Tongaat Mall owner passes the buck

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Copy of ND TONGAAT MALL9 (4) (43475798) DAILY NEWS Ravi Jagadasan testifies at the inquiry into the collapse of the Tongaat Mall. Photo: SBONELO NGCOBO

Durban - Tongaat Mall owner Ravi Jagadasan has referred all construction- related questions to his father, businessman Jay Singh, saying it was not his responsibility.

“For the last 30 years, he (Singh) has been running the business and he can answer construction questions. I have no experience in this work. I’m not a builder,” Jagadasan on Thursday told the commission of inquiry into the cause of the mall collapse.

He said he had trust and faith in his father’s knowledge and was certain he had fulfilled all the safety obligations required on the site. This was despite the inquiry’s commissioner, Phumudzo Maphaha, saying he had yet to see any health and safety specifications for the R220 million project.

Throughout on Thursday’s testimony, Jagadasan took no responsibility for what happened on the property he owned.

He said he was surprised to hear of the collapse on the television news as he and his attorneys had instructed Gralio Precast, the mall contractor, to obey the high court order against them and to stop work on the site.

Two workers died when a portion of the mall collapsed in November and 29 others were injured.

Jagadasan said he was the sole director and member of Rectangle Property Investment, the mall developer, and was also a director, along with his sister and Singh’s former wife, Shireen Annamalay, of Gralio Precast, while his father was Gralio’s chief executive.

However, under cross-examination by the mall engineer’s attorney, Richard Hoal, he admitted that he was no longer listed as a director of Gralio. Hoal told the commission Jagadasan was the director at the time the mall collapsed, but by March he had resigned.

Jagadasan said Singh was responsible for the day-to-day running of the construction business while he looked after the family trust. He told Maphaha he had hired Gralio as both the agent whose responsibility it was to prepare the health and safety regulations for the project, and also to act as the contractor.

He felt this was not a conflict of interest as he was the director of both companies. When informed by Maphaha that it was a requirement from one who was both client and contractor to request an exemption from the chief building inspector, Jagadasan said he was unaware of that.

He brushed off further health and safety questions, saying the commission would need to ask Singh.

But Maphaha said Jagadasan could not claim to be unaware of the health and safety plans for the project, as it was his and Singh’s responsibility to draw them up and discuss them.

Jagadasan said he ran several businesses and held several meetings, so he would have to look for these documents and bring them to the commission.

Maphaha also questioned Jagadasan about the lack of qualifications of people working on the site. Jagadasan said it was Maphaha’s opinion that no one was qualified and that he (Maphaha) should ask Gralio.

“You hired all these people. When you hire, you ensure they have qualifications. How did you hire Gralio as the agent and the contractor? Prove their qualifications.”

Jagadasan referred to projects Gralio had worked on, particularly for the city, but Maphaha said these were not qualifications.

Jagadasan said he would submit the qualifications to the commission, to which Maphaha agreed, saying they were yet to find any qualified people who worked on the site.

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

The eThekwini Municipality’s lawyer, advocate Ian Topping, then questioned Jagadasan on the various stop- work notices the municipality had issued to Jagadasan’s firm, as it was building without approved plans. Jagadasan said he was unaware it was a criminal offence to build a structure without approved plans.

He also said construction continued because his architect had told him they could build without pre-approved plans and needed only to make further submissions.

Topping also referred to the city’s high court orders against Rectangle Property to stop work on the site. The final order was granted in November 2013 and required Rectangle to submit plans for approval within 30 days, and should this not be complied with, the property would have to be demolished.

Jagadasan said after the final order, he and his attorneys issued the instruction to Gralio to stop work.

The commission was expected to return to the site today to inspect beam 7, said to have inadequate steel reinforcing.

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