Another silent witness at Meyersdal inquiry

2014-10-30 13:31
(File: Sapa)

(File: Sapa)

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Pretoria - Building engineer Ranjan Galal on Thursday refused to answer questions at a labour department inquiry in Pretoria into the partial collapse of an Alberton house in August.

"My client has not been afforded his procedural rights. He has been called to deal with technical engineering issues, he has been called to this inquiry without proper opportunity to prepare," said Galal's attorney Robert Krombrein.

"He has not received an engineering report or [never had] an opportunity to consider what will be put to him. That is substantially and procedurally unfair. He has the right to remain silent not to incriminate himself."

Inquiry chairperson Phumudzo Maphaha said the right to remain silent had limitations but it would be respected.

"I'd hate to evoke my rights as well, as a commissioner, which will include, among others, to force out the information we require," said Maphaha.

"If it goes to an extent where I realise that we are unable to get information it renders the inquiry useless and that needs to be understood."

The inquiry is probing the collapse of part of a luxury house in the Meyersdal Eco Estate, near Alberton on the East Rand, in which seven people were killed on 18 August. Nine other workers were injured.

Maphaha went on to ask numerous questions but Galal's answer was consistent: "I am exercising my right to remain silent and my right against self-incrimination. I, therefore, decline to answer the question."

At one point Galal said only it was not his design which caused the collapse. He refused to explain.

Contractor refuses to answer

On Wednesday, building contractor Errol Romburgh refused to answer questions at the inquiry.

Despite repeated attempts by Maphaha, Romburgh stuck to his guns.

"Mr Romburgh, were you the contractor involved in the collapse that we are holding an inquiry about?" Maphaha asked.

"On legal advice from my counsel I have been advised that I should exercise my constitutional right and not answer any questions at this stage," Romburgh responded.

Maphaha said the law made it obligatory for the contractor to answer, except questions that might incriminate him.

"Do you find it incriminating to answer that question?" asked Maphaha.

At that stage, Romburg's lawyer Piet Pistorius intervened.

"With the greatest respect, I must object to the commissioner directing this question to the witness. He is a lay person. He has been advised of his rights," said Pistorius.

"The commissioner cannot put to a layperson whether he thinks he is incriminating himself or not. That is a decision that has been made upon counsel's advice."

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