BY MACHEL WAIKENDA
They say a man’s house is his castle and indeed, that is how we view our homes. They are places we feel safest and retreat to after completing our chores in the outside world.
But it stops being a castle when it comes tumbling down on the heads of our families and loved ones like the houses that claimed so many innocent lives in recent weeks. This has prompted the usual knee-jerk and frenzied reactions from the concerned authorities that should have known better.
True, the din and rumble of machinery, masonry and sloshing from house construction sites are a welcome sign and sound of a robust and growing economy. It is a reminder that both government and the private sector are on track to provide the much needed homes to plug the shortfall in shelter for our burgeoning population.
Sadly, the converse is also true when some poorly constructed structures come crashing down for reasons such as poor workmanship, products of sleaze and compromised officials, construction in restricted areas like wetlands, waterways, way leaves and road reserves.
It is for this reason that the President personally intervened to caution architects, county governments, contractors and the general public against endangering the lives of Kenyans though various acts of omission and commission.
It is also our hope that the campaign by National Construction Authority (NCA) belatedly threatening to take action against errant builders and investors does not prove too little too late. Their resolve should be read alongside the pledge by the Nairobi County Assembly to purge the city of substandard structures.
Perhaps, this would be an opportune moment to expand this purge throughout the country. The resolve by Nairobi Governor and his MCAs should be a rallying cry to all other governors to tighten the screws in urban planning, tame graft and engender professionalism in the building industry. If well crafted, the real estate sector can be a very powerful driver for all other sectors of the economy.
However, this is a side issue.
My take is that the debacle that has exposed the inadequacies plaguing the National Construction Authority are representative of the weak structures of many of our institutions regarding oversight. The clarion call to respect the sanctity/mandate of institutions, shut loopholes of graft and embrace the rule of law can only benefit the entire country.
What for instance prevents developers from registering their building plan with the local authority? Why not seek the required permits, pay the requisite fees and seek the opinion of professionals like architects and contractors who are registered with the NCA?
Who loses the most when buildings erected on road reserves, on land of disputed ownership are subject to court action or are brought down? Why rush to inhabit a building that clearly looks like it has been hastily pasted together? And why do we look the other way when we as communities know there is mischief among contractors? How else will Nyumba Kumi succeed as a community-driven initiative if no concerned whistleblower or neighbour points out that potential murder is being plotted when corners are cut during construction of dwellings?
Why don’t motorists follow laid-down rules and regulations so that traffic police have no recourse for extorting bribes? Did it need to escalate into the far-reaching Michuki Rules, Alco blow, speed guns, CCTV, matatu Sacco’s in order to knock some sense into road users?
Now there is a directive against the misuse of sirens and the so-called “distance prosecution” where the Cabinet Secretary seeks to make it very expensive for anyone to commit a traffic offence. Traffic offenders in one part of the country would have to travel long distances to attend court sessions far away from the offence.
Of what use are Huduma Centers, where billions are being invested, if the public does not utilize them to apply for official documents? Why does one need a go-between in order for their kin to ‘acquire’ a job in the uniformed services?
Why do relatives ignore the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when they shuttle their kin to foreign lands to seek employment only to turn around and wail “Tunaomba serikali” when that job in the Diaspora turns to be a living nightmare?
For what purpose are the various incentives for affordable credit to women and young people if no one applies for the same and instead choose to steal a neighbouring community’s cattle and goats? There are myriad avenues to engage in profitable sedentary agriculture and animal husbandry that can consign cattle rustling to the dustbins of history.
Our young people have many avenues to channel their energies into sustainable and legal sources of income as enumerated in the Jubilee Manifesto. It should never be about the president ordering people to follow the law but common sense, giving so-called tender-preneurs a wide berth and a little sense of entrepreneurship for self-empowerment.
It is not the responsibility of the government to remind us of what needs to be done and to be done right. We all have a responsibility to ensure existing laws are followed to reduce road carnage, prevent death of innocents through substandard structures and secure our neighbourhoods as this is what will help us retain our nationhood.
(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)