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Kenya: Ministry of Works Finding Its Way Out Of The Woods

Chris Obure

According to the Kenyan Economic Survey 2011, an ongoing effort to improve the construction industry has seen cement consumption rise by 16.2 per cent to 3.1million tonnes in 2010, compared to 2.7 million tonnes in 2009. In addition, the total value of reported private building works completed in selected main towns grew significantly from Sh 21.8 billion in 2009 to Sh 37.3 billion in 2010.

However, there is need for a rethink and new laws for the multi-billion shilling construction industry. The industry has been in a shambles from corruption, rogue practitioners, poor capacity, funding and irregularities. Public Works Minister Chris Obure says these are some of the problems the industry has to overcome for its full potential to be realized.

The minister said in his presentation at the Institute of Quantity Surveyors (IQSK) that the industry urgently needs radical reforms that will allow regulation and provide a level playing field for local construction companies. “We are keen to enact the Quantity Surveyors Bill into an Act of Parliament,” Obure said.

The expected reforms include the creation of the National Construction Authority that aims at streamlining the construction sector through registration and regulation of the industry.

The Quantity Surveyors Act once enacted will allow the creation of a Quantity Surveyors Registration Board that will have powers to register quality surveyors in accordance with the provision of the act. The board will maintain the register of quantity surveyors as well as hear and determine complaints against quality surveyors.

The IQSK says that the existing Act that was enacted in 1934 and has hardly been updated. It has outlived its usefulness and is out of tune with the current trends in the construction industry. “As a profession we believe time has come for the enactment of a law specifically to govern our profession and facilitate us to exploit our full potential.”

The institute says quantity surveyors are no longer limited to the construction of buildings. They are cost engineers involved in civil engineering contracts, roads, bridges and other major construction jobs.

Yusuf Chanzu, a member of parliament and also a member of IQSK says the Building code is a stumbling block in the construction of affordable houses. Chanzu says the current code requires developers to use outdated technology, procedures and materials that contribute to the high cost of construction. “We need laws that will allow use of cheaper technology that will result in affordable low cost houses, schools and health centers’,” he says.

The ministry says they are determined to correct a wrong “perception of a lethargic ministry that is erratic and slow in delivering services.” The ministry has been criticized by its stakeholders, including clients and the public for inflating costs of projects, delays and inefficiency.

One of the accusations in the public domain was from the Ministry of Education claiming that the Ministry of Public Works inflated the cost of building classrooms across the country under the stimulus package. The ministry’s chief quantity surveyor, Moses Nyakiongora said during the ministry and contractors conference the accusation was not professional and was rather based on assumptions.

“My colleagues and stakeholders have confronted me with complaints about payments, delays and the high costs of projects,” Chris Obure says. “This is a matter of great concern that needs urgent attention. Some ministries have stopped using our services and instead are going ahead to implement projects even when they do not have the capacity to do so.”

The minister has urged heads of department of the ministry to make deliberate efforts to change the image of the ministry. “We must improve the image by improving the delivery of service particularly in terms of time and quality of output,” he said. During the meeting it was agreed that all outstanding stalled projected should be completed across the country.

The minister said “we will not allow what has happened in the past where mega projects have been started and let to stall for decades, happen again. Such projects have gobbled huge sums of taxpayers’ money and have been the major cause of the poor public image.”

The ministry says the heads of departments are carrying out regular inspections of the various projects being undertaken by the ministry to unravel the problems that have led to delays in completion of projects.

Additionally, the minister says they have formed three teams that are in operation for a more efficient system to ensure timely completion of the projects: A team that harmonizes projects and fast tracks them, a team that sorts out payment problems, and a quality assurance team regularly carrying out monitoring and evaluation of the projects.

However, during the ministry and contractors conference the local contractors said for the image of the ministry to be realized it has a challenge of putting its house in order and building the capacity of local contractors financially, skill wise and in technology transfer.

About Robert Okemwa Onsare

Robert Okemwa Onsare
Robert Onsare is pursuing Electronics Technology at the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton. He is a Cluster Strategy trained facilitator by Kenya's National Economic and Social Council (NESC). Mr Onsare has been an incubation student at the University of Nairobi, School of Engineering, FabLab, a venture project of the university and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is a member of the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) and a published poet. Mr Onsare is based in Kenya.

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