SECTIONS
Premium

Rogue developers giving construction a bad name

Collapsed building in Tassia, Embakasi, Nairobi, November 9, 2022. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

After a lull in building collapses in Kenya, it seems it is that season again. On November 15, a six-storey residential house under construction in Seasons area of Kasarani, Nairobi, came tumbling down.

Earlier, officials from the National Construction Authority (NCA) had closed down the site and ordered the workers to leave.

Moments later, the workers sneaked back in and continued with their work.

A few hours into their shift, the building caved in, burying them alive. Three of them died and scores of others were injured.

According to NCA, Construction works on the site had previously been suspended in order S/No 143383 dated September 20, 2022 due to several non-compliance issues, including forgery of a project registration certificate.

Barely a week later on November 21, a five-storey building in Ruiru collapsed just hours after the Kiambu County Government ordered residents to vacate.

According to county officials, the structure was unsound and had visible cracks, which prompted area residents to alert authorities. And in Kwa Ndege area of Embakasi, Nairobi, a seven-storey residential came down, killing one.

In the same month, a six-storey residential building collapsed in Ruaka, also in Kiambu County, killing two people.

On September 26, again, five people lost their lives after a six-storey residential building collapsed in Kirigiti, Kiambu County.

According to an NCA audit report on the collapse of buildings in the country released earlier this year, poor workmanship and non-compliance to standards are the main causes of the rising incidents.

The report notes that 10,791 out of 14,895 buildings were marked as unsafe for occupancy and needed either reinforcement or demolition.

By the time of writing the report, the regulator further noted that Kenya had recorded 87 building collapses over the past five years, with an estimated 200 people losing and over 1,000 others injured as a result.

Interestingly, 65 per cent of collapsed buildings were residential, while 25 per cent were commercial and 10 per cent were mixed-use developments.

The NCA further revealed that 66 per cent of the buildings collapsed after completion, while 34 per cent collapsed during construction.

The spate of building collapses speaks to an industry littered with developers and contractors hell-bent on taking shortcuts to cut costs by using substandard materials and unqualified workers.

Rising demand for housing is driving property developers to hastily put up buildings whose structural integrity is questionable as they seek to recoup their investments.

The latest World Bank figures show that Kenya has a housing deficit of about two million houses annually. This is against an annual supply of 200,000 units. It is this rush to satisfy the market that is fuelling the insatiable greed of developers and by extension government officials who turn a blind eye after receiving hefty bribes.

This is not to say that all developers have gone rogue. A good number of them still follow the right procedures in terms of the quality of materials used and the building codes that apply to their specific projects.

Requisite permits

But a majority of them, it has emerged, follow the rules in the initial stages of construction, only to start bending them later by employing poorly trained engineers and workers after obtaining the requisite permits.

A case in point is one of the developers at the Tatu City mixed-use complex, who is being accused of breaching approved plans by the Tatu City Development Control Company and the Kiambu County Government. The developer, the firm claims, added an extra floor on one of the blocks, contrary to the initial building plan.

If such cases are allowed to continue with concerned authorities not holding those responsible to account, then we have not seen the last of building collapses in the country.

Regulators such as NCA need to bite and not just bark. They should address the issue of an influx of quacks and ill-trained workers, who have infiltrated the local building and construction industry.

From the many reported cases of building collapses, it is evident that poorly trained workers are at the heart of the problem through non-compliance with building standards.

Developers who prioritise saving money at the expense of quality workmanship also need to be held to account through hefty fines or imprisonment. After all, the law provides for such sanctions.