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20.11.2008 Feature Article

When will we learn lessons? Aftermath of collapsed building in Kumasi

LAST week it was reported that a two-storey building under construction had collapsed at the Kumasi Kejetia Terminal, causing severe damage to property. The incident caused great pandemonium at Kejetia, although there were no casualties reported.

This is not the first time a building under construction has collapsed in the city, although these incidences are not limited to Kumasi only. Other parts of the country have also suffered similar fates. Gradually, Ghana is gaining notoriety with buildings collapsing under construction.

About two years ago, a similar incident happened at the O&A Bus Terminal in Kumasi. Public outcry caused the city authorities to commence an investigation into the incident. The committee, having been funded with the tax payer's money, had its report kept inside the mahogany desk at the Ashanti Regional Coordinating Council. And when a similar incident happened in Accra, the city authorities did nothing about it. The incident was taken as one of the inevitable things that happen during the normal course of life, and that it should be an accident.

The rate, at which buildings under construction are collapsing, is a clear indication of the fact that there is great laxity in the country's construction industry. There is no proper legal framework, and neither is there a proper regulator in the industry, and if there is, they do not enforce standards. Hence the players in the industry (building contractors) have taken the law into their own hands, and are doing things any way and any how.

As I have written and said in this column before, I can conclude that Ghana has not learnt any lessons from the past. Just last week, a school building collapsed in Haiti, killing nearly a hundred unoffending pupils. I have toured many places in the country, and I have come across shoddy structures which are being used as commercial, residential and educational facilities. We are sitting on a timebomb with regards to shoddy structures in the country, and one day a terrible disaster could befall us, as happened in Haiti last week.

CITY AUTHORITIES

City authorities in the country whether - metropolitan, municipal or district assembly - are one of the least functioning government appendages. This is happening at a time that the country has lived many years with the local assembly.

Much more is expected from district and metropolitan assemblies in the country than ever before. District and metropolitan assemblies should not be seen as only revenue collecting agencies, but rather the exact representative of the central government in Accra. We have seen the dereliction of duty by assemblies in the country. The widespread lawlessness in the country could have been reduced, if assemblies and metropolitan authorities were to enforce the laws which have been stencilled in the statues books.

Is it because of how DCEs and MCEs are appointed that they fear to bite? Where is the assembly, when people build massive structures for stores, but do not construct a car park either underneath or in front? Where was the assembly when people converted residential properties into stores without thinking about those living there?

District assemblies must rise up to their line of duty. If someone is building a commercial property like a storey building without the services of a resident architect, structural engineers, quantity surveyors, such a project should be halted or not given the green light to be inhabited.

The assemblies should go beyond just writing 'stop work and produce permit' on on-going buildings, but be interested in the professional and expertise resource for the project under construction. It is important to know that building is not just a matter of putting blocks together with the help of mortar.

It should be required by law that anyone building a commercial property or a giant structure provides to the relevant authorities the list of the main contractors and subcontractors, who should be liable for prosecution, should anything happen to the building.

This means that if any property developer cannot afford the services of professionals, then he/she better not attempt any giant or commercial property.

PROFESSIONAL BODIES

In Ghana if there is any professional group that is really effective in making sure that all the regulations in their industry and practice are obeyed, then it is the Pharmacy Council. The other professional groups in the country do not have the biting teeth to implement their professional standards.

As I have written before in this column, in this country the draftsman has taken over the work of the architect. We do things without regard to standards. No wonder that our buildings are collapsing, and there seems to be no improvement in the building construction industry.

REGULATION

It is not too late for a legislation to be placed before parliament, on how to regulate the construction industry. The regulation should also inculcate the health and safety of all workers employed in the industry. It should criminalise companies using tipper trucks to carry their employees to and from work.

Why do we have to spend millions of Ghana cedis a year to train architects, building technologists, surveyors and others, but we are reluctant to use their services? And if we do not want them, we better close the departments that run these programmes.

PROSECUTION

If the city authorities, through the Attorney General's Department, had filed a case against the developer behind the O&A Bus Terminal in Kumasi and other similar cases across the country, then warning signals would have been sent to everybody in the industry. I do not understand why the AG's Department did not pursue that case.

A friend of mine has jokingly said that laws in the country are like cobwebs, which can only attract lightweight creatures like insects, and not heavyweight ones like elephants and horses. Whenever a big shot is jailed for causing financial loss in the country, there seems to be public agitation. In a similar vein, if rogue developers are prosecuted and jailed, most people would express outrage over it.

CONCLUSION We need to learn from our mistakes, for the clock is ticking against us. If we fail to implement the right policy, we will one day wake up to see a structure collapsing and killing a thousand people. A word to the wise is enough.

Ghanaian Chronicle
Ghanaian Chronicle, © 2008

This author has authored 1023 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: GhanaianChronicle

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