SECTIONS
Premium

State regulator at pains to rein in contractors as buildings fall

KDF officers together with Red Cross workers carry a body retrieved from debris on a 6 story building that collapsed at Kasarani on 15th November 2022. [Wilberforce Okwiri,Standard]

In January 2015, a seven-storeyed building collapsed in Nairobi’s Huruma Estate, killing three people and injuring dozens. 

The incident took place at 8pm on a Sunday night during a sustained downpour and caught residents completely unprepared. It also came less than three weeks after a four-storeyed building, housing more than 30 families, came down in Makongeni, killing one person and injuring dozens. 

This prompted then President Uhuru Kenyatta to put City Hall and Land Ministry officials on notice over the state of residential buildings across the country. 

Uhuru demanded an audit of all buildings and a report be published on the same within six months.

The Building Collapse Disaster Incident Report found that lack of a unified construction policy was creating gaps in the real estate sector with regulators hard pressed to enforce compliance. 

Since 1990, over 100 cases of building collapse have been recorded with a recent audit of 14, 895 buildings classifying 723 of them as very dangerous, 10,791 as unsafe, 1,217 fair and only 2,194 classified as safe. 

First incident

The study also found more than 200 people have lost their lives since the first building collapsed in 1990, with thousands injured and the economy losing over Sh2.4 billion worth of investments. 

Yesterday, two people were killed when a six-storey building under construction collapsed in Ruaka. The incident happened just two days after a similar residential building went down in Kasarani. 

The National Construction Authority, NCA blamed the incident on rogue contractors that continued works on the project even after an official ban from the authority issued in September. 

“Construction works on the site had previously been suspended by the authority due to several non-compliance issues, including the forgery of a project registration certificate,” said NCA Executive Director Maurice Akech in a statement. 

NCA states the site foreman was arrested and another representative of the building’s developer was arrested and arraigned in court during a subsequent enforcement check last month. 

“A further compliance check on the morning of the collapse revealed that the construction was experiencing column failure based on visual observation,” states the authority.

“All persons were cleared from the construction site. Unfortunately, a few persons reportedly defied the order, and the structure collapsed on them hours later.” 

NCA is mandated to have a record of all construction projects in the country to facilitate monitoring that developers are adhering and have complied to industry standards. 

Audit report

Following the collapse of the building in Huruma an NCA audit report recommended that developers should involve professionals and follow due process and that there should be a continuous focus on disaster prevention and response. 

However the scale and number of development projects across the country has meant the NCA is scrambling to cover a large jurisdiction with few personnel. 

Of the four buildings that collapsed in 2019 investigations are still ongoing in two cases; one that involved a two-storey building collapse in Kisumu’s Manyatta Estate and another case in Dagoretti, Nairobi that saw seven children die when the two-storey Precious Talent Top School collapsed. 

Similarly in 2018 of the five cases of collapsed buildings recorded across the country, three are still under investigations and in one, the records are missing.

There have also been criticisms that corruption and impunity in the system is fuelling the rise of sub-standard buildings. Following the building collapses in 2016 the Association of Architects in Kenya, AAK opposed the notion that technical failings were the leading cause. 

“What happened in Makongeni and in Huruma is not an absence of technical or professional skills but the result of political patronage and impunity in the system,” stated Gatheca Waweru, the chairman of the Architectural Association of Kenya during an interview with The Standard at the time. 

“Once we have people who have bribed their way into the system and have obtained the protection of political godfathers they know that they have nothing to fear and can cut corners leading to the cases we are seeing at the moment,” he said. 

The National Construction Authority has for years sought powers to prosecute contractors guilty of violating building codes as a means of extending it’s mandate beyond just investigating and arresting rogue contractors. 

This would put NCA in the same league as Kenya Revenue Authority and Capital Markets Authority that have far-reaching powers to discipline rogue entities within their respective jurisdictions. This would entail the Director of Public Prosecutions gazetting some of NCA officers that are advocates and who qualify as prosecutors to be prosecutors.