Collapsed building: How KCCA abandoned its watchdog role

Tuesday September 14 2021
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An excavator digs through the rubble of the collapsed building in Kisenyi, Kampala, last week. PHOTO / ISMAIL KEZAALA

By Amos Ngwomoya

Last week, a building under construction in Kisenyi, Kampala, caved in, leaving at least six people dead and three injured.

According to investigations conducted by the National Building Review Board (NBRB), the developer of the ill-fated structure, Mr Harunah Ssentongo, did not have approved building plans, used counterfeit building materials, and used unprofessional architects and engineers.

The board also found out that building inspectors from Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) failed to carry out their supervisory role. The developer is still on the run.

Those who are supposed to enforce building standards accuse each other of ‘not doing enough’ to mitigate the collapse of  city structures.

However, investigations by Daily Monitor show that both KCCA and NBRB board abandoned their watchdog role, which gave leeway to the developer to continue with illegal construction.

This newspaper has further established that at the time Mr Ssentongo started construction, the building inspector for Kampala Central Division, which also covers Kisenyi, Mr Benjamin Ntege, had resigned.

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Mr Ntege confirmed his resignation to this newspaper last week but declined to disclose why he did so. 

However, KCCA did not appoint another building inspector.

Having learnt of the illegal structure, KCCA’s physical planner for Central Division, Mr Villey Agaba, wrote a June 30 removal notice to Mr Ssentongo asking him to halt the construction works and provide him with a valid approved plan, and name of building inspector.

But Mr Ssentongo reportedly defied the notice and continued with the illegal construction.

On July 29, Mr Agaba issued an enforcement notice to Mr Ssentongo warning him against the ongoing works, and gave him 28 days to remove the structure. The city authority only pulls down an illegal structure after the 28 days.

Under the KCCA structure, building permission is issued by physical planning committee while permission to demolish is granted by the building committee.

The physical planning committee falls under the directorate of physical planning while the building committee falls under the directorate of engineering and technical services. When we asked Mr Agaba why he didn’t cause the demolition, he said it was the work of the building committee.

Daily Monitor has learnt that even after the expiry of the notice, the building committee didn’t demolish the structure, raising queries about their enforcement.

KCCA issued a statement about the collapsed building on September 6 explaining how the developer didn’t have approved plans.

“The developer ignored KCCA instructions to halt works within the same impunity exhibited at the recent construction site collapse incident in Kitebi, Lubaga Division. These accidents could have been avoided if the developers heeded KCCA’s directive,” reads the statement.

Building board on the spot

Though KCCA acknowledges receipt of both the removal and enforcement notices given to the developer, they didn’t explain why the building committee couldn’t immediately cause demolition.

KCCA’s spokesperson Daniel Nuwabiine said the demolition has to follow any litigation that might arise during or after the exercise.

According to Section 9 of the Building Control Act 2013, the building board is, among others, mandated to monitor building developments, ensure that building designs cater for People with Disabilities, and oversee and monitor the building committees.

Documents seen by this newspaper show that the NBRB’s executive secretary, Ms Flavia Bwire, placed an advert for short term job vacancies for graduate professionals.

These included architects (24), civil/structural engineers (23), mechanical engineers (24) electrical engineers (24), and quantity surveyors (05).

Their purpose was to collect data on all buildings and building operation from all the cities and municipalities in the country, and notify the compliance manager in case of building developments that are non-compliant with the law.

A May 28 appointment letter of one of the successful candidates issued by Ms Bwire, which this newspaper has seen, shows that the graduate professionals were to work for only two months, with each earning a gross salary of Shs1.5m.The contract would run from June 1 and end on July 31.

However, when President Museveni issued a second lockdown, they were recalled and deployed to only Kampala and Wakiso districts.

Our investigations show that a team of these graduate professionals were deployed in Kampala’s Central Division to, among others, identify illegal building developments. 

The head of the team, Mr Phiga Matovu, confirmed that they did inspect the area. Asked why they didn’t raise the red flag against the then construction works on the Kisenyi collapsed building, he referred us to NBRB.

‘’I am not in position to give you much information because we were just hired by the board to collect information and I would prefer that you speak to them,” Mr Matovu said.

Ms Bwire confirmed that the board had deployed the graduate professionals in Kampala City and other municipalities across the country.

But she said their work was affected by lockdown hence some places were not inspected.

On whether the team from Kampala Central Division brought to the board’s attention the Kisenyi building, Ms Bwire said she need to check their report.

“We deployed graduate professionals but majority of them were affected by lockdown. Some of those who were deployed in the Central Business District couldn’t access certain places because they were staying far yet there was no transport means,” Ms Bwire said.

She also said the board will unveil comprehensive findings regarding the collapsed building before end of this week.

Daily Monitor has further established that besides inadequate inspection of development works in the city, fraud, clash of the existing building laws and intrigue within KCCA are some of the challenges crippling the physical planning function in the city.

Senior KCCA officials, who preferred anonymity for fear of being victimised, intimated to us that the role of physical planning has been taken over by non-professionals. This anomaly, they argued, has killed motivation among physical planners because they have been made redundant.

Whereas the directorate of physical planning is supposed to be headed by a physical planner, the current director is a surveyor, who formerly worked in the directorate of engineering as supervisor.

Before Mr Ntege resigned from the central division as physical planner, there had been a clash of roles where management appointed an architect as a building control officer yet this position is supposed to be held by an engineer.

Though engineers and physical planners protested this move, management allegedly looked on, leaving the institution divided, with some workers threatening to quit.

According to the KCCA structure, each division is supposed to have only one building inspector.

However some of the inspectors have previously argued that it’s impossible for only one person to inspect the entire division where developments happen every day.

From our investigations, a building inspector is only given an official car to move around the division once a week.

This means if they don’t find their means to construction sites, illegal developments are likely to come up.

With poor facilitation, our sources said, it is easy for developers to compromise building inspectors.

Mr Nuwabiine said management is working towards addressing all the challenges, which among others, include plugging staffing gaps to ensure timely enforcement against illegal developers.

What the law says

According to Section 33 of the Physical Planning Act, a person shall not carry out a development with a planning area without obtaining development within a planning area without obtaining development permission from a physical planning committee. Under this law, our sources argue, the physical planning committee or physical planner for central division should have been able to demolish the Kisenyi collapsed building. However they couldn’t do so because the Building Control Regulations, 2020 under Section 28 gives the powers to demolish an illegal building to only the building committee. Besides, Section 55 of the Building Control Act, 2013 state that the Act shall take precedence over any other Act or instrument in existence, relating to building operations, before coming into force this Act. Our sources say that lack of legal coherence on who should do what regarding planning for the city has resulted in clashes of roles at KCCA.

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