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Adopt law to curb substandard buildings

By | September 24th 2009

Harold Ayodo

Several incidences of collapsing buildings, some causing deaths, have been reported in the recent past especially in Nairobi. Although the Government assured Kenyans of its commitment to stem out the problem after the collapse of Sunbeam Supermarket in 1996 that killed 16 people, nothing much has been done.

Since then, several other buildings under construction in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisii have collapsed.

Outdated building laws, violations of regulations governing building and construction and corruption are among the reasons for these accidents. Some of the high-rise buildings in Nairobi are constructed on foundations originally intended to support single-storey buildings.

Some buildings were put up in a very short time and, before they were ready for occupation, tenants moved in and investors raked quick profits.

Public Works Minister Chris Obure has in the past called for new laws for the multi-billion shilling construction industry. If the National Construction Authority (NCA) Bill is passed, the accidents may be a thing of the past.

The Bill proposes, among other things, the creation of the Authority that aims to streamline the construction sector through registration and regulation.

Unsafe buildings

If made law, the NCA Bill would guarantee radical reforms. Legal reforms in the construction industry would allow a level playing field for local construction firms and their foreign counterparts.

The Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) recently warned that more than half of the buildings in Nairobi are unsafe to live in.

The Kenya Private Developers Association has also raised the red flag warning that 80 per cent of developers in Nairobi are not registered. Official statistics show that some developments are designed and erected by unqualified people who ignore professional advice and City Council bylaws.

Some developers opt to save on architects’ costs, which are often between 10 to 15 percent of the total cost, and seek quacks to design their buildings.

Further, most local authorities lack the technical capacity to oversee developments. Some municipalities like Kisii are lucky to have one physical planner. Nairobi City Council Acting Director of City Planning recently admitted the local authority had a paltry 20 building inspectors covering over 680 square kilometres.

Controversial developments

AAK head Steven Oundo says City Hall lacks capacity to approve or supervise developments to acceptable standards.

Regular inspection of buildings would ensure developments that do not meet safety standards are demolished while those that can be salvaged reinforced. Controversial developments are still under construction even as the Physical Planning Act empowers local authorities to vet building plans.

The Kenya Federation of Master Builders (KFMB) prepared a position paper for the creation of the NCA Bill.

The Federation also proposed the formation of the Contractors Registration Board similar to the Contractors Registration Board of Tanzania.

The writer is a lawyer and journalist.

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