Friday, February 8, 2013

The underworld of Construction: Part 5

Timber theft explained

This guy who was measuring my timber at Kawangware spoke in a very soft voice but with a lot of conviction that I believed what he was saying. He actually confessed that the reason he left Rongai was primarily due to threats from one of the customers in the yard he worked for. The said customer after getting conned promised to come for the heads of all those he believed conned him; and that included this young man. Once he heard that the owner of the yard had been accosted by some boys who threatened to have his severed head and balls collected in one of the bus parks, he knew it was time to hit the road.

Without warning he started explaining the all-important tricks and I was all ears. You see that measuring tape is usually tampered with. If you are keen to observe, it will have some feet missing, as in it could move from 1 to 2 to 4 to 5 then to 7 to 8 to 9 to 11 to 12 to 13 then 15 and so on. This essentially means that if that tape indicates 9 feet, in the real sense the correct length is 7 feet. If it indicates 15 then the actual length of the timber is 11 feet and so on. In essence you could be losing 3 feet on average per timber. If you have a quantity of 2000 pieces, then obviously you will have lost as much as 6000 feet and if each foot is costing Kshs 30, then your loss would be as much as 180k. That is just one of the tricks.

The second trick he mentioned was in the recording of the timber as it is measured. You see, the fellows use a piece of paper and a pen and they normally draw tu-small lines depending on the length of the each timber measured. Meaning, there will be a section for 9 feet pieces, 10 feet, 12 feet and so on and a ka-line will be drawn in either of the sections depending on the measured and the ‘shouted aloud’ length. What I suspect happened in my case is that, the guy who was keeping the tally would add imaginary tu-lines whenever my foreman who was to keep an eye on him got distracted. When I flashed back, I remember that there were as many as ten fellows each given a specific role in the set up but some were just meant to distract us.

The other but most unlikely trick is to ensure that the timber is ferried in more than one truck and if you don’t have a trusted guy accompanying the lorry, then they can drop some at designated places on their way. And they’d go to the length of befriending your foreman or fundi in case you send them before the actual purchase and make him part of the squad to defraud you.

The other thing they’d do to novices would be to measure poor quality timber. For an experienced hand, whenever you encounter poor quality timber or one with unusable section(s), the feet are normally discounted or the entire piece is kept aside.

So how are you supposed to safeguard against such tricks. Read below:
1.      Make sure that the measuring tape being utilized is your own. It is better to buy one (they are very cheap) because it will obviously not be tampered with.
2.      Make sure that when the measuring is being done, keep your own tally for later comparison at the end of the measuring. In the event there is a discrepancy, then make it clear that your tally is the correct one. If they insist that it is not, then let the exercise be repeated.
3.      Always make sure you have a trusted hand (preferably your fundi) to verify the quality of the timber and be in charge of ensuring poor quality is set aside or the process of discounting the unusable sections is done and fairly so.
4.      Never trust your fundi or foreman to take charge of the entire process in your absence. Notice how easy it is to co-opt them into the gang and milk you dry. Never ever delegate this fully.
5.      Where possible, let the seller deliver the timber to your site and measure from there. At least in your site you will have absolute control.

I was conned in broad daylight by I told myself that it will never happen again. You see the other day I was purchasing timber and some guy from Ruai attempted to use these tricks on me. The fellow had discounted his prices with the assumption that he’ll apply the tricks on me. I proved a hard nut and after sealing all the loopholes, the measuring was done but at the end of the exercise, the fellow confessed he was to make a ‘loss’ because the prices were unbelievably low and he never managed to steal anything. He even contemplated chasing me away without the timber but I cornered him. The other day I called him and informed him that I need to purchase some more but he declined to sell to me; of course he knows am a bull that cannot be milked.

Be advised and don’t let them con you, least of all with these tricks. By the way, am sure they are probably devising other strategies to steal from unsuspecting Kenyans.

The other day I went to see some guy I had sold to some plot. He is currently constructing his residential house and what I saw on his site was quite sad. I discovered he is using the wrong professionals. Topic for another day, well next post.

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