Architects seek automation of State systems to boost sector

AAK President Wilson Mugambi. [James Wanzala, Standard]

The Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) has called for efficient and robust e-government systems to ensure effective service delivery in the real estate sector. This, they noted, will help boost the sector and improve the business environment.

AAK President Wilson Mugambi urged the incoming national and county governments to improve the existing systems as well as fully automate other government services and systems.

He was speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2022 AAK Annual Convention that was held in Mombasa last week.

Makueni Governor Prof Kivutha Kibwana, who officially opened the convention rooted for good urban governance in shaping ‘the Kenya we want.’

He said rapid urbanisation has seen the country face pressure to provide basic services and infrastructure to areas that a few years ago were considered the hinterland.

‘‘As professionals in the built environment, I am sure that you have witnessed the need for planning, design and regulation of how people settle in our urban areas. The best candidates are the county headquarters across the country which, despite being administrative centres, have all been made cities or municipalities as per Urban Areas and Cities Act 2012. Thus, the urge to think sustainably while planning for the growth of these urban areas,’’ said Kibwana.

In developing countries like Kenya, he said some of these urban goods (such as green spaces and public parks) must be protected by professionals first.

Prof Kibwana also championed the inclusion of non-motorised transportation designs in all our transportation infrastructure, noting that apart from Nairobi, Kiambu, Tharaka Nithi and Kajiado counties have already automated their development control processes.

He said Makueni has also developed an Integrated Land Information Management System to facilitate all land-related transactions within the county and streamline land-based revenue collection.

Mr Mugambi said one of the main challenges Kenya is faced with is how to enforce the law on development control.

This year’s convention-themed ‘A Holistic Approach to Urban Governance’ was aimed at discussing and highlighting key issues within the built environment as well as providing actionable and practical solutions that can be adopted.

The AAK pinpointed the key challenges that were being faced by the built environment professionals and developers including inefficiencies, frequent downtimes, and delays which force them to visit county offices to follow up on approvals.

“In 2004, the government launched the ‘Kenya E-government Strategy’ which was aimed at enabling access to information and services effectively and efficiently. Eighteen years later, this is far from being achieved,’’ said Mugambi.

“The process of obtaining construction permits for instance has seen only six counties (Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Kisumu, Kajiado, and Kilifi) develop e-permitting systems to improve the efficacy of development control in the counties.”

“These challenges have become precursors for the issuance of false permits by quacks and fraudulent professionals, thereby resulting in the construction of unsafe and illegal structures,’’ he added.

He referenced the e-citizen platform as a sound basis that could be used for comparison as a perfectly working government system.

Mugambi rooted for multiparty collaboration of portals by linking all the construction permitting agencies on the platforms. “Having a one-stop-shop for all related agencies will facilitate a faster flow of development applications and optimise customer service while making the process less bureaucratic,” he noted.

Results from a recent survey conducted by AAK in Nairobi and Kiambu counties, established that built environment professionals remain dissatisfied with the systems’ design.

Specifically, the professionals decried the need to print hard copies of drawings for stamping after going through the online process, which they said negates the intended purpose of online permitting in Kiambu County.

Land ownership

It was also noted that in Kiambu, 80 per cent of applications submitted by AAK members through the Kiambu eDAMS were still pending, with some applications taking more than one year to process.

The report said the above move introduced an unnecessary feature of linking land ownership to construction permitting, which now requires the developer to initiate an application while in normal cases, the consultant acts as an agent of the developer and has full control of the process.

In addition, it was concluded that the systems lacked timelines for the approval process and a communication channel for applicants to seek redress and discuss applications with the approval officers.

The National Land Information Management System (NLIMS), also known as ArdhiSasa, was also cited as one that has had numerous challenges since its launch in April 2021. This is due to frequent system outages and difficulties in registering and upgrading professionals which were seen to threaten the system’s feasibility in the long run.

Mugambiproposed a standard format in the development permitting systems in all the counties as opposed to each county developing its own.

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