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City electronic building permit system fails to deliver, architects say

By , People Daily Digital
Friday, September 17th, 2021 00:00 | 3 mins read

The Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) has expressed its concerns over three-month downtime the electronic construction permitting systems has been experiencing.

The online building permit system has since its implementation failed to deliver on its promise on easing challenges the industry hoped it would serve.

Primed as one that would inject professionalism, efficiency and transparency in the issuance of building permits while eradicating corruption, the e-permitting system known as the Electronic Development Application Management System (e- DAMS) has continued to experience major problems over the last decade, affecting the counties that have deployed it. e-DAMS was built for Nairobi and has since been adopted at six other counties — Mombasa, Kiambu, Machakos, Kisumu, Kajiado and Kilifi.

“We can state that the electronic con- struction permitting systems are not performing as expected by the industry.

A serious problem that continues to disrupt the professional practice of our members and investments in real estate is the frequent disruptions caused by system down- times.

This has been a regular occurrence. The most recent situation, for example, is that the Nairobi permitting system has not been operational for more than three months this year, impacting negatively on real estate developments in the city,” said Wilson Mugambi, AAK president.

A survey conducted among AAK mem- bers to establish an understanding of the e-DAMs in the period between August 10 to August 12, 2021 brought to light a num- ber of worrying trends that could negatively affect the city’s investment climate.

“From the survey, 46.7 per cent of the respondents indicated they had to wait for over six months for their applications to be processed/granted approval,” said Mugambi. A developer, James Mwangi says he ap- plied for a permit with Nairobi Metropoli- tan Services (NMS) to put up a five-storey flat in Mathare North before the pandemic.

However, waiting for approval of the permit has been a nightmare. “I had taken a loan from a bank. I don’t know what to do with the cash and the rising interest,” said Mwangi who noted that the contractor threatens legal suit for breach of contract.

The outcry by Mwangi is echoed in other counties, such as Mombasa, Kiambu, Machakos, Kisumu, Kajiado and Kilifi, says Mugambi. According to the Economic Survey 2020, there was a drop of the value of private buildings plans approved and completed buildings issued with certificate of occu- pancy by Nairobi City County (NCC) for the period 2016 to 2020.

The value of building plans approved decreased by 26 per cent from Sh207.6 bil- lion in 2019 to Sh153.6 billion in 2020, says the economic report. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics survey, State Department for Housing and National Housing Corporation (NHC) completed 2,332 and 338 units respectively, of public residential buildings.

The value of public buildings completed increased significantly to Sh9.1 billion in 2020 from Sh1,51 billion recorded in 2019.

Total value of completed private buildings in the Nairobi City County increased by 6.4 per cent from Sh94.0 billion in 2019 to Sh100 billion in 2020.

Need for technology

The State Department of Housing is expected to receive Sh18.1 billion in the period 2020/21, which is a 35.1 per cent de- crease from Sh27.9 billion received in the period 2019/20.

“An efficient technology-led application and processing system would have led to much more progress,” Mu- gambi told a press conference in Nairobi recently.

From the survey of members, Mugambi said in Half-One (H’1) of 2020, NMS received a total of 970 building applications, 664 planning applications, and 866 renovation works applications.

There was a drop this year during the same period with NMS received 626 building applications, 598 planning applications, and 512 renovation works applications.

his is a clear indication that e-DAM has failed the industry as well as the county. This function has historically been controversial marked with inefficiencies, corruption, loss of records among many other ills.

The AAK survey also found that county governments have weak technical capacity to manage development control. Delay was compounded when NMS sus- pended hundreds of construction projects following a breach of the online application system two years ago.

NMS Deputy Director-General Kangethe Thuku confirmed the report and said hackers gained access to the system’s Quick Response (QR) code and effected numerous illegal approvals, prompting officials to shut it down.

Collapse of buildings

AAK further dissociated itself from the fiasco of collapsing buildings in the country, passing the back to failure by developers and contractors to seek pro- fessional services.

“Developers are known to take short cuts instead of adhering to set regulations, they then end up losing developments worth millions of shillings,” said Mugambi.

He faulted county governments for failing to hire and retain duly qualified persons, capable of efficiently carrying out this technical role, leaving the essential functions, such as review and approval of technical drawings, inspection of construction projects to untrained persons.

Professionals in the industry and property developers are forced to contend with the unnecessary delays due to what has been presented as ‘technical challenges’ to the systems.

“It is worth noting that this sector is a major revenue earner for the county governments, raised from the construction permitting fees levied on developers,” he said, while insisting on adequate budgetary allocations to ensure that the development control function, as a major revenue source, functions efficiently.