Archive for June, 2013

#Corruption in the construction industry: Whom to blame? NCC? buildings owners? Masons? me? you?

June 24, 2013

Recently I was having a lighthearted chart a few construction workers who were laying a foundation for multi storied building. One of the workers shouted “kanjo! kanjo!” and everyone stopped breathing, until they realized he was kidding and let out a sigh of relief. This really piqued my interest. I couldn’t figure out why the city council would bother them. I mean, it’s not like they were hawking stuff on the nearby street or something. And besides,i reckoned that to start building a house in Nairobi the owner and the masons must have passed all possible tests, including having a license to drive a motorbike..

Turns out I was wrong. The guys told me that the city council officers can suddenly happen at a site and ask for the head honcho in the group. If the foreman is absent, they’d ask for the next senior mason present. They’d demand for the production of “the map”, and failure to produce one meant that the worker would end up at City hall courts on his(rarely her) way to industrial area’s remand prison. It’s rare that matters got this far as some owners would make sure the person is “released” through some deals costing in the upwards of Ksh.50,000. Most knowledgeable owners made sure that the foreman had some ksh.30,000 or so at hand to forestall such unnecessary wastage of manpower hours. Most of the workers at the site were old hands in the industry, and proceeded to harangue us with stories of encounters with the city council askaris at various construction cites. In fact, Masons said that one of the main criteria for working on a building was the relationship the owner and/or the foreman had with the city council officials. They intimated that a foreman with a poor record of “letting the workers hang” would eventually find it hard going getting Masons. I didn’t get to know exactly what “the map” actually was or the legal penalties for not having it at the site. I couldn’t believe the extent of corruption in the city council building department at this era when buildings were collapsing allover town as a houses of cards, and at will.

Saying that I was incensed is an understatement. I was ready to start a demonstration against this kind of impunity. Then questions bubbled in my mind: why didn’t they have “the map” to start with? If the map was this important to the city council,what does that say about the safety of the houses we live in? Who is to be blamed for this particular kind of corruption that daily endangers our lives?

Having no easy answers to these questions, I proceeded to entertain the thought of demonstrating against the police who carryout “msako”,net only innocent guys,get money from them and the poor end up in remand, charged with ridiculous offenses. I remember a case of a pastor who was charged with “being drunk and behaving in a disorderly manner” yet he was caught returning home from “ushirika” at 7:30 p.m. I dropped this line of thought as I wasn’t so sure I was prepared to end up behind bars charged with robbery with violence or worse..