What you need to know:
- A number of hurdles, including dormant laws, weak enforcement, impunity and corruption remain detrimental to efforts to remodel Kampala, a city originally planned for 150,000 people. The capital has a day time population of nearly 5 million, and is choking on poor infrastructure and condemned buildings, writes Frederic Musisi.
Until September 5, the storied building under construction that collapsed in Kisenyi, Mengo, a Kampala suburb, was the second such incident to happen this year, according to the National Building Review Board (NBRB).
A third accident happened last month in Mbarara District where a three-storied building belonging to a UPDF officer collapsed.
In an interview with NTV, a sister media outlet of Daily Monitor, on September 9, the NBRB’s executive secretary, Ms Flavia Bwire, attributed the drop in the number of accidents to their increased impromptu checks on buildings.
Police said the developer of the Kisenyi building that claimed eight lives and injured several others recorded a statement pending an investigation report from NBRB to inform the probable criminal sanctions.
The NBRB’s September 13 report stated that the building did not have approved plans, the owner used counterfeit building materials, and unprofessional architects and engineers—unknown to both the Architects Registration Board (ARB) and the Engineers Registration Board (ERB).
A separate report by the ARB, the body established by the Architects Registration Act, 1996, to regulate the architect’s profession, details that the probable cause of the accident included inadequate structural designs, poor construction methods, lack of professional supervision, including by KCCA, and poor building materials.
The ARB report also indicates that KCCA had halted the construction on July 30, but the developer rejected the orders.
The report further recommended criminal prosecution of the developer, Mr Harunah Ssentongo.
Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago backed the move, but authorities at City Hall have remained silent two months later.
A building inspector, who preferred anonymity, told Daily Monitor about the unusual presence of the Special Forces Command (SFC), an elite unit that, among other roles, offers protection to the President, at the site of the ill-fated site in Kisenyi after its collapse.
The unit’s spokesperson, Maj Jimmy Omara, did not pick or return our calls for comment on the matter.
But the building inspector cited other instances when they have undertaken visits at construction sites around Kampala for impromptu spot-checks only to for guns to be drawn at them and being told to leave.
Sources reveal that if the corporate veil was lifted, it will be revealed that some of the construction sites are owned by the ruling class elite who use businessmen as proxies.
“It is also not surprising that KCCA says they stopped construction of the building that collapsed but the developer ignored warnings,” the inspector said.
“There are many (developers) like that; they act as they wish because they know there are powerful people behind them.”
This is reinforced by the ARB’s chairman, Mr Robert Kiggundu, who said there is a category of building developers who just won’t abide by any rule, guidelines and regulations, adding that authorities, including KCCA cannot rein in on them.
“There is a lot of concerted efforts needed to address this problem of haphazard developments, including flouting regulations, which is sometimes the root cause of collapsing buildings,” Mr Kiggundu said.
There is a long list of buildings constructed in Kampala either in gazatted areas such as road reserves, drainage spots, or in previously public land/spaces. On Kafu Road, one such a building is currently under construction.
In 2011, KCCA condemned 13 buildings around Kampala, among others, Royal Complex (Plot 16 A, Market Street), Yamaha Centre and Plot 34, Luwum Street, and JBK building (Plot 25, Luwum Street), for violating approved building plans and regulations.
The buildings had turned approved parking space into shops, lacked fire escape and firefighting provisions, but they were neither razed nor re-modelled.
In 2019, the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) attempted to raze all structures in gazatted road reserves on all major highways.
The operation failed in a trial phase on the old Entebbe Road when Unra attempted to demolish structures linked to powerful individuals and their cronies.
Ms Bwire said last year KCCA availed NBRB with another list of 500 condemned buildings but did not detail their locations. Further inquiries for the locations are yet to be responded to.
Until 2010, these flaws and shoddy planning was largely attributed to the colonial era of legislation namely The Town and Country Planning, 1951, which was repealed by the National Physical Planning Act, 2020.
The new act gazetted the country as a planning area wherein one cannot carry out any development without obtaining requisite authorisation from the physical planning committee of any local authority.
But the reality on the ground is different. In middle-class suburbs in Wakiso and Mukono districts, poorly planned homesteads are sprouting in neighbourhoods with narrow road network.
In many areas, there is a blend of residential houses—condominiums or low-lying houses, commercial structures, factories and warehouses.
This, as most local governments don’t have physical planning committees, which are barely constituted, or are marred by corruption, leading to hasty awards of building permits.
“We neglected physical planning and relegated most district urban, and local council planning committees to be run by surveyors and yet actually it should be urban planners,” Mr Kiggundu said.
“For any building to be approved by the committees it has to be endorsed by a certified architect, a registered engineer, but that’s not the case. Most plans are drawn by masqueraders who sometimes pay the certified ones to have them approved, and the committees don’t do any due diligence. That’s how we slowly ended up where we are.”
Messy planning, weak enforcement
With the country’s rapid urbanisation growing at 5.43 percent per annum, according to the last Uganda Bureau of Statistics census, fuelled by a high population growth rate, there are fears that most urban areas will morph into one big sprawl.
This urbanisation has altered some urban centres’ boundaries such as Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono.
Mr Isaac Mutenyo, the chairperson of the Engineers Registration Board, which regulates the engineering profession, told Daily Monitor that rapid urbanisation poses monumental challenges.
