20 April 2018

Mozambique: Negligent Portuguese Companies May Be Tried in Absentia

Maputo — The Portuguese companies responsible for a scaffolding collapse in Maputo in 2015, in which five workers lost their lives, have disappeared from Mozambique, without paying any compensation, and the Maputo ~City Court is now threatening to try them in absentia.

The collapse occurred on 15 July 2015, at a building under construction owned by the JAT group, and intended to house the future offices of the National Social Security Institute (INSS).

Five workers fell to their deaths and a further 10 were injured. The building is 17 storeys high, and most of those who fell to the ground were working at a height of over 30 metres.

Building workers who spoke to AIM after the accident complained that they were working under “inhuman conditions” without any safety gear.

The contractor hired by JAT was the Portuguese company Britalar, which sub-contracted the scaffolding work to Cope.

Hiring Britalar was an extraordinary decision given the company's poor reputation. It had become notorious for its shoddy work on rehabilitating one of Maputo's main thoroughfares, Julius Nyerere Avenue. Britalar headed the consortium hired to repair the road.

The work ran months behind schedule. Worse still, cracks began to appear in the newly laid asphalt, and even to untrained eyes it was clear that Britalar's work had been shoddy.

Samples of the materials used by Britalar were collected and sent to three laboratories, two in Mozambique and one in Portugal. All the laboratories agreed that the road had started to crumble away because of the poor quality of the materials.

The contract was eventually cancelled, and the Britalar-led consortium was ordered to repay the Municipal Council a million dollars.

The company Cope Limitada, which Britalar subcontracted for the scaffolding job, was formed by four Portuguese citizens. After the accident Cope closed its Maputo offices, and three of the four Portuguese left the country. Only one, Antonio Noronha e Cardoso, is still in Maputo.

In a written response to a request for information from “O Pais”, the Maputo City Court said all attempts to contact Cope have been fruitless. The current whereabouts of the company are unknown. Britalar has also simply abandoned the country.

The Court has now published notices giving Britalar and Cope 30 days to contest the claims of the victims of the scaffolding collapse and their families for compensation. The Court warns that, if the two companies remain silent, they will be tried in absentia.

Britalar's head office is in Portugal, and three of the four Cope partners are also believed to be in Portugal. If the Maputo City Court does sentence the two companies to pay compensation to the victims of their negligence, cooperation from the Portuguese authorities will be required in enforcing that sentence.

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