With the steady increase in population, it is only logical to conclude that the boom in the construction industry is far from spent. Every day, real estate developers are putting up estates or high raise commercial buildings. However, in a bid to cut costs, some developers hire dubious contractors who end up cutting deals to get the most out of the job.
Incidences of high-rise buildings collapsing during contraction are myriad in Kampala. If you used an unqualified contractor, you leave yourself and your workers – and much later, your tenants – to the mercy of a disaster.

Developers at the mercy of crooks
Unfortunately, contractors in Uganda do not have a regulatory authority. Engineer Gumisiriza Birantana, managing director, Pearl Engineering Company Limited, says those who should be in-charge are not doing their work.
“The Ministry of Works and Transport is supposed to regulate contractors but they do not inspect our work. The developer is at the mercy of any crook that comes along. Before the developer puts up a project, they have to go to Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) to have their plans approved. However, KCCA only looks at the plans but they do not bother to ask who is going to construct the building. They rarely come to the site to inspect it, and if they come, it is to check if the building plan is approved. If the plan is not approved, the inspectors extract some money from the developer and the contractor continues with the work.”
Uganda National Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors (UNABCEC) has petitioned government to give it an oversight authority, in vain. “We have tried to push a Bill in Parliament since 1998 but we have failed,” Birantana says, adding, “Part of that Bill would give UNABCEC the authority to set up a construction commission to oversee and supervise contractors, and take disciplinary action where necessary.”

What a developer can do
Using a qualified contractor on your real estate projects will give you and your tenants a sense of legitimacy and security that the building meets all the standards of construction. A qualified contractor is in the business for the foreseeable future and to protect his business, he will not cut side deals.
Birantana advises, “The best thing a developer can do is to advertise in the newspapers the construction job and call for contractors. When companies apply, check their background, company profile, and talk to the clients they have worked with. This should help you make a decision.”
Emmanuel Semakula, an engineer with with Kato Contractors Limited, says: “In my opinion, a qualified contractor has a name to protect. Secondly, in any event, the chances of him doing shoddy work are quite minimal because often, before the work begins, you enter into a legal contract with him. This contract is enforceable by law.”
With a contract in your hands, the chances of a contractor disappearing after payment are nonexistent. “A real estate developer is safer with a qualified contractor because often, such companies have lines of credit. You do not even have to pay upfront.”

Myth about contractors
There is a belief that qualified contractors are more expensive than the ordinary citizen who is putting up a small real estate project can afford. This has led many people to find cheaper alternatives but in so doing, they may end up with substandard work.
“It is obvious that we are expensive,” Birantana says, continuing, “A company has to pay taxes, Pay as You Earn (PAYE), and National Social Security Fund (NSSF). We have overhead costs. A cheap person will do cheap work. A serious real estate developer must look for an established contractor because we have insurance and the quality of the product will be good.”
Semakula is in agreement, saying, “Supposing a developer hired someone cheap and then in the middle of construction, he realises that a mistake has been made, which necessitates bringing the building down? How much money will the developer have wasted? In the short term, a qualified contractor may seem expensive but it saves money in the long run.”
Birantana concedes that there are some individual contractors who can do good work. “But they need to be supervised,” he cautions, adding, “Of course, a developer should not only choose a contractor. He needs consultants to supervise the work and tell him what is correct or wrong, what material to use, and to advise at what stages tests need to be carried out on the project.”
Naturally, hiring a consultant to supervise the work will take the construction expenses to a higher level, but their expertise is necessary.

Contractors come in five grades, as registered by UNABCEC depending on the turnover of the company. Not all of them work on only huge construction projects.

Seeking redress
With a qualified contractor, it is easy to seek redress in case the company has done shoddy work on your real estate project.
“Buildings that collapse during contraction could be one of the effects of using unqualified contractors but the main reason is inexperienced engineers taking on projects they are not competent enough to handle,” Engineer Semakula says, adding that an engineer should be on the site at critical stages of the building to supervise and approve the work.
A developer can seek redress in the courts of law.
However, it is important to keep in mind that a qualified contractor is not automatically going to do good work and within a short period of time. That is why it is important at the beginning of your association with the contractor to request for their company profile that details the experience of all the projects they have handled.
On your own, you should do some research on these building projects. You should also ask to see their Articles of Association and Memorandum of Understanding.

gnantume@ug.nationmedia.com