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The real reason buildings are collapsing

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Most developers follow the due process up to the point when the actual building breaks ground. PHOTO | POOL

Kennedy Wanyonyi worked as a casual labourer at a construction site of an apartment that recently collapsed in the wider Eastlands area of Tassia.

His daily routine included mixing concrete popularly known as ‘koroga’ and transporting blocks as requested by the masons.

He had worked for three months, on and off, before moving to the next assignment.

“Every time we were stopped and recalled, the bosses (supervisors) were different. We cared less about the changes and just carried on with our work,” says Mr Wayonyi.

“The last I saw is that the building had collapsed.”

This scenario is repeated in many constructions known as ‘mjengo’ sites across the city.

Experts in the building industry are on a consensus that regular changes in the people managing a construction site are the first on a list of red herrings of the many things that end up going wrong during the construction process of buildings.

Changes in people supervising a construction site signify a disagreement in terms of work, which often means not agreeing on costs, materials and adherence to the laid down construction manual as prescribed at the time of approval.

According to Patrick Maimba, senior lecturer at the Department of Civil and Construction Engineering at the University of Nairobi, the recent spate of substandard buildings collapsing in Nairobi and its environs is the culmination of developers not engaging qualified professionals at every stage of the construction process as is required when carrying out such an undertaking.

“Developers want to use the least amount of resources to maximise returns on the buildings they put up, not knowing that this is a very expensive route to take,” says Mr Maimba.

“It is an attitude thing. And that engaging qualified professionals is expensive.”

He opines that most developers follow the due process up to the point when the actual building breaks ground.

Mr Maimba says developers religiously follow the required script as far as engaging architects for building plans, contracting engineers to validate the practicability of the plans and securing approvals from the national and local authorities.

From that moment, the rules of the jungle take over.

“After acquiring the necessary approvals as signed and recommended by qualified professionals in the construction industry, (some) developers jump ship and opt for these fellows we call fundis who masquerade as engineers and architects,” says Mr Maimba.

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A recent report by the Institute of Engineers of Kenya (IEK) corroborates the engineer’s standpoint.

In the report launched some years back and which no action seems to have been taken, IEK identified not engaging qualified professionals in the built industry as one of the key reasons for substandard construction.

Nahashon Rop, an architect and founder of Design14 agrees.

“The key players in any construction project are the structural engineer and the architect. These two professionals need to be present at every stage of construction for site visits and approvals. Unfortunately, this comes with a cost,” says Mr Rop.

An engineer and an architect are paid 1.25 per cent of the cost of the construction to generate structural and architectural drawings, which are then used for building approvals.

But why avoid professionals?

Industry players say before one contracts architects and engineers, the first need to identify and purchase a parcel of land with a valid title.

According to Annette Wambui, a registered real estate agent at Zone Ace Properties, sourcing for land to build on also attracts fees and commissions.

“An estate agent will be paid about three per cent of the value of land as commission to locate and follow through the process of validating the title of a land parcel.”

Active construction also has its set of fees. Kennedy Oketch, project manager at Jpark, developers bear many inspection and approval costs, some even before they start the construction process.

“Getting approval at any level is not a straightforward process,” says Mr Oketch.

“One has to negotiate their way for the approvals and inspections to be carried out even with all documentation rightfully at hand and in line with the requirements. It is possible that because of the costs, developers try to look for a way out.”

Industry guidelines indicate the costs to be about 16 per cent of the cost of the project. Developers are often forced to negotiate with professionals for a one-off advisory at three per cent to six per cent.

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In addition to this, a developer is required to get environmental impact assessment approval from the National Environment Management Authority. Ideally, this is meant to be technically free but players say one spends between one and two per cent to get approval.

Then there is the physical planning approval, health and safety and occupation approval. Structural physical planning approval is pegged at Sh50,000 but in a real sense, developers pay as high as Sh320,000.

Architectural planning is charged at Sh252 per square metre.

In addition, a developer is required to pay for permission to cut trees at the site, Sh3,000, permission to build temporary structures at the site to house materials and workforce, Sh20,000, erect a signboard, Sh30,000, and build toilets at the site Sh10,000.

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