The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation has joined the opposition, various civil society groups, NGOs, members of the public at large and even a Labour mayor in calling for a transparent and thorough public inquiry into the death of 20-year-old Jean Paul Sofia at a construction site that was mired in illegalities and dubious practices.
Sofia died in a building collapse last December in what was to be a timber factory constructed illegally on government property by Serbian contractors and Maltese developers with a criminal past and connections to the Lands Authority.
The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation today expressed its support for Sofia’s family, who have been fighting for a thorough public inquiry to be conducted into the tragedy. The government has so far committed to a magisterial inquiry that would establish criminal culpability, but it has so far ignored the family’s pleas for a wider public inquiry.
In a statement on Facebook, the Foundation stated that “a public inquiry is the only way the State can learn how to prevent future deaths”. This means that “refusing to learn lessons about systemic failures doesn’t just deny Jean Paul and his family their rights. It leaves other lives in danger”.
The 2019 public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia was the first public inquiry in Malta in 20 years. The landmark 2019 inquiry found that the state was responsible for the journalist’s death. Proponents of a public inquiry into Sofia’s death hope for a similarly thorough investigation into all the circumstances, failures and ancillary factors which might have led to the tragedy.
Gżira Labour Mayor Conrad Borg Manché has also joined the call for a public inquiry into Sofia’s death. In a Facebook statement on 1 March, Manché asked who was blocking the inquiry from being commissioned, and why.
He went on to say that “those preventing the public inquiry, apart from being ashamed, should be counted as accomplices in failing the State.”
On 1 March, The Nationalist Party opposition held a press conference at the site of the Kordin collapse. PN leader Bernard Grech also called for a public inquiry to be held instead of the ongoing magisterial inquiry, arguing that such an investigation would be all-encompassing and able to identify faults and deficiencies in the system, regulations and enforcement – rather than simply pointing a finger at who is to blame.
Grech said that the opposition will be presenting a motion in parliament for the public inquiry. He said that “we have an obligation as a country for this to happen” and questioned the government’s resistance, asking “what has Robert Abela got to hide?”.
PN shadow finance minister Jerome Caruana Cilia said, “A public inquiry would not just mean justice for Jean Paul and his family, but justice for the Maltese public as well.”
Cilia said that more than 90 other families are waiting for magisterial inquiries related to construction incidents involving their loved ones to be concluded.
The government land in Kordin on which the collapse occurred was being managed by Indis Malta, formerly Malta Industrial Parks. The concession was given some years ago to developer Matthew Schembri, who co-owns furniture and construction company AllPlus Ltd, along with Kurt Buhagiar.
Buhagiar is a convicted human trafficker, having served a year in a Ragusa prison in 2011. He is also Lands Authority CEO Robert Vella’s personal driver and right-hand man. The convicted trafficker was also set to receive a promotion at the authority.
Schembri, meanwhile, is currently facing court proceedings over the alleged hiring of foreign hit men for an attack on his former wife’s father on the Sliema front.
The construction on site began through a Development Notification Order (DNO), DN/00275/22, filed by architect Adriana Zammit, a full-time architect at Infrastructure Malta.
Before construction at the Kordin site began, Zammit had been obliged to file a Commencement Notice to the Planning Authority (PA) and Building and Construction Agency (BCA). No such notice was filed, making the construction illegal.
When asked about a proposed bill that would licence building contractors, Grech said he “expects the national interest to be kept in mind with this proposed bill”, expressing his fear that the new legislation might just lead to more unenforced red tape rather than real change.
Grech expressed support for other construction industry victims, including Miriam Pace, who was killed in a collapse in 2020. He said that “those responsible [in Pace’s death] are free to do whatever they please to this day”.
The architect involved in Pace’s death has filed over 100 planning applications since the fatal collapse.