Disarray everywhere

2014-02-14 00:00

A PICTURE of a construction site in complete disarray was presented to the commission of inquiry into the collapsed Tongaat Mall yesterday.

The serious deficiencies ranged from safety, dodgy appointments, lies, missing signatures and more missing files.

While evidence continued to be given at the Tongaat municipal building, it became evident that the parties involved — specifically the contractor Gralio Precast run by Durban businessperson Jay Singh and Axiom Engineering who completed the structural designs — were trying to only apportion blame and create enough doubt on the veracity of the evidence given by each of the witnesses who took the stand.

The witnesses — Rishen Naidoo, who was a supplier of post tension cables and safety consultant Ismaiel van Zyl — painted an image of a building site where decisions were taken without consultation of the engineer or health and safety; crucial jobs were half done or done in sections; items were left lying around; and that the site foreman Ronnie Pillay, who was grilled by the commission on Wednesday, was also a safety officer in at least four other roles on the site and held six posts in total — which is illegal.

Naidoo said he would often sign off his tension cables, which are used to strengthen concrete slabs, without the presence of the engineer.

This raised the ire of commissioner Phumudzo Maphaha who said the engineer’s signature was pivotal to the construction process.

“If the engineer is not on site then you must stop. Why will a structure of this magnitude continue with this type of management process?” said Maphaha.

Naidoo confirmed earlier testimony that the workers on site had been lied to about a court order initially served on the site in September 2013. The Durban high court order had been obtained by the eThekwini Metro on the basis that the construction was illegal as no building plans had been approved. “[Site foreman] Ronnie Pillay said we could return to site. We were never informed that the final court order was handed down on November 14 or that we were on site illegally. We continued to work to the engineer’s plans and we were assured they were approved,” said Naidoo.

Van Zyl made the startling announcement that Pillay was both the site foreman, a welder and a safety officer in multiple roles. Occupational health and safety regulations in South Africa only permit a health and safety officer to hold two roles on any site. Van Zyl, who was working for Gralio, said he was also concerned that the client — Rectangle Property Investments, whose sole listed member is Ravi Jagadasan, Singh’s son — did not have its own safety officer and was not carrying out safety audits as is the norm.

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