‘Algabas-6’ neighbourhood, now ‘Zerdeli’, became known for its tilting high-rise buildings and cladding panels blown off. The neighbourhood was built especially for municipal housing and consisted of 32 high-rise buildings. However, it has failed to become a comfortable place for many people on the waiting list. The inspection found out flagrant violations in construction that lead to deformation. However, neither state officials who accepted the facility, nor construction company have been held liable for their gross negligence.
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Dana Rakhimova received the apartment promised by the state after 10 years of waiting. She is a mother of many children, one of whom is a child with disability. But right after she moved to the long-awaited apartment, she started noticing the defects in construction and seeing a constant threat for her children inside the house. Now she is almost an expert in construction of high-rise buildings and works in ‘Facility Management Group’ that provides services to property units at ‘Zerdeli’ (former ‘Algabas’). These are houses built mainly for young families, persons with disabilities, public sector employees, as well as citizens who have been on the waiting list for 20 years on the ‘Nurly-Zher’ programme, and other people who bought apartments on deferred payment scheme. There are 32 nine-storey buildings in ‘Algabas’ neighbourhood. There are also 4- and 5-storey buildings in it. The total number of tenants is almost 10 thousand people.
“When I demanded inspection, they said, “Dana, everyone kept silent before, why do you care?” I live in this neighbourhood and I care about the place where my children live, and where my grandchildren might live one day. I can see defects in our house with the naked eye. Protective works have been done to houses in recent years,” Rakhimova said.
In 2017, the tenants of two houses said their houses tilted to one side for 40 centimetres and demanded to relocated them for the time of repair. The commission detected the 32 cm tilt and reinforced the house. The tenants were compensated rental payments out of the budget.
Back then, the commission of the Kazakh Research Design Institute of Construction and Architecture (KazNIISA) established that industrial and melt water, defective irrigation ditches, as well as deviations from project designs were the reasons for defects, according to ‘Informburo’ news agency.
It is worth mentioning that the land where these high-rise buildings are located is in the lower part of the city and during precipitation excessive waters flow down from the upper to the lower part of the city, including ‘Zerdeli’ neighbourhood.
According to the specialist of KazNIISA cited by ‘Informburo’ in the above-mentioned material, the house can withstand a magnitude 9 earthquake after the reinforcement.
Also, the commission found out that construction debris was left under the foundation (which is a violation of engineering standards), and the soil bedding that is placed in open foundation pit to distribute pressure from the foundation on sand sites was thinner than required. After first incidents, at KazNIISA recommendations, houses were built with waterproofing, installation of geotextile material and on the soil bedding 2.5 metres thick.
Later on, the authorities admitted that al 32 houses in the neighbourhood were defective and started to reinforce the footing. In addition, the authorities said that reinforcement was done at the contractor’s expense.
Back then, the officials confirmed the 1 cm tilt and said it was “not critical.” However, the tenants took measurements by themselves and assumed there was a 25 cm tilt. In addition, there were visible fractures inside apartments. Numerous complaints of tenants were covered by the media and the authorities had to evacuate the tenants using budget funds and to start reinforcement of the footing.
After numerous commissions and complaints from the tenants, the authorities decided to reinforce all the houses. The Kazakh Research and Design Institute of Construction and Architecture supervise the process and give 50-year guarantee to the reinforcement.
Activist Dana Rakhimova said these reinforcement works are carried out at the developer’s expense, not budget funds.
“It turns out that the developer built the houses and left. The developer gave a two-year guarantee for residential buildings. This is ridiculous, in my opinion. Two-year opinion may be given for a window, minor repairs, plumbing fixtures… At least 10-year guarantee must be given for a house… Also, it’s sandy soil here and 9-storey buildings should not be constructed here,” Rakhimova said.
The main contractor of the residential compound was ‘Astana Kurylys’. Now this commercial organisation is named ‘AK construction company’ limited liability company. An attractive motto ‘We are carrying out projects of various levels of complexity and purpose’ welcomes the visitor of this decent website.
The company built houses in Algabas in 2014-2015.
According to the information available on the company’s website, ‘AK construction company’ still wins public tenders for construction of schools, blocks of flats, and even carries out seismic retrofitting of kindergartens and schools.
If we look at the company’s tax deductions, we’ll see that in 2015 the company had the unprecedented growth of income because its deductions increased by 160 per cent compared to 2013, and amounted to almost 700 million tenge (nearly 3 million 825 thousand dollars). In recent years, the company business is not so well judging by tax deductions.
‘Astana Kurylys’ or ‘AK construction company’ is active not only in construction, but in lawsuits. According to open sources, the company has 66 lawsuits as of November 2020.
Nevertheless, the construction company keeps on winning public tenders. If in 2016 public contracts were awarded for just under 2 billion tenge (nearly 5 million 810 thousand dollars), in 2019, the amount was 12 billion tenge (31 million 250 thousand dollars). It is curious enough that in 2018 the company either did not take part, or failed to win any public tender.
For example, in 2020 the company won the tender for seismic retrofitting of pre-primary school No. 7 for 25 million tenge (nearly 58 thousand 270 dollars).
A famous investigative journalist based in Kazakhstan, Asel Dzhanabaeva, was also investigating the phenomenal success of this company. According to her material, in 2012 president of ‘Astana Kurylys’ Bolatkhan Sandykbaev was excluded from the state database, but was again registered after changing one letter in his name and patronymic name. Later on, Bolatkan Aitkozhanovich Sandykbaev became the head of the branch office of ‘Directorate of Astana EXPO-2017 Construction’ of Joint-Stock Company ‘National Company ‘Astana EXPO-2017’. According to some data, Sandykbaev is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the key architectural educational institution – KazGASA. Now, the founder is Aizhamal Zharasovna Sandykbaeva, and the director is Yermek Zhumashev.
Despite the above information, there have been attempts to hold Bolatkhan Sandykbaev’s company liable for low quality construction of high-rise buildings in Algabas.
In 2016, the authorities of Almaty openly declared that ‘Astana Kurylys’ must be held liable for the construction of defective houses. Back then, the commission found that the house was built with gross violations and even recommended to demolish the house No. 136.
The commission carried out other examinations, but the results were not reported to the public.
In September 2020, local media reported that the prosecutor’s office of Almaty initiated a criminal case over the tilting house in Zerdeli neighbourhood.
“Additional forensic construction expert examination has been scheduled, and the procedural decision will be made afterwards. Other information relating to the pre-trial investigation may not be disclosed,” Tengrinews cited the prosecutor’s office.
According to the Comfortable City Environment office of Almaty, competent authorities explore the reasons and identify persons who violated the rules and regulations of residential construction in Zerdeli neighbourhood.
According to tenant Dana Rakhimova, the prosecutor’s office started the investigation of one house, but the whole system leaves much to be desired. According to her, the soil under the houses is clay and sand, and can move when it’s raining. Moreover, seasonal rains can contribute to the shrinkage and tilt of buildings.
“I am very critical about it. The project seems to be cost-saving, which I consider to be the embezzlement. We should look at the documents to see who and what was doing it,” she said to CABAR.asia. “I want to get necessary documents, I’ve requested them already, and order an independent examination. There have been so many safety violations: for example, the stairs must be lighted, which we don’t have, and other remarks of the kind. If the houses were commissioned, all commissions must have issued relevant permissions. All persons who permitted the construction, accepted the finished houses, all responsible persons must be disclosed.”
The tenants and the media have reported visible deformations of the houses and hope that seismic retrofitting will bring good results. They do not consider selling or exchanging the apartments because no one wants to buy apartments there.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.