The public inquiry into the death of Jean Paul Sofia heard how draft laws designed to regulate the construction industry were blocked by the Cabinet for the Labour Party not to lose votes from the contractors’ lobby ahead of the 2022 elections.
The inquiry board was presented with a leaked Cabinet memo by lawyer Jason Azzopardi, who claimed a senior government source told him regulations which could have saved Sofia’s life were put on the back burner to avoid upsetting construction sector stakeholders.
The board, set up to investigate the circumstances which led to 20-year-old Jean Paul Sofia’s death following a Corradino construction site collapse last December, had its fifth sitting on Monday morning, with a raft of government officials being called to testify.
Regulations for a new contractor licensing system issued this summer as the government’s response to Sofia’s death were the same as those proposed in a Cabinet memo from January 2022.
Azzopardi published that Cabinet memo on Facebook last month and presented it again to the inquiring board on Monday.
The answers to the board’s questions by Mark Mallia, the CEO of Identità (formerly Identity Malta), once again brought to the fore the maze of government agencies tasked with regulating various aspects of the industry.
When asked about regulatory procedures for third-country nationals employed on construction sites, Mallia claimed that Identità only asks for a work contract, shunting responsibility for enforcing the foreign labour market to another government agency, Jobsplus.
Planning Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi also testified on Monday, appearing for the second time following his testimony on 10 August.
Zrinzo Azzopardi attempted to outline the different enforcement roles of agencies such as the Building and Construction Authority and the Occupational Health and Safety Authority.
He said the BCA’s inspectors ensure buildings under construction align with approved method statements, while OHSA inspectors were responsible for safe scaffoldings and railings at the site. The site’s architect ensures the work is done according to their designs and specifications.
The inquiry board, presided over by Ombudsman Joseph Zammit McKeon, with Deputy Auditor General Charles Deguara and architect Mario Cassar serving as its two additional members, will reconvene on 22 September for its sixth session.