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Stop empty rhetoric and act on negligent building agencies

By Nashon Okowa | October 12th 2019 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Building collapses in Kenya is well-documented in various task force reports gathering dust on shelves. Forget the recent tongue-in-cheek talk from various leaders after the Precious Talent School tragedy. We have been accustomed to such political promises after such incidences.

From Huruma building collapse, to Kware-Embakasi, Kisii etc, this is a road we have painfully walked before to the drums of empty rhetoric. As is the norm, the very agencies mandated to carry out oversight are the first at the scene to be surprised by the state of the tragedy like all of us.

The National Building Inspectorate never fails to shamelessly use such platforms to remind us of their findings indicting several buildings across the city as poorly constructed. A report many Kenyans have demanded, rightfully so, in vain to be published.

Don’t we, at the very least, deserve to know these buildings that are a danger to our lives? Or was the report’s purpose to remind us at every building collapse tragedy that there are more similar buildings?

And then there is the county government, which always feigns ignorance after every tragedy. This time, the governor even went further to suspend his county planning department for flouting zoning regulations.

What zoning regulations exist in this city to be flouted in the first place? Are they referring to the medieval city zoning policies that still states, for example, that zones three and four of Kilimani, Kileleshwa and Westlands should not have four-storey flats? Really?

It is evident that no development in the last decade or so came even close to achieving this regulation. Flats of 12, 13 or even 15 storeys are now the norm.

Even so, common sense will remind you that it is impossible to even adhere to such a policy in this age. The cost of land in these areas would make any project unfeasible at four-storey height. Not to mention our high population and urbanisation growth rates.

It doesn’t matter who sits at the helm of the city’s planning department unless the zoning policy is regularised to reflect the current times. As it is, the planning department dwelling, like Lot’s in the Bible, is set up at the doors of Sodom.

Let us spare them the inevitable temptation by providing an up-to-date zoning policy. Who doesn’t know that contractors budget for county building inspectors during construction period? The abnormality is failing to budget.

I have written before on the challenges the National Construction Authority (NCA) faces in inspecting buildings. Scrapping of NCA levy was in bad taste as it has hindered the authority’s activities. If you are going to set up an effective robust watchman for the construction industry, you must as well properly fund it.

Scrapping of NCA levy has diverted the authority’s attention to revenue collection activities at the expense of their critical role. Oversight. What is the ratio of building inspectors to ongoing constructions across the country? Get down to the construction works in the villages, you will accept that we live at the mercy of God.

Lest we be fooled, evil has an ordinary face. It cries, it laughs, makes promises or even deflects. The promises of victim compensation and no stone will be left unturned must cease.

Think about it: Has anyone ever been sentenced because of their negligence after a building collapses? I can’t remember any. People kill through greed and walk free knowing we will all just move on. But for how long? When will we begin to hold construction agencies to account when lives are lost due to their negligence?

- The writer is chairman of Association of Construction Managers of Kenya. [email protected]

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