Jay Singh implicated in collapse of Tongaat Mall

FILE PICTURE: Rescuers search for survivors on November 20, 2013 under the rubble at the Tongaat Mall, after a floor collapsed on the eve. Picture: AFP

The first witness to take the stand at the commission of inquiry into the collapse of the Tongaat Mall yesterday implicated controversial businessman Jay Singh in a series of alleged breaches that led to the disaster.

Testifying at the commission in Tongaat, Ronnie Pillay, a foreman at the building site, told the hearing it was Singh who instructed workers to carry on with construction work in defiance with a court order stipulating that all work at the site should be discontinued.

“I was instructed to work – to finish up the slabs,” he said.

Asked by Ian Topping, the eThekwini municipality’s legal representative at the commission, who the instruction came from, Pillay responded that “it came from Mr Singh”.

Towards the end of last year the municipality served Gralio Precast, the company that carried out construction work at the site, with a notice and two court orders instructing it to cease all construction work there as building plans had not been approved.

Asked by the commission’s chairman, Phumudzo Maphaha, if the tragedy could have been prevented had the company complied with the court orders, Pillay said: “Yes I agree.”

Pillay told the commission he had worked for Gralio Precast for 14 years. He testified that Singh had appointed him as foremen despite the fact that he did not have the necessary qualifications. According to the law regulating the construction industry, a person can only be appointed as foreman of a construction site if he or she has the necessary experience and qualifications.

“Do you regard yourself as a competent person to have taken overall control of that mall,” Maphaha asked Pillay.

When pressed Pillay conceded that his understanding of construction drawings was “not 100%” and that the collapse could have been caused by inadequate concrete.

The commission was in possession of the results of the test done on the concrete used in the slabs but Maphaha said the matter would be dealt with later.

The mall, which collapsed about two months ago, killing two people and injuring 29 others, was owned by Rectangle Property Investments while the construction was being done by Gralio Construction. Both companies are linked to Singh.

The findings of the commission will be referred to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the labour ministry.

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