PRECIOUS TALENTS TRAGEDY

Inept enforcement of safety standards recipe for disaster

Malpractices on school construction have been going on unabated mainly due to the red tape in getting approvals from the county offices.

In Summary

• Builders are taking short cuts and are being emboldened by the fact that even the condemned buildings are not demolished.

• The best way any government proves to be in charge is by taking care of the education system.

Red Cross rescue workers at Precious Talent school on Monday, September 23 2019.
Red Cross rescue workers at Precious Talent school on Monday, September 23 2019.
Image: VICTOR IMBOTO

The collapse of Precious Talents School was a test of our disaster preparedness that proved wanting.  For example, it took two hours for the government machinery to access the site.

This depicts a picture of an absentee government. Precious Talents tragedy was not an accident but negligence by various layers of policy enforcers, who should all be jailed in proved culpable. Their names should be printed publicly alongside those of dead pupils.

What is more interesting is that each subcounty has a curriculum support officer for both public and private schools. Are these quality assurance officers at Jogoo House in their slumber?

Immediately after the tragedy, several high-ranking education officers rushed to accompany the Education Principal Secretary in a press briefing. These are people who should have been sacked on the roadside.

Why has the government put investment on books alone and ignore critical issues such as classes and staff? The allocation of Sh18 billion laptops should have been more effective if used for class construction and bridging staff gaps in our public schools.

Malpractices on school construction have been going on unabated mainly due to the red tape in getting approvals from the county offices. The minors reported that the building was bent since last year but children are only to be seen and not heard.

Builders are taking short cuts and are being emboldened by the fact that even the condemned buildings are not demolished. The collapsed building has no foundation and the slab was supported by timber offcuts. The owner knew that even if something happens nothing will be done (mta do?).

Most public schools have walls that are sagging, cracked or leaning while the slabs are vibrating. Surprisingly, quality assurance officers do inspection routinely but they look the other way. The dead weight of the structures is not able to withstand the live weight of learners in most schools. Only natural benevolence has prevented tragedies in these schools.

The best way any government proves to be in charge is by taking care of the education system. In Kenya public schools are in pathetic condition and mostly ran down. Land grabbers have curtailed zoning which used to take care of emerging needs within urban communities.

It is a theatre of the absurd for MoE officials with their counterparts from the NCA to tell us that the building was substandard. Such entities should have mechanisms to anticipate such disasters by ordering demolitions once the slightest crack is noticed.

Ngando ward has no public school but in the old maps, there is provision for a school. The politicians shouting themselves hoarse in the press should tell us who grabbed all the public utility plots in the ward and use public power to recover them.

The move to hive off land from Lenana School is in bad faith because we may end up losing land to greedy private developers. One wonders whether Lenana School has indicated that it possess land that it does not need.

SGR was not built on government land but through compulsory acquisition and the same can be done for a primary school land at Ngando. Once the public land grabbed is returned, the government can supplement more land through compulsory acquisition.

The audit on the safety of schools is on among many commissions usually crafted to quell public anger but never meant to solve anything. MoE is known to implement such audits with a snail’s pace. A good example is an audit on Moi Girls fire tragedy which is a kilometer away but was never made public.

The remedy offered after a pupil was killed by a poorly maintained school bus at the coast was to paint all school buses yellow! The Ruaraka land saga is still on our lips while the list goes on and on. What we know is that there are good policies at Jogoo House but they remain on the shelves gathering dust.

NCA and the buildings inspectorate unit together with the MoE will ran rampage inspections to intimidate and harass owners of schools while closing some. The elephant in the room is where were they when these structures were being erected and registered as centres of learning?

Politicians have become tragedy celebrities and when they arrive at the site they are not looking for victims but for TV cameras to give lamentations. They come in suits and dresses to display their latest outfits while blaming the government.

There no lessons learnt from the eight dead pupils because we are not medical students. The government, as usual, has paid the bills and offered coffins to bury the dead. The eight families will grief for a lifetime for their beloved as officers mandated to check the quality and safety of our children continue drawing salaries for work not done.

My lesson is that I have seen how the government treats poor people. The authorities should learn that the most unsafe places are informal settlements. As such, more investment needs to be done there to avoid recurrent catastrophes.