Construction at the Corradino site where Jean Paul Sofia died following the collapse of a building on public land, was not inspected despite delays of over a year, according to officials from the state industrial parks agency, INDIS.
Sofia, 20, was killed in December 2022 at what was to be a timber factory, constructed illegally on government land granted by INDIS Malta to Maltese developers with a criminal past and connections to the Lands Authority.
INDIS Malta and Lands Authority officials who testified at the sixth session of the Jean Paul Sofia public inquiry on Friday said that a contract issued by Malta Enterprise and INDIS Malta specified works were to be completed by October 2021.
The Inquiry board heard how public land transfers for industrial developments are contracted by Malta Enterprise, which sends the contract along with a letter of intent for approval and follow-up by INDIS.
Lands Authority Chairman Dr John Vassallo was the first to testify on Friday.
He said the Lands Authority was not informed of the transfer of public land to a private developer, claiming it was not an established practice for both INDIS Malta and Malta Enterprise to do so.
Vassallo claimed it is “humanly impossible” for the authority tasked with overseeing government land to keep track of it, blaming a lack of manpower.
INDIS Malta executive chairman Jean Pierre Attard claimed that officials from the state industrial parks agency had no power to investigate the reason for delays and inspect the site, given the site was granted through a temporary emphyteusis to private developers.
Attard told the inquiry board, led by Judge Joseph McKeon that INDIS Malta only “administers” the land following the binding contract and letter of intent from Malta Enterprise.
Attard, who has been executive chair since July 2023, said an INDIS Malta board who approved the transfer, consisting of members Karl Azzopardi, David Whiteman, Roberta Rapa, Alexia Borg and Christian Gatt, “sensed nothing wrong in the transfer.”
When asked by McKeon how INDIS Malta enforces the contract’s conditions, Attard said it is “impossible” to enforce these, claiming it is outside the agency’s remit and that 200-300 inspectors would be needed – manpower no state agency in the construction sector currently has.
Following questions by the Sofia family lawyer Eve Borg Costanzi, Attard said despite the letter of intent specifying works were to be completed by October 2021, INDIS Malta took no action against the developers, unable to respond on whether questions about the delays were asked.
Planning Authority CEO Oliver Magro also testified on Friday and told the board that once the Authority issues permits, it is up to the architect and developer to ensure work is done properly, following on previous testimony from OHSA and BCA officials shirking responsibility for enforcement.
He confirmed that two Development Notification Orders for the site were approved for issue, one in 2020 and another in 2022, following work delays.
Development Notification Orders issued by the PA for industrial land development are approved more quickly than general planning applications.
Deputy Auditor General Charles Deguara and architect Mario Cassar joined Judge McKeon on the inquiry board. It has so far heard from ministers and former and current chairpersons of the various authorities involved in regulating the construction industry.