Contractors grapple with impact of Covid-19 pandemic

Friday, June 19th, 2020 00:00 |
Maurice Owiti is the chairman of Kenya Federation of Master Builders (KFMB) and sits on the board of National Construction Authority (NCA). Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

Harriet James  @harriet86jim

Give  us an overview of the construction industry both pre and post-covid. What challenges do you face?

Before Covid19, we could plan all our construction projects with almost complete certainty.

We lived in a predictable world in terms of resource planning and management.

Human capital was abundant, healthy and productive, with flexible production planning and clear start and end dates. 

Then Covid-19 struck  and we had to grapple with unpredictable human resource availability, health measures that ensured unpredictable attendance which has resulted in more cost overruns per unit productivity.

We have been forced to increase provision for the unknown in our project’s planning.

 The curfew has also introduced shorter working hours; contractors with nationwide projects have to spend more to arrange special transport for their key personnel, supply chain has become unpredictable etc. 

Hence,  it is now a lot more expensive and less profitable to carry out construction projects.

Depending on how individual contracts were formulated, force majeure may come in handy to protect both sides from unforeseen liabilities. 

What’s happening in the case of collapse of buildings in the country?

If you understand how the sector works and how our laws are structured, there is single person or entity you can blame for a collapsed building.

The contractor always works under direct supervision of consultants such as engineers and architects.

One is responsible for design integrity and ensures the workmanship is sound while the other is responsible for execution of the work.

So a contractor will argue that whatever I did was approved by the consultant while the consultants will argue that workmanship and its attendant quality is the job of the contractor.

However all these parties have their individual legal frameworks littered and scattered all over with no singular point of regulation and control.

Contractors are under NCA, engineers under Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) and Architects are under the Board of Registration of Architects and Quantity Surveyors of Kenya (BORAQS), each with its own professional association to boot. 

Besides, who is controlling quality of construction materials like steel? Yet another government body called KEBS (Kenya Bureau of Standards).

Who approves designs drawings and plans? County governments. Each of these players is contributing to the collapse of buildings in their own way.

I know the government is trying to address this legal gap, which can either be done by strengthening of the NCA Act to truly regulate all sector players or by coming up with 1 registration body for construction sector professionals. 

My take is that a revamped NCA could be a better platform to regulate all sector players

How can one tell whether a contractor is fake or genuine? 

The National Construction Authority (NCA) is the only body legally mandated to register contractors in Kenya.

Anybody working outside of that realm is what you must be calling a fake contractor.

A register of contractors is published by NCA and the government printer biannually. There is always a hard copy available at the government printer.

However, we also have online publication of updated contractors schedule allowed to practice in Kenya every year on NCA website.

Why was the Kenya Federation of Master Builders formed and what are some its achievements? 

KFMB was formed in 1995 to articulate the interests of contractors in Kenya.

That time the economy was smaller and major construction works were in the hands of very few individuals.

So the other smaller sector players came together to initially articulate on issues affecting them. Later the membership was opened up to all sector players includes foreign owned companies.

We are, however, not a trade union but a professional association of contractors as defined in NCA Act 2011, which makes us, acts as an advisory to NCA on Wanjiku issues that prevail in the construction sector. 

A brief background about yourself.

I am a rural born and rural bred engineer from Seme, Kisumu county. I loved Maths and sciences right from primary school.

However, my dreams were reinforced by a Villagemate who led in Kenya in A ‘Levels in 1985 when I was in Class Seven.

He went on to study Engineering.  Now I hold a BSc (Mechanical Engineering) from University of Nairobi (class of 1997) and an MBA in Strategic Management from Moi University.

I am a also a practicing Project Manager having been globally certified as a PMP by Project Management Institute (PMI).

I own Spentech Engineering Limited a construction engineering company with several sister companies in the region. 

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