness in opening a public inquiry.

“But, I am now determined not to disappoint you after this conclusion,” Abela said.

Before enlisting the government’s plans to tackle the recommendations, he praised how the inquiry unfolded.

“A transparent inquiry, with hearings with open doors, open to the public, and results made public immediately,” Abela added.

‘Doesn’t matter how many laws there are unless they are enforced.’

Repeating what he said on Wednesday morning, when fielding through journalists’ questions, Abela went through several plans the government will take on to see the change materialise.

Besides the sub-committee within the Cabinet, which will be responsible for ensuring the implementation of the plans, the government will also initiate several structures to address the common man.

Abela announced that a helpline center will be launched to assist anyone with queries, complaints, and feedback on matters related to construction. Another structure will also be initiated to provide those in need with legal and architectural services, free of charge.

“The public must believe that enforcement is happening and must believe they are protected... they should not be threatened to think they are not capable of fighting for their own rights,” Abela said.

Acknowledging the work done in the Ombudsman office, Abela said the Commissioner responsible for environment and planning will see his portfolio extended to also include construction.

“It is clear, more than once, you can have as many laws as you want, they must be enforced,” Abela added.

Indeed, the inquiry mentioned that laws seem to be strong on paper but not enforced, and because of this, Abela insisted that government has already seen new officers taking on the enforcing. The Housing Authority’s enforcing wing will also be ensuring enforcement, preventing the sector from self-regulating.

“If one dreamt to become a contractor, they could buy engines one day, find land the day after, build a foundation, and by the day after that, build a building. This is the reality, but it won’t be anymore,” Abela said.

Concluding his speech, Abela addressed rumors prior to the inquiry, which suggested he was protecting someone or something.

He insisted that this was not only false but is now evident from the inquiry that none of it is real.

“I might have been mistaken when giving the impression of defending someone or something, but the inquiry found this was not the case,” Abela concluded.

Grech calls for resignation of Prime Minister Robert Abela

It is not only the CEOs and chairpersons who need to shoulder responsibility but also the minister responsible for these shortcomings, the Opposition leader said on Wednesday.

“Who will shoulder responsibility for this mess?” Grech asked the government.

Without holding back, Grech called for the resignations of Prime Minister Robert Abela, former Public Works and Planning minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, and Environment, Energy Minister Miriam Dalli.

READ ALSO: Government must shoulder responsibility for Sofia death: Bernard Grech

Grech recalled the meeting he had with Jean Paul Sofia’s mother, Isabelle Bonnici, after her son’s death. At the time, she pleaded with him not to speak, not to do anything, as it was only the Prime Minister, the Government, who could give her what she desperately needed.

“The inquiry results show why the government was adamant on not launching the public inquiry, on closing the door in the poor mother’s face,” Grech said.

He insisted that it was the government and its authorities’ shortcomings that led to the death of Jean Paul and it was the government’s stubbornness which led to several other incidents happening after the boy’s death.

Citing construction incidents happening after October 2022, such as the building collapsing in Belvedere Road, Gżira, Grech insisted these incidents could have also been avoided.

“Had you initiated the public inquiry before, these conclusions would have been online for months ahead,” Grech added.

Commenting on parts of the inquiry, Grech mentioned how the inquiry pointed out that no authority was enforcing regulations within the construction of the building that ultimately cost Soifa’s death.

“If there was no authority, I would have understood. If there wan’t 10,000 authorities, full to the brim with your own people, direct orders, and people getting €60/70,000 in wages, I would have understood. But, to say, there was not a single authority to protect Jean Paul Sofia and his friends, I will never understand,” Grech said.

The Opposition leader also mentioned how he cannot accept how even after the accidents investigated in the inquiry, companies, authorities, and the government went on “business as usual.”

“As if life costs absolutely nothing to you,” Grech pressed on.

Addressing the criticism the opposition constantly receives on “politicising everything,” Grech said the government expects them not to do anything and not act in the face of injustice and incompetence.