Feature: The need for sanitisation of construction activities

Dr Kenneth Donkor-Hyiaman

The call for establishment of a Construction Industry Development Authority (CIDA) is not without cause. In the 21st century, infrastructure is the lifeblood of prosperity and economic confidence.

Successful delivery of well-planned infrastructure investments offers developing economies like Ghana opportunity to compete in the global marketplace. Construction is the mechanism through which infrastructure is delivered.

Construction activity does not only deliver physical infrastructure, it also creates jobs – which reduces unemployment, especially, among Ghana’s youthful population according to the data.

These facts notwithstanding, the construction industry in Ghana is substantially underdeveloped and plagued with numerous constraints. For instance, the construction industry has been declining since 2013.

The industry’s contribution to gross domestic product declined from 9.1% in 2013 to 6.4% in 2019. This is happening despite the country’s huge infrastructure backlog.

The industry has a pyramidal structure; there are a few large firms and a great number of small ones.

The local firms are generally unable to compete with their foreign counterparts due to many factors – including adequate access to finance capital, lack of capacity, poor workmanship, poor human capital, and a lack of strategic development agenda for the industry besides others.

Furthermore, the laws governing activity in the construction industry are rather scattered and old, and their enforcement is ineffective. Thus, the standards of construction are poor, putting the lives of occupants at risk. For instance, five major buildings that collapsed claimed a total of 19 lives between 2012 and 2016 in Accra.

Two of the prominent ones were the Melcom building collapse near Achimota in 2012 that claimed 14 lives, and the Grand View Hotel building collapse at Nii-Boi Town in 2014 recorded four deaths. Expert analysis suggested that structural weakness had caused the collapse.

The then Vice-President of the Ghana Institution of Engineering, Magnus Quarshie, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme before a comprehensive investigation was carried out that: “Looking at the debris, it shows workmanship was very, very poor…. We can tell the concrete mix was not to the specifications we require”. Economic development cannot therefore be achieved on the back of a fragile developmental framework and ill-equipped construction industry.

Each of the professional institutions and trade associations seeks to control the of professionalism among their members, but lack the power to sanction offenders. Formation of the Architects Registration Council and Engineering Council appears to have made some gains in improving standards within their professional settings, but could have done better if a Construction Authority was in place.

Evidence around the world indicates that countries that have successfully developed their construction industries, and for that matter their economies, have done so on the back of a dedicated and statutorily-mandated public agency.

For instance, Singapore, Malaysia and South Africa have the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB); Construction Industry Council in Hong Kong; Construction Industry Development Council in India; National Construction Services and Development Board in Indonesia; and the Institute for Construction Training and Development in Sri Lanka. Other countries in Africa including Zambia, Rwanda, Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania all have central bodies that are mainly responsible for the regulation and development of their Construction Industries.

At a stakeholders’ workshop organised by the Ghana Chamber of Construction Industry that witnessed a number key stakeholders – such as the Insurance Brokers Association of Ghana, Trade Union Congress, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Justice & Attorney General, Ghana Chamber of Mines, Bankers Association of Ghana, Financial Intelligence Center, IET-GH, GhIE, LUSPA, ABCECG, GIA, GhIS, GREDA, CIOB etc., with funding support from the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge (BUSAC) Fund and its donor partners DANIDA and USAID – based on a baseline study, it was firmly believed the best way forward for development of the construction industry in a way that will support Ghana’s developmental agenda is through the establishment of a Construction Industry Development Authority (CIDA).

Since 2011, stakeholders have made efforts in terms of research and advocacies as well as the drafting of a bill to get an Authority established for the Construction Industry. The objects of the Authority are two-pronged:

  1. To provide strategic leadership in the construction industry to stimulate sustainable growth, and
  2. To reform, improve and monitor standards in the construction industry.

To achieve these objectives, the law will empower the minister who will act in consultation with the Authority to regulate:

  1. The procedure for consideration of applications for the registration and issuance of certificate to a contractor.
  2. The prescription and enforcement of professional standards, ethics and conduct for contractors and construction staff.
  3. Ensuring safe and healthy work environments within the construction industry.
  4. The exercise of disciplinary power over contractors in respect of their professional practice and site management.
  5. Management of the Construction Industry Development Fund.

This is another call on government and all stakeholders to increase efforts toward strengthening the construction industry. Setting up the CIDA is a sine qua non and therefore cannot be overemphasised. We are looking forward to successful passage of the CIDA bill into law later this year.

The writer is a lecturer at the Department of Land Economy, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

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