On that fateful December day when a Kordin building came crashing down, nobody knew how many people were on site. Civil protection had no idea how many people they were meant to unearth from the rubble.
The Allplus Ltd owners, Matthew Schembri and Kurt Buhagiar, were meant to be responsible for the building. They had no clue. One of them, Schembri, was meant to be the site manager. But he wasn’t on site. He had no idea how either.
Schembri had absolutely no skills, competence or experience as a site supervisor. He had no building experience. Yet he was the one giving instructions. He was the only contact between the architect, Adriana Zammit, and the builders. The builders never saw or spoke to her. And they weren’t real builders. They were former employees of Matthew Schembri and were registered at Jobsplus as carpenters, not builders.
The magisterial inquiry report commented that “there was nobody with the skills who had any clue what they were doing”. Even if they did, they barely understood any English and never spoke to the architect.
Several people were brought in to work on the site – sometimes by Schembri and sometimes by Milmar construction company, which had been set up only months before they were informally engaged for the Kordin project. The two brothers who ran that company – Milomar and Marko Jovevic – were both Schembri’s former employees.
Although Schembri was listed as the “site manager” he was not regularly on site. He testified before the magisterial inquiry that he was sent photos to see what stage the construction was at. From September 2022, the responsibility of sending those photos fell upon Jean Paul Sofia, even though he was neither an employee of Allplus Ltd nor of Milmar Construction.
The young Sofia was employed at Whitefrost Co Ltd, another company owned by Schembri. Yet he was compelled to participate in the Kordin construction.
On the day of the tragedy, he arrived at Kordin with a Whitefrost company van that he helped unload into a skip. He then took scaffolding from Kordin to another site. He later climbed onto the roof where he took photos of the workers which were meant for the site manager, Schembri.
Schembri forged the signature of his uncle, a licensed mason called John Muscat, on the commencement notice. When Muscat was asked by the magistrate to provide a sample of his signature, he refused. The court expert calligrapher still established that Muscat’s signature on that commencement notice submitted by Architect Adriana Zammit had been forged by Schembri.
No licensed mason was responsible for the building.
The architect, Adriana Zammit, refused to testify before the magistrate. She also attempted to have court expert Prof. Alex Torpiano substituted as a court expert.
Torpiano uncovered a catalogue of elementary fatal errors in Zammit’s plans, which were compounded by her total absence from the site. She monitored the construction through WhatsApp.
Zammit “failed to make the necessary calculations to ensure the stability of the whole building” the report concluded, and then “failed to carry out inspections of the construction process to ensure her designs were being followed”.
Even if she did, her plans were hopeless. They gave no instructions on how metal was to bind various parts of the building. The plans referred to a “spreader beam” where a “tie beam” or “ring beam” was required.
The plans didn’t indicate how metal was to be bound to the building’s perimeter. There was no binding between the ceilings and the staircase. There was no reinforcement of the corners. The facade was built after the rest of the walls. The height of the building, the distance between the front and back walls, the number of wide openings and the fact that the double walls were not linked made the whole structure unstable and “constantly liable to collapse at any time”.
What the inquiry labelled “incompetence and amateurism” continued for over 30 months. In those two and a half years, not a single site visit was conducted by Robert Abela’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA).
Sean Mizzi, a representative of the BCA, explained to the magistrate that the authority had a “lack of resources”.
The Occupational Health and Safety Authority never visited the site allowing random workers to build the factory without any protective wear whatsoever and without the necessary safety measures.
Why was the site never inspected? Maybe because Kurt Buhagiar, the other owner of Allplus Ltd, took care of the processing of applications and relative permits “because of his contacts”. Buhagiar was recruited as the personal driver of Lands Authority CEO Robert Vella despite his criminal history after having spent a year in a Ragusa prison for human trafficking. From a driver, he was catapulted to a senior administration officer within the CEO’s office.
And that’s just half the story. The magistrate could not and did not examine “whether there were any administrative and/or legislative failures”. Those will hopefully be uncovered through the other, public, inquiry that Robert Abela so desperately tried to avoid. No wonder.
We now know a little about why Sofia died. An architect made disastrously dangerous plans, failed to communicate with the contractor or builders, appears never to have visited the site and communicated only through WhatsApp with the site manager, who was also the owner of the company with absolutely no skills or expertise for the role.
He hardly visited the site either and relied on photos sent by Sofia, who was employed by a separate company. Sofia should never have been involved and certainly never been allowed on site. The site manager passed on instructions to Albanian builders who were previously his employees, spoke little English and were registered as carpenters.
There wasn’t a single registered mason ever on the site. The structure was just a house of cards. And nobody from the BCA or OHSA inspected the site in two and a half years.
This is what Robert Abela didn’t want you to know.
Labour enabled this fatal anarchy in the construction industry that only favours his greedy friends, the developers, and costs innocent lives. It also reveals another disturbing truth – anybody residing in buildings constructed in the last decade ought to have the stability of their property reassessed.