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September 20, 2018

Substandard buildings: state should emphasise on preventive measures

The finding by the National Construction Authority that 60 per cent of the buildings they inspected do not comply with the sector regulations and pose a great risk to the tenants is worrying. The question that immediately comes to mind is where were the law enforcers when all these buildings were being constructed? The county governments and other state agencies like National Environment Management Authority have inspectors whose role is to regulate construction projects and ascertain that the necessary laws and regulations have been complied with.

It is therefore inconceivable that a construction can commence and be completed without any of the government agencies noticing. The main issue is that there are public officers who collude with unscrupulous developers to abet construction of substandard buildings. How for instance, would a six-storey building be constructed to completion without any of the government agencies realising that it either has no approval or is not compliant to the necessary regulations?

We have heard of cases of some government officers demanding for “protection fee” to protect a non compliant construction project from any interference by their colleagues or other government agencies.

As NCA threatens to demolish the non compliant buildings, they should also focus on working with other relevant stakeholders to address the bigger problem of weak enforcement of existing laws meant to prevent such buildings from coming up in the first place. Demolition of the buildings is a reactive and short term measure that is not sustainable. One way of enhancing compliance and enforcement of the regulation is through partnership with community organisations such as residents' associations.

Some associations have successfully stopped construction of buildings within their neighbourhood that are without proper approvals or are substandard. If properly sensitised on the various building regulations and provided with channels through which to report suspicious constructions in their neighbourhoods, these associations can be effective allies and reliable source of information.

However, in order to motivate them to play such a role, government must be ready to decisively act on the cases brought to their attention by the resident lobby groups.

Besides strengthening enforcement, there are people who must be held responsible for the mushrooming of substandard and risky buildings. Government officers responsible for the regions where such buildings are found must be held to account for their role in allowing the buildings to be constructed. It is not enough to condemn the developers and turn a blind eye to the officers who gave approvals or failed to take appropriate action even when they knew that there was a problem with the construction. Many developers are out minimise construction costs as much as possible and will go for shortcuts if not closely supervised. Government officers must therefore take their roles seriously and ensure that developers comply with the necessary laws and regulations.

Additionally, most of the buildings being condemned as risky must have had some professionals such as architects and engineers involved in their design and construction. It is high time we started seeing such professionals being arraigned in court to answer for abetting breaking of the law or negligence. The professional bodies must also step forward to de-register such professionals. Until drastic preventive measures are taken by the relevant government agencies and professional bodies, the problem of substandard and collapsing buildings shall persist.   

Henry Ochieng is the CEO of The Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations

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