According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the construction industry in Kenya contributes 7 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
However, Dr. Laila Macharia, chairperson, Kenya Private Developers Association (KPDA) says capital is one of the major challenges facing entrepreneurs in the construction sector coupled with complacence among the contractors as they tend to settle for what they have attained.
She said capacity in the sector is limited and the gains the contractors would have counted on are reaped by corruption. Innovation and merit is not honored and promoted in the sector.
The principal superintendent in the Ministry of Public Works, Kennedy Ndonga says professionals in the industry tend to have a conservative perspective and thus prefer clients whose thinking resembles theirs. This affects the choices they make in building materials, research and investments.
Ndonga says Kenyan professionals in the industry need to research on the our makuti, coral stone, sand blocks and other easily available raw materials that have been used from time immemorial to avoid specifying material that are not available in some regions in the country.
He cites Forth Jesus in Mombasa which was build in 15th Century using local materials and is not showing signs of collapsing.
The construction industry has been facing a lot of challenges in quality assurance from collapsing of buildings and constructions on road reserves and public utility spaces.
This is compounded says the Ministry of Public Works by some local authorities lack of capacity to facilitate the implementation of quality control hence quality assurance is left to public health technicians.
The ministry points out that majority of the professionals are competent to offer good quality advice and service. But, some give poor service through poor documentation, poor decision making and extension of time variation.
From the disconnect that has been witnessed between project managers and the employers key personnel leading to lack of appreciation of each other's role. The ministry has stepped forward to organize workshops where ministry representatives from major departments meet with concerned parties to create awareness of each part's role and responsibility.
Moses Nyakiongora, the ministry 's chief quantity surveyor says there are contractor who deliberately tender at low rates with the aim to later canvass for change in specifications if awarded the contact. Some of them frustrate the contract and eventually submit very huge claims. He says they have sealed the loopholes of bureaucracy and poor decision making process.
The ministry has warned the contractors to have proper management structures in their firms to avoid one-man show that lacks succession management plans blended with very limited vision and life span.
On tax regimes, Ndonga says the tax imposed on the construction industry are not a reflective of its contribution. “Our documentation in public sector inflates the cost of construction by at least 16 percent (the value added tax, V.A.T component). My personal opinion is that contractors should include the V.A.T component in the rates.”
The ministry says fraud and unethical practices have been common in the sub-sector. “This may occur through the use of inferior materials or sub-standard mixtures, example, use of undersize steel bars, wrong concrete mixed, poor quality paint. Proper quality control can solve the above problems. Some professionals have been known to collude with contractors at the expense of their client by adulterating documents.”
During the meetings between the ministry's minister, Chris Obure and the contractors from across the country it was agreed that streamlining the industry is long over due. It was agreed that professionals in the construction industry should be subjected to regular formal training and education to relevant. In the future contractors will be subjected some 'vetting' to avoid the current trend of 'walk in' – 'walk out' scenario in the industry.
Moses Muiha, National Coordinator/CEO, Kenyan Federation of Mastered Builders says categorization of contractors by the ministry of roads and public works is unfair - in the awarding of construction projects tenders. Muiha complained of the manner in which the tender bids are under priced, evaluated and the technical qualification required in the process.
He said corruption and unfair distribution of construction projects is common while procurement process need to be reviewed as it causes unnecessary delay of payments. He added erratic change of prices of building materials are some of the challenges facing this Kenyan sector.
But, Prof John Lonyangapuo, permanent secretary, Ministry of Public Works said during the conference that no contractor will be awarded more than four construction projects at any one given time in future. He said the sector need to match out of the past where tax payer funds ended into the drain as several housing projects across the country turned out to be white elephants. He warned contractors to embrace a new mind set of partnering with government to build the much needed infrastructure.
On categorization of contractors the ministry says experience, meeting set time frame, quality of work done, technical and financial capacity is considered among other factors.