Following the incident of a building that collapsed in Huruma estate and many other cases of substandard buildings across the country, Kara sought the views of Prof. Paul Mwangi, the Principal Secretary (PS) for Public Works at the Ministry of Land, Housing & Urban Development. Below is the response from the PS. 

1. What exactly is the role of the Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development (State Department of Public Works) in ensuring that buildings in Kenya are safe, healthy and functional?

The Ministry has three State departments with the following mandates that incline to this matter:

  • State Department of Land: Ensures developers have proof of ownership in form of Title deeds; Guides the process of physical planning upon which all development is set.
  • State Department of Housing: Provides framework for housing provision, management and maintenance nationally.
  • State Department of Public works: Sets standards & regulates the building industry through the:
  • National Construction Authority (NCA) that regulates construction sites, as well as contractors and their labour, while improving their skills.
  • The National Building Inspectorate (NBI) audits buildings for conformity with land registration, planning, zoning, building standards and structural soundness.
  • The Board of Registration of Architects & Quantity Surveyors (BORAQS) that licenses Architects and Quantity surveyors.
  • Kenya Building Research Centre (KBRC) the spearheads innovation and research in the industry.
  1. The collapsed Huruma building should have been demolished immediately it was identified as being unsafe. Why didn’t this happen?
  • Demolition of buildings must follow laid down procedures in order for the exercise to stay within the confines of the law. It is important that residents are served notice by the Nairobi County Government, to vacate any such residences and accorded ample time to leave within the context of the level of risk. This was done. 
  • Building owners are simultaneously also issued notice of the intended evacuation and demolition and given first option to demolish and salvage any materials they deem useful.
  • It is only when they fail to comply that forced demolition is resorted to directly by the County Government working with the NBI and as has happened in the past assisted by the National Youth Service (NYS).
  • Delays in compliance therefore can squarely be blamed on residents and developers. Where there is rapid compliance by residents, demolitions can be achieved real-time as the critical risk is the welfare of residents. Residents are advised to embrace government advice on their safety positively and respond positively and in haste for their own sakes.
  1. There are many buildings that are structurally unsound like the collapsed Huruma building. Has the Ministry carried out an audit to ascertain how many they are and where they are located? Are there plans for immediate evacuation and demolition of such buildings?
  • In May of 2015, the NBI working in concert with the County Government and the NCA concluded an audit of 2,601 buildings in Nairobi. This exercise identified defective buildings in Huruma/Kiamaiko (55).  It proceeded on in December 2015 to identify more defective buildings in Umoja (28), Dagoretti (16), Zimmerman (29), Thome Estate & Marurui (9), Githurai 44 (16), Garden Estate, Mirema (1), Roysambu (11), Ngei Estate (2), Kahawa west (3), Riruta, Dagoretti, Waithaka and Ruthimitu & Uthiru (16).  Starting this year the exercise moved on to Baba Dogo, and Nairobi South B.  Currently, it is ongoing at Nairobi West.
  • A total of 226 buildings have so far been found to be unsafe and are tagged for demolition but with a priori consensus of conclusive tests for structural soundness by the Materials Branch of the Ministry of Infrastructure releases. Notice of evacuation is issued by the Nairobi County Government as the audit progresses.  Notice for demolition was also issued for all these faulty buildings and has recently been reinforced with follow up notices by the Nairobi County Government and the NBI jointly as witnessed in Huruma near the site of the collapsed structure last week.
  • A good number of other buildings like the one that collapsed in Huruma have been erected illegally on Riparian land and all these really must be brought down.  There are a considerable number of others that have taken up road reserves and land preserved for community facilities.  These also ought to be removed.
  1. Demolition of unsafe buildings is a reactive and short term measure that may not be sustainable. What preventive measures have been put in place to ensure such buildings don’t come up in the first place?
  • Strict adherence to the law by all citizens and close monitoring of compliance by the regulatory agencies is the only sustainable approach that will stem this tide of impunity by developers of annexing public land and invading riparian land, while also churning out structurally unstable and hygienically unacceptable buildings. To this extent, the State Department of Public Works is seeking a multi-agency platform of all players in the industry that regulate construction for purposes of peer monitoring and synergizing a coherent united approach to address these challenges.
  • Further we graduated over 120 planners, architects and engineers and health officers from 22 counties.  These graduates were taken through an intensive training on Building Inspection and taken for a one day field work exercise in Zimmerman and Huruma.  They will commence practical inspections in their respective counties on the 10th of May.  From this group and another from the remaining 24 counties (Nairobi staff are already engaged in audits), we intended to develop a national audit report by the close of June so the nation is well guided.
  1. What role should residents associations play to support Government efforts towards ensuring that buildings are safe, healthy and functional?
    Residents are on the location where all abuses of zoning and building regulations are taking place.  For this reason they are most strategically placed to detect the malpractice on the ground as it emerges and also pick out the culprits.  They are the first line of defense to help stop the vice before it escalates to complete buildings. We have set out a programme to train residents nationwide so they can play this role effectively and therefore complement the work of the NBI and County governments.  This training will be rolled out in the months of May and June 2016, starting off with a 4-day Training of Trainer (ToT) session in the Public Works Club in the next two weeks.