Recommendation not implemented: Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report on pothole incident in San Gwann

In accordance with Article 22(4) of the Ombudsman Act, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon, has submitted the Final Opinion to the House of Representatives concerning a person who fell due to a pothole in San Gwann.

The Complaint

The complaint was lodged by a person who fell while descending a pavement due to a pothole situated right under the kerb in San Gwann, fracturing his left foot and sustaining other injuries. The complainant incurred expenses for mobility aids and replacement of his spectacles, which he sought to have reimbursed by the San Gwann Local Council. He argued that the Council was responsible for the pavement’s maintenance and should compensate him for his injuries and related costs.

The Investigation

The Ombudsman’s investigation involved gathering detailed information from the complainant, including medical reports, expense receipts, a police report, and statements from the complainant’s wife. The Local Council was also consulted and provided feedback on the incident. The investigation found that the Council had initially dismissed the claim, asserting that a minor road surface defect, which they did not consider a pothole, was not proven to cause the fall. The Council also noted that such defects are inevitable due to various public and private entities performing street works in the locality.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The report concluded that the San Gwann Local Council had failed to ensure the safety of the pavement and did not adequately address the complainant’s request for reimbursement. The defect in the pavement was considered significant enough to pose a hazard, which led to the complainant’s injuries.

The Ombudsman upheld the complaint, recommending that the complainant be reimbursed for all documented expenses related to the incident. The report also recommended that the Council take a more proactive approach to monitoring and repairing public roads and pavements to prevent similar incidents in the future. The report emphasised the legal obligation of Local Councils to maintain public spaces safely and efficiently.

Outcome

The San Gwann Local Council refused to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations because it alleged that there was no clear causal link between the road defect and the complainant’s fall was not established. The Council argued that minor road defects, such as the one cited, are common and challenging to eliminate completely due to the involvement of various contractors. Additionally, the Council emphasised the need for prudent management of public funds, stating that compensation claims must be substantiated with concrete evidence directly linking the defect to the incident.

These were the same arguments submitted by the Council prior to the conclusion of the Final Opinion.

Therefore, since the recommendations were not implemented by the San Gwann Local Council, the Ombudsman, sought the direct intervention of the Prime Minister according to law. However, since the request to the Prime Minister was of no avail, the Ombudsman sent the report to the Speaker of the House, who in turn tabled the report before the House of Representatives.

Documents: 

24.10.23 – Final Opinion

09.01.24 – Reminder to San Gwann Local Council

29.01.24 – Letter to the Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government

31.01.24 – Reply from the Local Council

09.02.24 – Letter to the Prime Minister

14.03.24 – Reminder to the Prime Minister

22.04.24 – Letter to Speaker

 

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