Address the rot in construction industry

Days after a building collapsed in Huruma, we can pick our minds soberly and see what joke housing has become in the country.

This comes just over a month after another four-storey building collapsed in Zimmerman, attracting similar headlines. Last year, buildings collapsed one after another; all a familiar script.

As corpses repose in the debris waiting for someone to discover their existence in Huruma, too many questions stand in the face of our Real Estate and construction industry. Most prominently, substandard reigns supreme again, and we have no idea whom to blame.

We have played cat and mouse games for too long. A majority of people in urban areas are clicking TV remotes on comfortable sofas, all housed in ticking time bombs that are their houses. Just like Huruma, they have no idea when the walls and roofs will fall on them.

As this happens, we have bodies that should provide checks, such as the National Construction Authority, Architects Association of Kenya, National Housing Corporation and County Governments.

So far, blame is being thrown all over but there is nobody specific taking any responsibility. Nairobi Deputy Governor Jonathan Mueke said over 70 per cent of buildings in Nairobi had not been approved by the county government.

You cannot be sure whether yours is encapsulated in that bracket but if you look close, you can tell. Take a walk in Nairobi’s Pipeline and Tassia areas in Embakasi, Magorofani in Imara Daima, Githurai, Roysambu, Umoja, Ruaka, Satellite, Ruaraka and more: In these areas, there are flats which from eye view, look like trouble.

More than once, you have seen on land that was desperately swampy and not fit for any form of construction, towering flats in less than six months. When people start moving into these flats, you hold your breath. You can tell they have a problem, but sadly, are among the most affordable.

They attract customers faster, because the rent rates fall within their income bracket. Then comes comments like that of Nairobi County’s deputy governor saying the Huruma building was not approved by the county, and you confirm your fears: the industry is just as rogue as it looks.

Last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered an audit of city buildings after a series of tragedies. In the President’s order, City Hall and the Land ministry were to conduct an audit of all buildings and submit a report within three months. Unless you work closely with these two authorities, you, like me, have not seen that report.

The only report I remember is an audit by Contract Service Associates Ltd in collaboration with the International Code Council last year. It said that between 80 and 90 per cent of buildings in Nairobi are unsafe for human occupation and do not conform to building regulations and standards.

It further showed that approximately 75 per cent of buildings within the CBD in Nairobi lack certificates of occupation from City Hall. It was the report that said any building that goes above four floors must have a lift.

Already, a characteristic of our perennial knee jerk reaction, a special team has been set up to investigate and prosecute those culpable in the collapse of the building in Huruma.

According to a report on local media, the building inspectorate secretary in the Public Works Ministry, Moses Nyakiohoro, said a total of 2,601 buildings have been inspected in a bid to clear the county of dangerous structures.

He revealed that in Huruma alone, 57 out of nearly 500 buildings already inspected don’t meet structural standards and face demolition if they fail further tests that are expected to be done soon. Institute of Engineers of Kenya chair, Eng.

Michael Okonji, accused private developers of using shortcuts by hiring quacks during construction and ignoring licensed engineers. So far, all the stakeholders have an idea where the problem is.

The blame game is so circular; you cannot justify the existence of some of these authorities. There is so much to blame, but nobody really taking responsibility. The research, reports, statistics and numbers have always been there.

What lacks is not the information on what ails the industry, but the will to act on that information. As rescuers search the rubble to save one or two lives, the government, and other stakeholders in Kenya’s real estate could save more lives by getting their act together, and doing their job while at it.

If everyone is coming out right now and pointing fingers, giving seriously nauseating revelations and absolving themselves from blame, then how do we justify the existence of these authorities? Everyone should just wake up, get their act together and do their job.