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Demolitions haunt construction business

Flattening of illegal constructions set to continue in counties as contractors and developers decry loss of investor confidence in sector

Contractors responsible for putting up properties illegally and which the State has targeted for demolition have exonerated themselves from blame. 

Stakeholders and legal experts single out corruption as the biggest threat to the multi-billion-construction industry. They are now demanding for sanity to be restored in the sector to avoid future demolitions of buildings.

Already, contractors say, the demolitions had negatively impacted on their credibility even as experts blamed them for failing to carryout due diligence. For instance, the issuance of compliance certificates by members of State multi-agencies responsible for construction projects targeted for demolition is affecting tender awards for some of them because of mistakes committed by others.

Corrupt officers

The contractors were speaking to Boma on the sidelines of the three-day Big Five Construct East Africa Exhibition and Conference event at the Kenyatta International Covention Centre (KICC), Nairobi, recently. “Demolitions have tainted the image of some of us, yet the culprits who issued relevant documents are still free,” complained Edgar Towett from Detch International Construction.

Dennis Busienei of Mobek Works Company Limited, a construction firm that majors in carrying out jobs in Bomet county, said investors are having second thoughts in awarding tenders to the firm. “We should not be penalised because of the mistakes of others. To property owners, demolition is a big loss. Alternatives need to be designed before the exercise is carried out,” he said.

Legal experts and other stakeholders at the forum blamed corrupt practices in public offices for the national crisis.  According to Gilbert Lukhobe from Ethics Anti Corruption Commission (EACC), “The bigger the budget, the bigger the risk of corruption.”

Lawyer Joash Dache from the Kenya Law Reform Commission says the massive amount of the cash involved in putting up projects makes it possible for corruption to thrive in the multi-billion shilling construction industry. “People should not be allowed to thrive in anarchy if peace is to prevail. Today, there are too many laws to guide the construction industry,” said Dache, who proposed the setting up of a single regulatory authority to contain corruption.

Multi-agency approvals

According to Transparency Internationals’ Samuel Kimeu, construction is expensive and this makes it more complex in a scenario where a few people have control and huge amounts of money change hands regardless of legal measures on sites. “This makes it possible to disregard rules to put up structures. Documents are issued from different desks and multi-agencies. Some 25 to 30 per cent of the development budget is lost to corruption through procurement,” said Kimeu.

Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA) chief executive officer, Henry Ochieng, says there is need to reintroduce sanity in the construction industry as land grabbers are putting up structures in open spaces, road reserves and public places.

Focus on property demolitions carried out because of various reasons after a brief lull will in coming weeks get ‘devolved’ to the counties when the National Construction Authority (NCA) moves to execute phase two of the exercise.

Mombasa, Kajiado and Machakos are the next stop for the demolition squad, according to the NCA regional offices manager, Stephen Mwilu.  He defended the demolitions as a first step necessary for the purposes of returning sanity in the multi billion-construction industry.

Mwilu said the lull on demolitions presented a chance to stakeholders to raise resources before NCA shifts the flatenning exercise to devolved units. Speaking at the The Big 5 Construct East Africa conference, Mwilu said the demolitions are for re-development purposes.

He asked owners of investments sitting on riparian land, along way leaves, in areas title deeds are being revoked to voluntarily demolish the properties such as happening in Kilimani and Kileleshwa before excavators arrive.

“Demolitions have been painful to investors. But we have no regret. Sanity in the sector has to be reclaimed,” Mwilu said, insisting the exercise will continue.

Among alternatives being looked into are ways of placing various multi- agency bodies under a ‘one-stop-shop’ if corruption in the construction sector is to be brought to an end by sharing property information before compliance documents are issued. “Alternatives to demolitions are possible. A one-stop-shop will enable documentation be under taken under one roof,” said Mwilu, a measure, he said, will aid the war against corruption.

National Environment management Authority (NEMA) has mainly been targeted for condemnation in recent demotions for issuing compliance certificates wrongly. Other agencies involved in construction approvals are the Water Resources Management Authority, ministry of Lands that issues titles and NCA.

Among legislations that stakeholders propose be re-examined is the Riparian law, the Physical Planning Act and the 1948 maps that spell out the extent of riparian land.

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