“Part of the problem of the collapsing and other unfit buildings could be ignorance. We want to keep informing the public to start appreciating the role played by everyone—from a planner, an architect, to an engineer. Many people don’t engage them,” Dr Mutenyo said.
“Other times, developers submit different plans to authorities and once approved, they do their own things. There are regulations against such, but when people know that enforcement is weak, they don’t listen,” he added.
With a freewheeling construction industry, contributing more than 13 percent of GDP, proper urban planning has been pushed to forces of demand and supply.
“First, planning is inadequate. Then the rapid development doesn’t match with the capacity to regulate, and that is dangerous,” Dr Mutenyo said.
A 2015 Auditor General’s report detailed that the weak regulatory framework in the construction sector is one of the fundamental weaknesses in the industry and demanded immediate attention.
The report noted that a combination of laws don’t empower institutions to act, and a narrow scope of mandate has rendered them even weaker.
The Building Control Act empowers the NBRB to both monitor building development and rein in on errant developers working closely with the different local authorities.
But officials are too timid to take action against some powerful individuals deemed as sacred cows.
Ms Bwire indicated that they are developing new regulations to buttress NBRB’s mandate.
“Once we have regulations in place, we will be able to do what we have to do.”
The crisis in the construction industry across the country underpins a sector under the control of powerful individuals who habitually flout enforcement guidelines.
This, Ms Bwire concurred that most buildings don’t have permissions, qualified professionals, drawings, qualified personnel on site, and use poor quality of materials, among others.
NBRB’s survey last month detailed that 88 percent of the buildings in the 11 cities do not comply with the Building Control Act, putting lives at risk.
The survey, which looked at building plans, occupation permits, professional engagement, and drainage system, among others, indicated that overall compliance level of the active construction sites was at 19.5 percent, acquisition of building permits at six percent, supervision of the building by professionals at a paltry six percent.
Specifically, in local governments, Mr Kiggundu said the urge to collect revenues and systemic corruption, drives local authorities to approve construction that should not be given the green-light in the first place.
Some experts have blamed the recurrent accidents on shortage of professionals.
For instance, according the ERB, the country has about 1,400 certified engineers as 1,000 who are the majority are employed by government, leaving about 500 in private practice and the void filled by quacks.
The numbers of certified architects are even fewer compared to engineers.
The Building Control Act, 2013 and its attendant, National Building Code, 2019 and the Building Control Regulations, 2020, stipulate general offences and penalties for a person who fails to comply with the terms of a notice or conditions issued under these regulations. But no one has been brought to book yet.
A 2021 report titled, ‘Investigating Implementation Strategies towards Elimination of Structural Failure of Buildings in Uganda: A Case Study of Kampala City’ details that in Africa and in many developing countries, the main causes of building collapse are weak foundations, substandard constructional materials, poor material mixing, excessive load on strength of buildings and corruption.
This fact is reinforced by several probe reports of collapsed buildings around Kampala that Daily Monitor analysed.
The building that collapsed in Jinja District on January 15, 2020, which killed at least four people and injured nine, according to ARB’s report, was as a result of, among others, inferior construction materials.
The report notes that municipal engineers were going to the site as mandated “but rather stayed in their cars instead of getting into the site to supervise and inspect the works.”
The first building accident in 2021 on August 5 that killed one person and injured two others in Kitebi, Entebbe, a separate ARB report shows, collapsed as a result of, among others, poor construction and building methods.
“We have tried to engage police to rein in on masquerading architects even the errant registered ones. Our body’s decision can only be appealed at the High Court,” Mr Kiggundu said.
“But even when we try to work with other state agencies, usually there is lack of coordination. A lot of strict enforcement and public awareness is needed,” he added.
Dr Mutenyo said concentration is on buildings while the rest of attendant aspects remain ignored.
“The worst part of it is at the planning stage, and it is terrible; the people who are supposed to be doing planning are not. Then every local government is supposed to have an engineer, physical planner, among others, but you find buildings are approved by planners and yet this is work of engineers,” he said.
challenges with new cities
In April last year, Parliament approved the creation of additional 15 cities, with 10 so far operationalised. However, they are financially constrained and lack enabling laws to function properly. To some observers, Parliament’s approval of 15 cities was largely based on political expediency rather than pragmatism.
This also contradicted the policy blue print—The National Development Plan— to transform the country, which provided for establishment of four regional cities namely; Gulu, Mbale, Mbarara and Arua, and five strategic cities: Hoima (for oil), Nakasongola (industrialisation), Fort Portal (tourism), Moroto for (mining) and Jinja (industrialisation).Problems plaguing Kampala, from the poor and messy urban planning, are likely to spill over into the new cities with dire consequences. Uganda, according to the World Bank, is among the African countries experiencing exponential urban population growth. Its population is expected to surpass 100 million people by 2050.
Auditor general’s assessment
A 2015 Auditor General’s report detailed that the weak regulatory framework in the construction sector is one of the fundamental weaknesses in the industry and demanded immediate attention. The report noted that a combination of laws don’t empower institutions to act, and a narrow scope of mandate has rendered them even weaker.
The Building Control Act empowers the NBRB to both monitor building development and rein in on errant developers working closely with the different local authorities. But officials are too timid to take action against some powerful individuals deemed as sacred cows.