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Systemic failures lead to collapse

By - | June 14th 2012



Cases of buildings collapsing while still under construction is becoming eerily frequent, writes JECKONIA OTIENO

Last Saturday, this unfortunate occurrence reared its ugly head again — this time in Mlolongo, Machakos County — a few kilometres from Nairobi City centre.

The five-storey building which was under construction when it crumbled had two floors already in use by tenants. One of the already finished floors had an open restaurant even as the building underwent construction of the upper floors.

Most baffling flaws about the whole building process was that there was no wall on one side of the building adjacent to a neighbouring building which is complete and operational.

Pointing out this at the site of the collapsed building was chairman of the Architectural Association of Kenya, Steven Oundo. He noted that the developer probably in a bid to cut costs had decided to ignore putting up a wall adjacent to the complete building.

“The fact that this building did not have a wall on one side points out that either both buildings are owned by the same person or the different owners of the buildings colluded so as not to have a wall on this collapsed building,” observed Oundo.

“Building a wall is procedural process which every building developer has to take into account” noted Oundo.


On location the site was a mess as the huge forklifts that had been brought could not lift the slabs — that were supposed to be the floors — as they kept disintegrating into rubble.

According to professionals, this is a sign that the whole process of construction was not up to requisite standards.

Also noted was failure to follow the building code, not only in this particular case but also many other buildings in Mlolongo and Nairobi.

Oundo calls it a disaster waiting to happen because of poor enforcement which in most cases falls back to the local authorities.

Agreeing with Oundo was government chief architect in the Ministry of Public Works, Cosmas Maweu who said that most local authorities have failed in their regulatory function.

He argued that most of the authorities just take the money for approval but fail in monitoring of the construction works.

Stated Maweu: “The approving authority must be held accountable because it has a duty to ensure that the approved plans are strictly followed.”

Maweu is argues that the only way to stop such eventualities is the ministry concerned to come up with a by-law that will see developers engage the services of professionals who will in turn take responsibility if the building is not properly done.

“Right now we cannot tell who was responsible for this building because in the first place there was no signboard as required by the rules to indicate who the technical team were and this makes it hard to hold anybody accountable for the loss of lives as witnessed here,” noted Maweu.

Bleak future

He pointed out that if the current trends in the building industry are anything to go by then the future looks bleak in the industry. There is need to make professionals take responsibility for their mistakes, which Maweu argues will discourage quacks operating in the industry.

Augustine Masinde, the director of Physical Planning in the Ministry of Lands says that the siting of buildings is not the issue but the technical side to the building such as designing, architectural work and the engineering work involved.

Masinde notes that most developers want to make money hence they opt to cut costs at the expense of the occupants in case the buildings crumbles. He, however, takes issue with the licensing authorities and public health officials who allow such buildings to be occupied before they are completed.

Oundo maintained that there was a great doubt if there was an occupational certificate issued before the businesses were set up in the incomplete building.

“Most likely there was no occupational certificate which is mandatory before any building is declared safe for occupation,” says Oundo.

Professionals finally agree that the Mavoko County Council should not have allowed the building’s construction to continue with all the visible anomalies arguing that the council should be held responsible. They are also of the view that unless the government through relevant authorities does something radical then the sad scenes like Mlolongo could be replicated elsewhere.

Mavoko town clerk Joshua Sitienei said that investigations by the council had revealed that there were structural defects with the building, but maintained that the council could not be held responsible for the tragedy because the developer engaged poor workmanship and kept evading regulation officers by building over the weekends. He insisted that the council halted further construction of the building in December 2011.


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