To many people working on small projects, a foreman is the be-all and end-all. So they use him the “project manager” since they believe he has the requisite knowledge in construction matters. He serves as the developer’s contact person, oversees all aspects of the development, and engages the necessary fundis.
And in most instances, a small scale developer will work with a foreman referred to him by someone he or she knows well. Such developers do not pay much attention to the foreman’s professional qualifications, but go by what they have seen him do, or what they are told the foreman can do.
Consequently, the foreman acts as the accountant, architect, project manager, structural and mechanical engineer, contractor, supplier, interior and exterior decorator and if need be, even as the landscaper.
Take Florence Simiyu, for instance. “The foreman who helped me build my three-bedroom bungalow was referred to me by a relative. There were misunderstandings here and there during the construction but we overcame them and at the end of the project, I was very happy with the work he had done,” she says.
So when she wanted to build rental apartments, she once again turned to him.
“This was a bigger project that required more finances engaging, and I needed someone whom I could trust with the development’s financing, building specifications and materials and structural integrity and since I was happy with what he had done with my three-bedroom house, I was sure his work is good,” she enthuses.
Ms Simiyu adds that many of her workmates, relatives and neighbours live in, or derive income from, houses that were built mainly by foremen.
“They are fairly easy to work with and affordable. “When great work and social ties are created, some will chip in when you are unable to meet certain financial obligation and even offer bargains,” says Ms Simiyu.
However, while people like Ms Simiyu are full of praise for foremen, Mr Mwenda Karichu, the director of Mansell Builders, has reservations about having a foreman in charge of the entire construction process.
“It is not uncommon to find houses and rental apartments in neigbourhoods that depend exclusively on foremen with precariously exposed hot water pipes, as no one took time to tie them neatly to the building or put them in a duct, standards that should be obvious for aesthetic and safety reasons. Such pipes can burst, children might play with them oblivious of the danger, or someone might cut them out of malice,” Mr Karichu, says.
And since they do not follow set standards, he adds, you will also find a building with tiling on the exterior walls because the owner of the building and the foreman decided it looks good.
However, in the tile’s country of origin, it was meant specifically for interiors, which is why some fall off and have to keep being replaced, a factor that is also a safety hazard, says Mr Karichu.
Further, he notes, the balconies in many of these neigbourhoods do not consider child safety or aspects such as dust, and that is why many now have alterations for child safety and pvc papers to prevent dust from entering the house.
“By the time these developments are completed, they are a combination of more than one risk and result in aesthetically poor designs as they require very many adjustments,” says Mr Karichu, adding, “It is not possible for one person to have all the knowledge of how to build a house from the foundation to the roof, how to incorporate interior and exterior aspects such as tiling, woodwork, plumbing and electricals etc.
He says the building process should never be fully entrusted to the developer and the foreman, and that is why National Construction Authority (NCA) was established. The authority certifies contractors, and stipulates that foremen not be fully entrusted with an entire construction project. For one to be certified as a contractor, they have to be trained and engage in continuous training. NCA also requires that foremen be certified before they engage in any aspect of construction.
Another area in which the real estate industry has failed is specifications, Mr Karichu says.
“In Kenya, the most common construction materials and services are determined by their popularity and supply. Even in tendering, documents do not specify, for instance, the type of paintwork, type of painting, effects if any, or even the brand of paint to be used. Our consultants, architects, structural and mechanical are also not strict on specifics, as they are also not clear on what needs to be done,” he notes.
Mr Karichu says all construction projects should be put in the hands of professionals and that the management of a project should never be left in the hands of its owner since that gives them the leeway to do whatever they want.
“I am certain that when the county councils approves building plans, they do not approve what is not properly designed on paper. Even the Huruma building that collapsed recently must have had the right specifications, but when the construction began and the county council did not follow up, it is possible that the owner took shortcuts, such as engaging a foreman and not professionals,” says Mr Karichu.
“Kenya’s real estate is still growing, and the reason why everything is tied together. However, the designs, scale and complexity are changing, with the advent of ready-made housing in new, mass-construction projects such as gated community apartments, townhouses, bungalows, etc. It is time professionalism and specifications were emphasised,” Mr Karichu concludes.