Punish officials who authorise irregular building approvals

Not long ago, we woke up to a frenzy of demolitions of “irregularly” approved buildings, and after a short while, the buzz abruptly fizzled out. Not a single official was charged for issuing the purported approvals. No one is saying anything regarding demolitions anymore or at least they are not saying it loudly as before. As usual, we have probably, and likely, moved already to something else to allow the impunity to once again mature and revisit the matter in a few years to come.

Or how can one rationally explain the fact that corrupt officials who issued irregular approvals are still in office? If the past trend is anything, then more irregular approvals will continue to be issued. Was the decision to carry out the demolitions a regular, ritualistic event? This is a classical example of cleaning the pot from the outside and leaving the inside untouched. That is what we have become.

Let even the demolitions rest for a moment. In August last year, the Nairobi City County Government suspended the construction of Avic Towers for allegedly encroaching onto public land. The suspension was of course done with pomp that has become a norm. This sounds okay until you realise that the construction of Avic Towers began in 2015.

Yes, that is three years ago! It is impossible to miss the Sh40 billion mixed-used mega development in Nairobi city today, but apparently, the city county government did. It only dawned on them after three years of construction work that the project had allegedly encroached public land. Which planet were they living on all this time, considering that it is incumbent on the county government to regularly carry out inspections of all construction works within their jurisdiction to ensure adherence to set regulations? It further stinks when you realise that after the bravado show during suspension of the project, construction work at Avic resumed quietly a few days later without even a word from the county. Was the public land surrendered back?

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To prove that the Avic case wasn’t coincidental, the county government again early this month moved to stop the construction of Sarit Centre extension for encroaching onto a road reserve. Once again, this Sh4 billion development has been in construction for the last two years and is nearly complete. But Nairobi City County Government had the Damascus experience just recently, when they noticed' the road encroachment when the project was coming to an end.

I don’t intend to justify encroachment of buildings onto public land. In fact, I don’t know whether the Avic project or Sarit Centre extension did indeed encroach onto our public land. But we must not fail to marvel at how stupid the county government think we are: that construction work of these mega developments have been ongoing unnoticed. Being in this industry, I can bet that county officials have been regularly visiting the two projects since groundbreaking.

If indeed the projects have encroached onto public land and Town Hall wasn’t aware of this all that time, then we are in a serious mess, considering the proximity of these developments to the authorities. On what could be happening in remote areas in the city,  your guess is as good as mine. A lot, however, is being said about why these developments are being stopped. It’s not for me to break public secret seals.

The reference of certain development approvals as belonging to previous administrations should also cease. Approvals, according to the Physical Planning Act, are given by counties and not county employees. There is never even a stamp of a governor on approved drawings – only county stamps. It is therefore imperative to respect approvals given by whatever county administration, unless there is proof of violation of county bylaws. But to dismiss construction approvals merely because they were issued by someone else, is a recipe for chaos.

- The writer is the chairman of the Association of Construction Managers of Kenya

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BuildingsConstructionNairobi CountyMike Sonko