Impunity in construction industry claiming lives
The victims of the building that collapsed in Nairobi’s Tassia estate on December 6 must be a lonely lot as they nurse their wounds and bury their dead.
There are no high-powered calls for the arrest of those responsible for putting up the structure, no ambulance chasers promising to pay medical and burial costs, and they will have to do without a ‘live’ inter-religious service.
No one has put in place a structure for contributions to support the victims sheltered at the Tassia Catholic Church.
Yet ten people are dead, scores injured and more than 40 homes destroyed. The people of Tassia must be ghetto citizens of a lesser god from the Third World where the loss of each life does not matter.
They will bury their dead and deal with the tragedy of reconstructing their shattered lives, homes, businesses and everything they have lost.
In one of the usual knee-jerk reactions that follow such tragedies, the National Buildings Inspectorate (NBI) was formed in 2017 to audit the building industry. Of the 6,108 buildings it audited, 2028 were found to be unsafe for habitation.
The green Sany excavator became a dominant feature in the news as it demolished sub-standard buildings and those build on road reserves and riparian land in the city. The momentum died out and life went on.
But many buildings remain a disaster waiting to happen.
The blame game continues. The Association of Construction Managers of Kenya has asked the NBI to declare whether the Tassia building was among those declared unfit for occupation during the audit.
Activist Eric Ambuche, who works in the area, reportedly warned the National Construction Agency (NCA) of imminent danger two months before the building collapsed.
The NCA is the agency responsible for regulation and coordination of the construction industry.
This raises several questions. How many building were evacuated after the audit? How many buildings are still being put up without approved plans, proper supervision and requisite materials?
What is the point of preparing audit reports after tragedies that could have been prevented?
To be fair, both organisations have done some work. The NBI website suggests that 549 buildings have been demolished and 662 repaired.
But the audit report is not even available on the website which does not say much for an inspectorate tasked with ensuring conformity with safety standards for one of the most important sectors.
Then there is the owner of the building, only identified as Mama Kanyoni, who has remained at large amid claims that she is untouchable.
There are claims that she owns several buildings similar to the one that collapsed.
What efforts have been made to identify and question her? What about the people who approved the architectural and structural plans including the City County - Development Control Section and the NCA?
Was due diligence carried out on the contractors who put up the building? How can people trust buildings to be safe if standards for best practice are not applied at every level?
What are the consequences for failure to put in place rules on safety and quality? What about buildings that do not have fire escapes, proper sewerage disposal systems, ventilation and lighting?
Much more needs to be done to improve the safety supervision system and harmonise and enforce standards.
For now, this laissez-faire mentality that is more pronounced in low-income neighbourhoods needs to be tamed. — The writer is a journalist and communications practitioner