Tongaat Mall Collapse : Conflict Of Interest Busted!

Pretoria - The Presiding Officer of the Thongathi Commission of Inquiry, Phumudzo Maphaha, has brought the proceedings to a premature halt today to allow for parties to sort out representation and issues of conflict of interest.

Ronnie Pillay, who was a foreman at the Thongathi Mall construction site on the day when the mall collapsed last November, was due to testify as the first witness.

However, the proceedings came to a halt when it was discovered that Advocate Saleem and his legal team, instructed by Attorney Rajan Naidoo, were also representing various parties set to testify including Rectangle Properties, Gralio Precast Pty Ltd, consultants and employees of the construction companies.

Maphaha said the inquiry could not proceed under these circumstances as it represents a conflict of interest. He said this was a challenge that needed to be overcome and would not allow a single firm of legal representatives to represent more than two parties.

"I wish to bring proceedings to an early conclusion due to procedural issues. It will be fair to also afford employees who could not be consulted properly an opportunity to do so," Maphaha said.

Legal representatives representing Pillay and constructors lamented that they were being denied access to the doomed construction site. However, Maphaha denied this, saying anyone had access as long as due precaution was taken to prevent further hazards.

The Thongathi Commission of Inquiry is presided by Maphaha assisted by Sandile Kubheka, a co-presiding officer and Lennie Samuel, a forensic investigation and organiser.

The constructors' legal representatives also requested that Samuel (one of the Commissioners) recuse himself because he had compiled a statement, which Pillay does not agree with.

Maphaha disagreed with Samuel's recusing himself, noting that the witness had a right to disagree with the statement drafted.

The Thongathi Mall Commission of Inquiry was set up by Department of Labour to investigate the reasons that led to the collapse of the mall.

The current first phase of hearings will continue until 14 February 2014.

The Section 32 hearing, instituted by the Department of Labour against parties whose negligence results in occupational injuries and death of workers is being held in the Municipal Offices of the North Coast town of Thongathi.