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Why Did The Melcom Building Collapse? - K. B. Asante Writes   
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I make no apologies for returning to the collapse of the Melcom building this week, it is a serious matter. The incident exposes a bad side of our otherwise admirable character. We should not fudge the issues. We should deal with the matter dispassionately and squarely.

We have made rules and regulations to ensure that buildings do not collapse unceremoniously as the Melcom conglomerate did. We should, therefore, firstly find out if the rules were followed. If not, we should deal with those who flouted the rules unemotionally but precisely. The next thing to do is to consider what new regulations the Melcom experience suggests we should make.

This is not the time to have a dig at our opponents or enemies and concoct charges against them. This is not the time to solve all our building problems by vigorously pushing through ideas which promote our personal or group interest.

For example, we may not like Nana Ayeboafo and may be jealous or resent the fact that he owns so many houses. But that is no reason why we should molest him for not using quality Italian terrazzo flooring for the collapsed building when the regulations do not so demand. Do the rules clearly specify the quality of cement, concrete mixtures, iron rods, wood and roofing sheets which should be used in a building? If not, do investigations following the Melcom disaster suggest that low quality materials were responsible or contributed to the disaster?

We should concentrate on scientific investigations which would reveal causes of the mishap and throw light on ways of avoiding a similar disaster in the future.

IMMEDIATELY, however, we should find out whether existing rules were followed. To the best of my recollection the building licensing authorities were not obliged to ascertain ownership of the land before granting building permit. The first question they resolved was whether a building could be erected on the particular plot of land.

The plot may be along a water way according to the national or municipal plan.

Therefore, a building cannot be erected on it. The applicant is then informed IMMEDIATELY that the application is rejected. There may be other reasons for rejecting the application. The site may be earmarked for a park, a sanitary site, a school etc. That is the first major hurdle for a building application. Often the builder, developer or architect consults the published plan and does not make frivolous applications which may be rejected contemptuously.

These days, however, it is difficult to lay hands on the “Land use plans” of the relevant authorities, where such plans exist; they are easily modified or set aside if a high personality requests the land for other purposes or if any applicant can make the appropriate gestures.

Even the ordinary applicant may try to influence the official or officials concerned by a “token of appreciation and esteem” in plain language bribe. The application may then succeed.

We should, therefore, dwell diligently on the building permit with regard to the Melcom structure. It is a simple matter.

Either, there is one or there is none. The document should be produced. It may be genuine or a forgery or a recently prepared document. Any Committee of Enquiry set up should be able to deal with this. Even if it is genuine, did the officials concerned go through the laid down process or did they give the permit for other considerations? The appropriate files should be produced. If they cannot those responsible should be reprimanded.

The Committee of Enquiry should recommend appropriate deterrent sanctions for the loss or misplacement of files or documents.

There are procedures to be followed by the authorities after the building permit is issued. The construction is monitored; I remember arguing for the rule which forbade a toilet near the kitchen to be changed. That rule was made when we had no water closets.

So far as I Know, a building under construction was visited. When the building was completed permission for occupancy was given after appropriate inspection. In the case of buildings of many floors it was ascertained whether there were rapid exit points in case of emergency. Fire appliances were also insisted upon for certain buildings, such as cinemas.

Of course, these provisions are best made in the original designs. And in these days when we have so many competent architects the original plans for approval would include all these requirements.

I cannot help but be sad when I reflect that in the days when we had draughtsmen doing the work of architects and other building professionals, we could rely on our structures. We the youth hailed the arrival of Ghana’s first architect T.S. Clerk, who returned home as a Fellow of the British Institute of Architects. Today, we who are supposed to be educated cannot be proud of what is happening. New floors are erected on existing building and the relevant officials and professionals pass by unconcerned.

And when a Melcom disaster occurs we do not demand that existing rules should be enforced. We propose new institutions to deal with building construction and quality of materials used, good qualification of builders and so on and so on. We do not vigorously question whether the existing rules are followed. We do not act strongly to demand that those who disobey rules should be punished. Is it because we know that those who flout the rules are our friends and we do not want to get our friends into trouble? Simply put the Melcom disaster was most probably caused by indiscipline and refusal to obey rules. Until we deal with these, the country will continue to slide down a worrying path.
Source: K. B. Asante/D-Graphic

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