Inquiry: Mall owner unco-operative

2014-07-24 21:15
(Photo: file, Sapa)

(Photo: file, Sapa)

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Durban - The owner of the ill-fated Tongaat Mall which collapsed last year killing two people was accused on Thursday of being unco-operative at the commission of inquiry investigating the tragedy.

The labour department's occupational health and safety manager Phumudzo Maphaha levelled the accusation against Ravi Jagadasan after a number of hours of questioning him.

"On my report I will write that he was not a co-operative witness," Maphaha told Jagadasan's legal representative, advocate Saleem Khan.

The two had a bruising encounter, with Jagadasan on several occasions saying that either his father - controversial Durban businessman Jay Singh - or his legal representative would answer Maphaha's questions.

On one occasion Maphaha declined Jagadasan's request to be allowed a few moments to consult with his legal team.

It did emerge though that Jagadasan was surprised to find his mall in the news when it collapsed as he believed all construction work had stopped.

Ravi Jagadasan said the order had been given to stop work at the site after the eThekwini metro municipality obtained a court order halting all building at the site.

"Didn't it come as a surprise when the mall was in the news?" asked Maphaha.

"It was. They were supposed to have stopped work," Jagadasan replied.

Jagadasan is the sole member of Rectangle Property Investments, of which his father is the chief executive.

The close corporation was the developer of the R220m mall that was being constructed by Gralio Precast, which is also run by Singh. Jagadasan is also a director of Gralio.

Jagadasan said he believed that Gralio was competent to build the mall, but he was unable to tell Maphaha what qualifications the Gralio staff had.

"To date, I am yet to find any qualified person [from Gralio] on site. There should be a qualified person on site. The proof that 90% of the time there was a competent, qualified person on site... I can't prove that," said Maphaha.

Maphaha said that all he could see was that the engineers and the personnel of other companies contracted by Gralio were the only ones who appeared to have any formal qualifications.

Mall collapse

A large portion of the mall collapsed on 19 November last year as scaffolding and formwork was removed.

Jagadasan was unable to answer several questions put to him by Maphaha and said that his father should be asked.

This prompted Maphaha to ask: "Are you evading my questions?"

"No, I am not," Jagadasan replied, who is a director of some 42 companies.

"You can shift your responsibility, but we will have to test if the liability lies with you," Maphaha warned.

Jagadasan said he believed that right up until the mall collapsed that all plans had been approved by the eThekwini metro municipality.

He said that he was not involved in the day-to-day running of the Rectangle Property Investments and that his father took all decisions regarding the mall.

Earlier in the morning, Ronnie Pillay, a foreman at Gralio Precast, admitted that he was not aware that he was required to ask for the results of strength tests carried out on concrete poured at the site.

The commission has previously heard evidence that some of the concrete tested after the collapse was less than a third of the required strength.

He said there had never been any written permission given for pouring concrete after the steel work had been put in place. He admitted that on one occasion permission for the pouring of the concrete had not even been received from the structural engineer.

He had been given the go-ahead by a foreman doing the steelworks.

The inquiry resumes on 4 September.

Read more on:    durban  |  tongaat mall collapse

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