Collapsed buildings: Work cut out for Review Board

Officials from the National  Building Review Board (NBRB) members and police inspect the site where one person was killed when a wall collapsed at Mbiro Zone-Kisenyi II, Kampala on September 2. PHOTO/Isaac Kasamani

What you need to know:

  • There have been concerns that the trend of suboptimal structures mushrooming in the city poses a great risk to the population. 

On September 2, Uganda was forced to digest news of another death at a construction site. This time in Mbiro Zone-Kisenyi II, Kampala after a foundation trench wall caved in.
Two other people were injured and rushed to the Doctor’s Clinic in Mengo.
The fatal accident, the second recorded by this publication in as many months after three people died in May when a building collapsed in Ndejje, Wakiso District touched what is by all accounts a septic wound.

Just weeks before the Kisenyi incident, the National Building Review Board (NBRB), which is responsible for monitoring building developments, had raised a red flag on the safety of the 14-storey Lotis Towers, located in upscale Nakasero. The building was only commissioned three years ago.
The Board cited a possible compression failure on a column on the sixth floor. While this has been dismissed by some engineers who worked on the project, the revelation has extended the taint on construction standards in the country to the upscale, high-end projects with contractors of international repute.

The contractor, Roko, has instituted a private investigation to establish the cause of the faults that forced occupants, including government offices to vacate the premises.
There have been concerns that the trend of suboptimal structures mushrooming in the city poses a great risk to the population. This is despite the country having in place laws and regulations to monitor the construction sector.
A survey conducted by the NBRB last year revealed that 88 percent of buildings do not comply with provisions in the Building Control Act, 2013, putting the lives of users at risk. In fact, findings by the body over the years have identified substandard construction materials, quack construction workers and tenuous supervision of sites as the major causes of accidents.

Now the body is proposing and undertaking new interventions to reinforce the existing laws and structures to arrest what is by all measures a growing problem. Mr Herbert Zziwa, the NBRB spokesperson, told Saturday Monitor that a quality assurance centre where the standard of all building materials will be conducted is in the offing. This, the Board that commenced operations two years ago, is aimed at eliminating substandard building materials, one of the major causes of collapsing buildings, from the market.

The Board is also working with the Office of the Directorate of Public Prosecution to set up a Department of Building Crimes Division. This, it believes, will ensure speedy trial of those who contravene the building standards.
“We are also going digital. We will soon have the Building Industry Management System, an online platform to get building permits and the services of professionals,” Mr Zziwa revealed, adding, “Before anyone practices, they should be on the system. So if you have a construction site and you need a professional, they will be on the system. The quacks will not be allowed to practice.”

He also urges site workers to desist from compromising quality, since such acts will not go unpunished in the event that an accident happens.
The Act condemns to 12 years imprisonment or a fine of Shs6m or both a person who by negligence, commission, and omission causes or leads to an accident on a building construction site which results in injury or death. Failing to comply with other provisions of the Act attracts two years imprisonment or a fine of Shs960,000 or both.
Mr Luke Owoyesigire, the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, told Saturday Monitor that no one has been apprehended yet for the Kisenyi incident. 
The Force had earlier issued a statement detailing the flight of the site engineers. The police nevertheless say anyone found culpable as per findings of the investigation into the accident will be pursued.

Under the spotlight
The Kisenyi accident further cast the vigilance and supervision role of the KCCA building committee into the spotlight. The authority has in the past come under scrutiny for poor regulation and implementation of the law. At the Kisenyi site, residents told this newspaper that the excavation, that created a precariously hanging wall, had been going on for two months.

Mr Alfred Guma, the site security guard, said: “I always got worried whenever I saw those boys (builders) operating below that high cliff because there were high chances of it collapsing, and it [eventually] happened. We did our best to save the two boys, but we were using hand hoes and spades, which slowed our efforts.”
The site in Kisenyi, is only approximately three kilometres away from the headquarters of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), the body that licenses and superintends over the building standards in the capital. KCCA has previously cited constraints in manpower, and financial resources to enforce the existing laws.

The Board, however, believes vigilance cannot be left to government officials only, urging the citizens to play a part since the accidents cost the common people.
“Streamlining this sector is a work in progress. Vigilance and sensitising the public, telling them the dangers is very important,” Mr Zziwa reasoned, adding, “If you are a developer and you use substandard materials, and you do not use professionals, at the end of the day, you lose everything.”
Building safety
New interventions
                                                                                                                          •   Establish a quality assurance centre in Lubowa.                                                              •   Have all professionals registered on an online system.                                                  •   Set up a Building Control Crimes Division.                                                                      •   Extensive public sensitisation.
Previous accidents                                                                                                                      •   May 2022, three people died when a building collapsed in Ndejje.                                •   August 18, 2021, a building collapsed in Kitebi, Rubaga Division, killing one person.                                                      •   July 16, 2021, a storeyed building at Kabulengwa in Nansana Municipality collapsed, killing one person.                                   •   March 16, 2021, Fido Dido building on Kampala Road caves in, killing two.               •   May 2020, a five-floor building collapsed in Lukuli, Makindye, killing 13 people.
•   January 24, 2020, a building collapsed in Kagugube Zone in Kampala Central Division.
•   January 9, 2020, a building collapsed in Kansanga, Makindye Division, killing six people.
•   January 15, 2020, three people perished after a two-storeyed building located on Plot 17 Gokhale Road caved in.
•   October 11, 2019, one person died and several others were injured after a building collapsed in Bakuli, Rubaga Division.


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