Questions which require an answer

There are questions to be answered as a result of government’s outright refusal to use its legal powers under the Inquiries Act to examine the circumstances leading to the death of Jean-Paul Sofia on 3 December 2022. These questions can be basically boiled down to two: who is being shielded, what is being hidden?

The magisterial inquiry, when it is concluded, will identify criminal responsibilities which contributed to and led to the fatal accident. It will possibly examine the workings of the Planning Authority, the Building and Construction Authority and the Lands Authority when these are of obvious relevance to the fatal accident under consideration.

What is however required is an in-depth examination of these three authorities to establish, among other issues, whether, under the guise of doing away with unnecessary bureaucratic red-tape, adequate regulatory controls were diluted or discarded over the years, as a result creating a systemic regulatory failure.

I am here referring to the practice of channelling development planning applications in Industrial Estates through the simplified procedure known as DNO (Development Notification Order). As a result, this type of development proposal is placed below the regulators’ radar and consequently irregularities in the construction phase can easily go unnoticed. This, in my opinion could be one of the contributory factors to the fatal accident. I doubt whether the inquiring magistrate would factor this in the considerations of the magisterial inquiry. It would however be a most obvious consideration in a public inquiry.

The development under consideration was subject to two DNO applications, both of which were approved: DN360/20 and DN275/22.

It remains to be seen how the public land under consideration within an industrial estate ended up being transferred to the developer who took works in hand. Various allegations have been made on the possible irregularities in play. Possibly the inquiring magistrate may examine the issue but after more than seven months, we are none the wiser.

The project architect has been reported as being on the books of Infrastructure Malta, running a private practice simultaneously with carrying out the responsibilities demanded of a public sector appointment. It is current public policy to allow professionals in the public sector to juggle their responsibilities between their private practice interests and their public sector employment.

It is expected that their private practice does not conflict with the carrying out of their public sector duties. It would be reasonable to assume that during normal hours the professional at Infrastructure Malta would be expected to supervise public projects, unless the applicable working day is different from that which the rest of us mortals are accustomed to. It was reported in the press that the project architect has a steady private practice which has been developed in parallel with the full-time Infrastructure Malta role. The incompatibility between the roles is too obvious to require comment. It is not just an issue of the applicable employment conditions, but more so one concerning professional ethics.

A public inquiry would look into this specific issue and consider whether public sector professionals should be curtailed in practising their profession privately in such circumstances. I am not sure whether the inquiring magistrate would consider delving into the matter as it is primarily an ethical issue and most probably beyond the magistrate’s remit. It does however have a considerable impact not just on the case under consideration but also in many others.

I have referred to three basic issues which could have had considerable bearing on the Jean-Paul Sofia fatality last December, and other fatalities yet to come. An urgent public inquiry would address these issues, possibly driving in some sense in our regulators and regulatory procedures.

Carmel Cacopardo
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 16 July 2023