Tongaat mall boss questioned

2015-03-03 21:21
(Sapa, file)

(Sapa, file)

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Durban - Verbal agreements, incompetent and unqualified staff, a lack of documentation, and a failure to abide by the law all plagued the construction of the Tongaat Mall, a commission of inquiry heard on Tuesday.

This emerged from questioning of controversial Durban businessman Jay Singh by labour department occupational health and safety manager Phumudzo Maphaha, who chairs the inquiry into the mall's collapse on 19 November 2013, that killed two people and injured 29.

Singh, who owns Gralio Precast which was building the mall, admitted that since 2003 he had never registered a single building site with the labour department, as required by law.

Maphaha pointed out that by law, when a contractor starts a construction project the provincial labour department has to be informed. The department was not informed of the Tongaat Mall. The law had existed since 2003.

Singh said he was not aware that he was legally obliged to inform the department.

"From 2003 all the projects you have been doing have contravened the regulations," said Maphaha.

Maphaha pointed out to Singh that after more than a year the commission had not been supplied with a safety risk assessment. He had also not received the health and safety specifications needed before construction could start.

Singh admitted he had not seen the documentation. He admitted he was not aware of health and safety documents being given to sub-contractors.

"I would like to see the documents. I have requested it from day one and I do not have it," said Maphaha.

He pointed out that unless authority was delegated, the main contractor's chief executive was responsible for ensuring that everyone carried out their duties.

Maphaha said several people had been appointed to various positions on the site only in August 2013. Work at the site started six months earlier and there was no documentation for their appointment. Singh argued they had been appointed.

"What it means effectively is that we don't have any legal appointment for this site," Maphaha said.

"By not appointing these people, as chief executive, don't you think you have failed in executing your duties?"

Maphaha pointed out to Singh that none of the people he had appointed, including site foreman Ronnie Pillay, had formal qualifications.

Maphaha questioned how Pillay could have been appointed scaffolding, welding, and labour inspectors all at the same time, in August 2013, despite having no qualifications.

He asked why a bricklayer was responsible for the machinery on the site.

Verbal agreements

It emerged that many people and sub-contractors were appointed without any written contract or formal letter of appointment.

"The challenge we are having here, Mr Singh, is that you are having a lot of verbal agreements. We have nothing in writing."

Maphaha asked Singh why his employees had failed to place 19 steel bars in a concrete beam referred to as beam seven. An on-site inspection the commission did last year revealed that the beam only had seven steel bars, when design engineer Andre Ballack had specified there should be 19.

He questioned whether Singh and Pillay could read the engineer's drawings.

"Here you have people on site who you deem to be competent, but they can't do what the engineer specifies?" Maphaha asked.

Singh said he believed Pillay and Ballack were responsible for ensuring the steel was correctly placed.

"He [Ballack] was responsible for the steel," said Singh.

"No, you are responsible. You are the contractor," Maphaha retorted.

Singh admitted he had also never seen any concrete strength test results and did not know the strength of the concrete used on the site.

Maphaha asked why Singh paid for concrete testing for eight months without ever looking at the results. The collapse happened eight months after construction started.

Read more on:    durban  |  tongaat mall collapse

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