Two ministers have remained silent on calls for their resignation following the publication of the public inquiry report into the death of Jean Paul Sofia. 

Published on Wednesday, the report found the state responsible for allowing a “comedy of errors” in regulatory failures and oversights that contributed to the death of the 20-year-old in 2022. 

Sofia died when the construction site he was on collapsed suddenly and buried him under the rubble. Five other people were injured in the incident. 

Reacting to the inquiry’s finding in parliament that same day, Opposition Leader Bernard Grech called for the resignation of Prime Minister Robert Abela as well as of ministers Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, Silvio Schembri and Miriam Dalli. 

“How are they still here? Did you find scapegoats to take the blame on your behalf? You are to blame because you allowed this culture of impunity so you should go,” Grech said of the four. 

Speaking to Times of Malta on Thursday, Zrinzo Azzopardi and Schembri skirted around questions of their resignation, with both saying that the government is committed to implementing the recommendations made by the inquiry.

Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi. Photo: Chris Sant FournierStefan Zrinzo Azzopardi. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

‘The inquiry recognised my good work’ 

Zrinzo Azzopardi said that while the inquiry had highlighted shortcomings in the planning sector, it had also noted “the work that started when I was the minister responsible”. 

“That work started making headway on which the recommendations made by the inquiry can continue to be built on,” he said. 

Video: Chris Sant Fournier

Zrinzo Azzopardi landed the planning portfolio in cabinet appointments made after the 2022 election and held it until a surprise cabinet reshuffle last January. 

Notable collapse incidents have been seen in Malta since 2019, including two separate collapses in Guardmangia in 2019 and the death of Miriam Pace in 2020. Other incidents, such as that of Jaiteh Lamin in 2021 and Mekhi in 2022, exposed the dark underbelly of how migrant workers are treated when injuries happen on construction sites. 

Pressed to answer why his work as minister hadn’t effectively addressed the climate that led to such incidents, Zrinzo Azzopardi said that many recommendations made in the Quintano report - commissioned in the wake of the death of Miriam Pace - have either “already been implemented or are in the process of being implemented”.

“Work was being done, but it is evident that more work needs to be done. But we have to recognise that the inquiry said important work was done, including contractor licensing, which can serve as a basis for the rest of the recommendations to be implemented,” he said. 

Silvio Schembri. Photo: Chris Sant FournierSilvio Schembri. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

‘Land allocation happened before I was minister’

When questioned on calls for his resignation, Economy Minister Silvio Schembri said that the land transfer explored in the inquiry had happened five years ago and a whole year before he was made the minister responsible for the portfolio. 

“Bernard Grech is calling for my resignation over something that I was not responsible for,” he said. 

Video: Chris Sant Fournier

“I think the inquiry was very clear on where the shortcomings were and did not shy away from naming the entities and people it found responsible.” 

Asked whether any processes could have been handled better in light of the inquiry findings, Schembri said that there were and that he addressed some of them himself when he took up the portfolio. 

“There are processes mentioned in the inquiry that have been in place since about six months before the incident occurred,” he said. 

“For example, the INDIS allocations committee, where I had an opportunity to bring about certain reforms there myself, because there were some processes that I wasn’t happy with.”

Schembri also welcomed the recommendation that an audit of Malta Enterprise’s procedure be carried out as it will be a gateway for the entity to “continue to improve”.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us