The death of eight pupils last week at Precious Talents School in Nairobi where a classroom collapsed has brought to the fore the Kenyan culture of tolerating mediocre construction.
It is as if cutting corners is ingrained in our culture. No wonder we celebrate those who have taken short cuts into wealth.
Vernacular music is replete with compositions praising people who have stolen their way into leadership. This is an anti-thesis of what great communities embrace.
We must begin to think about safety culture (beliefs, perceptions and values that people share in relation to risks within the community).
We are pretending to forget that several houses have recently collapsed in Nairobi and elsewhere. A national audit by the Government early this year revealed that more than 12,185 houses were unsuitable for use.
After demolishing 57 of them, the exercise was abandoned. Real estate is owed by “powerful people”, some, the untouchables, in leadership positions. .
The former Public Works, Housing and Infrastructure Principal Secretary Paul Maringa, admitted that many of these houses are not fit for use.
Indeed, an architect has said if we were to demolish inhabitable houses in Nairobi alone “it will look like war torn Aleppo in Syria.” He effectively was saying that only a few structures meet the standards.
Mediated blame games are a diversionary tactic to deflect attention from those who should have taken responsibility and resigned but didn’t.
We have seen such neglect of duty so many times that the only thing we are sure about is the fact that soon another building will collapse and kill people, sparking off another round of blame games.
It is time we drew a line on the sand and said no more mediocrity in the construction industry. That means we have to put mechanisms in place to check one another.
New technologies like Blockchain (a distributed ledger system) could deal with the blatant tampering of systems seen in Nairobi. Blockchain has such mechanisms where everybody charged with the responsibility will append their approval in what is referred to as smart contracts such that they cannot repudiate their responsibility in tragedies like at Precious Talent School.
Emerging exponential technologies like Blockchain could be effective as tool in fighting corruption. It is perhaps the best solution to streamline our construction industry and ensure safety of the buildings.
A July 26 2019, article, “How Blockchain Will Change Construction,” by Don Tapscott and Ricardo Viana Vargas in the Harvard Business Review, says success in using Blockchain depends on mobilising resources across enterprise boundaries; where identities, contracts, and payments must be audited and protected; and where the provenance and ownership of assets must be tracked.
Some ideas around this new approach include a reputation ledger that tracks subcontractors’ deliverables could help to identify reliable subcontractors for a project; smart contracts that identify accountabilities and trigger milestone-based payments could automate agreements; blockchain-enabled applications that aggregate data into a shared project management dashboard could help to manage workflow; a distributed ledger that keeps an end-to-end chronicle of the construction process could record all building inputs and assets, including warranties and maintenance checkpoints; and blockchain-enabled apps that track materials, testing, and results against building codes and standards could streamline inspections.
In simple language, the distributed ledger could help identify ownership, contractors, architects, planners, inspectors and even city leadership that no one escapes in the event tragedy strikes and blame game ensues as it has been happening in the past.
The ledger indeed could be made public such that anyone, including tax authorities, and civil society could know the true owners of the assets. This is important especially in effectively dealing with land grapping in this country.
Blockchain as a mitigation measure for the runaway greed in real estate can transform both our culture and the construction industry to ensure safety of housing in the country.