By Sonia Njogu

1. How is the construction industry performing?

The local industry has become vibrant and competitive. A lot of improvement in terms of implementation of projects, technology, capital infusion, skilled labour, planning inputs, entrenchment of standards and design work is being witnessed.

This did not exist ten or so years ago. The construction industry has come of age save for a few individuals who belong in the past and have refused to adapt to the changes. I respect industry players who have made every effort to professionalise the sector. A lot still needs to be achieved in terms of regulation and enforcement, but the journey has started.

2. What do you think of the influx of foreign construction firms in Kenya?

 

Yussuf Loge, Director, El Noor Contractors Ltd.

Foreign contractors are welcome provided they come in to improve the conditions and provide the impetus that will spur growth in the sector. What we don’t want is briefcase businessmen purporting to be contractors and sallying the name of the industry. They must adhere to the laid down rules but unfortunately, some of them want to take shortcuts. They bribe to win tenders and conveniently subvert the law to have an edge over others. The Government should impose order in an industry that has experienced a chequered history.

The construction industry in Kenya is recovering from a ‘dirty and stinking’ past hence certain companies or individuals should not be allowed to bend the rules. The new laws will make it extremely difficult for these ‘smooth operators’ to do business.

3. Can local firms compete effectively with multinationals?

Once the playing field is level and regulation becomes the norm, I see local contractors playing a leading role in reviving and revitalising the sector.

However, it is imperative to note that local firms are at a disadvantage due to a couple of factors that range from capitalisation to finding the right calibre of workers to take up some of the jobs that require technical competence and wide experience.

Our learning institutions are facing indictment. They are churning graduates who are theorists as opposed to persons with professional competence in their field of work. Our training curriculum needs to be reviewed with a view to aligning it with modern building construction procedures and operations. Technical training needs to be emphasised.

4. What are the traits of a good contractor?

A lot of firms have failed the competence test due to decay in standards. After a lot of research and development to determine construction standards in roads, bridges, rail or building construction, guidelines have been provided, but people choose to ignore or apply them selectively.

The industry has been infiltrated by all manner of people known as ‘consultants’ who have no idea where they are taking us.

Because of our quality performance, we have been selected to put up the first railway station in Kenya since 1935, in Syokimau.

5. What are some of the challenges in the industry?

A lot of ongoing work is unchecked and unsupervised. This scenario is dangerous for the industry. Greed and compromised quality of work seems to have taken the best of us. The industry is riddled with corruption and there are many ‘skeleton projects’.

I believe concerted efforts by the Government and the stakeholders who mean well for the industry will create some semblance of order and put the industry on the path to full recovery. We need to create controls and mechanisms of weeding out quacks that give the industry a bad name.

Some sort of forensic audit must be done to determine the genuine players in the construction industry. We also need to establish an accountability index to tame and reign in the rogue elements in the sector.

6. Local contractors have been accused of engaging in shoddy business deals at the expense of taxpayers. Comment

We might have ‘rotten apples’ in our midst. Some contractors have perfected the art of conning individuals and organisations of money while professing to do jobs.

However, it is a matter of time before their evil catches up with them. Kenyans have become very alert and informed. I see more people demanding better-constructed buildings and roads.

I have seen colleagues being forced to repeat projects because wananchi demanded that proper work be undertaken. We will see more and more of these wananchi audits in future.

7. Are there standards or guidelines to regulate the sector?

The mechanisms to implement regulations are clearly stipulated and enshrined in our laws, so it’s a matter of people taking their responsibilities and playing their roles much more effectively.

However, although laws are good for any industry to thrive, attitudes are more important. The mentality of contractors and builders must change. People must get used to doing the right thing and we must work hard to stem graft.

8. Are we likely to see property and construction costs dipping any time soon?

A lot will depend on the market forces and the resultant economy drivers. We are likely to see some price stability in the coming days, but that will largely depend on how the property and construction boom performs in the wake of a weakening shilling, rise in commodity prices and the unrepentant world financial recession.

At the moment, things are looking up and I hope Kenyans can take advantage of the many opportunities that abound.

9. What is your business philosophy and what advice do you have for upcoming contractors?

I believe in doing honest business and earning a decent living. My tip would be to ask young and upcoming contractors to adhere to the rules. Avoid shortcuts because that will be your Achilles heel. Strive for discipline, be focused and dedicated, devote yourself and be determined.

Also, avoid people who want to entice you with ‘get rich’ schemes and perform as per your client’s expectations.

10. What is the way forward for the industry?

Although the economy is not performing well, the construction industry in Kenya continues to witness unprecedented growth.

This contrast explains the different dynamics in different sectors of the economy. The industry has seen the largest capital outlay in Kenya’s history, which is a big achievement.

Like I said earlier, the right reforms will transform critical areas of the industry that touch on financing, regulation, land, law, sanctity of property, ownership, technical support, infrastructure, labour, acquisitions and industry ethics.

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