Uganda Gets It Right – Construction In Uganda

Kampala — In Kenya, poor building practices and corruption undermine construction, turning crowded buildings in poor neighborhoods into death traps. But across the Kenya-Uganda border, the city of Kampala has emerged as building zone where government officials and building developers mostly get it right – even if this bustling capitol also faces extreme pressure from population growth and a housing shortage.

According to the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Kampala alone has an estimated need of 500,000 new housing units each year.

With this kind of boom in demand for residential and commercial construction, the sector requires that each work is up to standards to avoid accidents or incidences of buildings collapsing. The country has a set of legal framework and industry policies that guide all stakeholders.

For instance, before a developer starts up any construction they are required to hire a competent architect and engineer to spearhead the construction. All developers intending to build in Kampala city are required to submit their building plans to the Kampala Capital City Authority physical planning board which regulates all constructions within its jurisdiction. The board then reviews the application and gives a feedback within 14 days.

Peter Kaujju

According to Peter Kaujju, head of corporate affairs at KCCA, this has helped improve the sector as well as reduce illegal constructions in the city. Kaujju says that before the board was constituted developers had to wait for unspecified time for their building plans to be reviewed which led to most of them developing without their plans being approved. After being constituted, the board had to clear a backlog of applications some of which went back to as far as 10 years ago.

‘KCCA facilitates the construction sector by giving timely guidance, timely approvals and in cases that there is no approval we guide the developer in terms of what is supposed to be done and we  also ensure compliance’ says Kaujju. The authority has also set out to demolish all buildings that are unsafe and those that were built without due process being followed. “Some developers take advantage of holidays and some work at night to avoid getting supervision from KCCA and other regulatory bodies but once we discover such we apprehend and prosecute all individuals involved,” he adds.  

The construction sector in Uganda has been strengthened by collaborations between various players and regulatory bodies in the sector. For instance collaboration between KCCA, the Architect Registration Board and the Engineers Registration Board has made it possible to clean up the sector in Kampala. These bodies register all practicing architects and engineers, eliminating quacks in the sector. They also help in curbing indiscipline cases among members of the respective bodies. Other bodies that have helped to strengthen the construction industry in the country include; Uganda Society of Architects, Uganda Association of Consulting Engineers, the Uganda Institute of Professional Engineers, Institute of Quantity Surveyors and the Architect Institute of Uganda comprising architects, engineers, planners and surveyors. These associations and bodies have strengthened the sector by ensuring that professional ethics and standards are observed by all players in the sector. The associations enhance quality standards and service delivery through joint communication, problem solving, research and technology advancement.

Eng. Dr. Michael Odongo

On overseeing engineers in Uganda, the Engineers Registration Board has been vibrant in regulating all practicing engineers in Uganda since its establishment. According to Eng. Dr. Michael Odongo, chair of the board, their mandate is to registers all engineers in Uganda, give licenses, monitor and regulate their practice.

Uganda has also had its own share of buildings collapsing. In December 2015 two buildings collapsed killing eight people. In April last 2016, Kyaseka Towers, a five storied building in Makerere collapsed, burying scores of occupants underneath its rubble. Four people died and five others were seriously injured and engineers have been put on the spot for these incidences. Odongo says that after the incidences the board did an extensive investigation and publicized the reports to show the public examples of poor construction work as well as show its impact to help avoid such occurrences in future. “The board works very closely with the authorities to ensure any engineer involved in a building that has collapsed is investigated and if found guilty deregistered,” he adds.

The vibrancy of the sector he says can be traced to 20 year ago when the country was going through a lot of construction and rehabilitation but at the time it was still at the take off stage. Today he says the sector is much bigger than it was 20 years ago and is experiencing better stability due to the building control act which he says has generally streamlined the industry.

In 2013, the Ugandan Parliament passed the building control act, an act that consolidated, harmonized and amended laws relating to construction of buildings, provided building standards, established a National Building Review Board and Building Committees and promoted and ensured planned, decent and safe building structures that are developed in harmony with the environment. This act is yet to be implemented and this has been viewed in some quarters as a setback in the construction sector. However, some industry players do not view it as a setback.

According to Nakate Lilian a member of parliament and chairperson of the Physical Infrastructure Committee in parliament, the act is still on course. She notes that the ministry of public works has been working on codes to be adhered to while reviewing the ones in place. She adds that this will be done by October and there will be a clear guideline governing the sector.  

“In the absence of this laws we have professional bodies and systems that are in place to check on professionalism and ensure that all constructions are up to standard and all buildings in Uganda are safe,” she adds.  

Edgar Muhairwe, a practicing architect and Chairperson of the Uganda Society of Architects concurs with the MP. He says that even though the building control act is not operational, the government through its regulatory bodies is closely monitoring the sector. He adds that they currently use regulations that are in place such as the national physical standards and guidelines.

Drumming up support for the Uganda Board of Architects which he chairs, Edgar says he believes through its advocacy people have started appreciating the role of architects in the sector. “Back then most developers just engaged masons without consulting architects which has been detrimental but at least now they consult architects,” he says.

The board of architects has also encouraged developers to engage them and now most developers get professionals to design and supervise their constructions.  

The delay in enactment should not be seen as slowing down the sector. According to Hans Mwesigwa, a civil engineer and the chair of the board of a publishing company for the 8M construction digest, an engineering publication, the issue is not with passing or enacting new laws but following and adhering to those that already exist. He notes that some individuals do not even follow the existing laws. He cites a common practice in Uganda where some buildings are inhabited when they are still under construction.

“According to building regulations no one should occupy a building until construction is completed and a permit is issued to occupy but go around, many cities, Kampala included, you find many Shops, houses that have been occupied on the ground floor or first floor while second or third floor is still under construction,” he says.

He says that his publication the 8M digest researches and publishes engineering and infrastructure development information for social economic and technological development in the country.

As publishers they deal with the active and passive players in the industry and they are always on the lookout for any bit of information that they feel will guide the construction and engineering industry.

They also hope that the information they disseminate will help identify past mistakes and help prevent a repeat in the future as they look up to improving the construction sector in Uganda.

Hans concedes that there is corruption in the sector but believes that the measures in place to curb it are doing well. “If you got this man who is putting up blocks, of flats, he is dealing with plumbers, carpenters, people who buy purchase materials and what not. So corruption will be there. Somebody is supposed to buy 200 bags of cement, he rolls up with 170, so it is there,” he adds.

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