Published on Let's Talk Development

Step-by-step: Strengthening construction permitting in fragile, conflict and violence-affected economies

This page in:
Source: Arne Hoel / World Bank Source: Arne Hoel / World Bank

A well-regulated construction sector plays an important role in economic development. By building infrastructure and productive facilities, it contributes to national socio-economic development, creates employment and promotes capital formation. However, the context of the industry is quite different for many of the economies in fragility, conflict and violence (FCV) settings, where under-regulation plagues the sector or complex regulations cause significant delays. These challenges can be addressed through the adoption of efficient building codes and regulations that streamline the process and promote adequate construction quality and safety. 

Good construction regulation is essential for preserving public safety. Construction regulations can help protect the public from faulty building practices, and to do so, they need to be clear and thorough. Where regulations lack clarity, there is a risk of confusion among both builders and authorities, leading to unnecessary delays, disputes and uncertainty. And when these regulations are very complex and poorly enforced, building projects are often undertaken without the proper permits and approvals.

FCV-affected economies present unique and complex challenges with regards to regulation of construction. While the range of issues can vary greatly depending on the country or region, some key issues that are common to all FCV economies include a weak institutional and regulatory framework. Reduced capacity and poor performance of governmental institutions lead to bureaucratic obstacles and weaknesses in building permit issuance, as well as poor enforcement of construction quality standards. 

Often, construction work is undertaken without the proper approvals and permits, which ensure that plans are designed in compliance with building codes and regulations and that the work is carried out by qualified professionals. Where such informal construction is rampant, the public can suffer. Nigeria, for example, lacks a uniform building code that sets the standards for construction, resulting in erected buildings that do not comply with proper safety standards. Without clear rules, enforcing even basic standards is a daunting task. According to the Standards Organization of Nigeria, from 2007 to 2017, 245 buildings have collapsed due to faulty construction, leading to over 3000 deaths1

Reforming the construction sector: According to Doing Business data, over the past four years, 12 out of the 36 FCV-affected economies adopted reforms to enhance the business environment within their construction sector, largely focused on improving quality controls during the different phases of the construction process. These reforms increased the average ease of dealing with construction permits score by 6% – from 53.47 in Doing Business 2017 to 56.71 in Doing Business 2020

While these efforts are essential to ensure construction quality and safety, Doing Business data also shows that in FCV settings, strong building quality regulations are associated with significantly more time required to deal with construction permits (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Higher building quality control indexis associated with longer time required to deal with construction permits in FCV-affected economies

Figure 1: Higher building quality control index
Source: Doing Business

Why is it so? Without any doubt, ensuring the quality of construction is of the utmost importance – but doing it efficiently is crucial despite numerous challenges. Keeping the permitting process simple, clear and transparent would deter builders from proceeding with construction work without obtaining the necessary permits and approvals. And while the process seems to be simple in many FCV-affected economies, it is often the result of under-regulation. For instance, in the Marshall Islands and in Burundi, dealing with construction permits requires 38 days and 70 days respectively. While these time spans are very short compared to a global average of 153 days, the laws in both economies do not require verification of plan compliance with the existing building codes. Furthermore, inspections during construction are either not mandated by law or are not enforced in practice. The time required to complete permitting procedures changes dramatically when building regulations are introduced and enforced. In Lebanon and in Sudan, for example, strict building regulations are enforced in practice and the time required to complete all procedures amounts to 276 days and 255 days respectively. Delays could however be reduced by addressing issues of weak communication and poor service provision from the various public authorities involved in the permitting process, which often lead to the duplication of work.  

The context is completely different in non-FCV economies, where reforms mainly focus on the efficiency aspect of building regulation. Doing Business data show that in non-FCV settings, strong building quality regulations are associated with faster time to obtain permits (Figure 2). Effective construction permitting processes establish a clear body of rules, which clearly define what is required from builders. For example, Azerbaijan reformed its construction code, which simplified the requirements for low-risk projects, and streamlined the building permitting process through the Baku City Executive Office single-window. This decreased the time to deal with construction permits from 196 days to 116 days. 

Similarly, Bahrain streamlined its permitting process by integrating zoning and regulation information through an interactive GIS map. The process was further simplified when the requirement to obtain a road level certificate for asphalted roads was removed. Finally, to increase efficiency while maintaining high standards for quality control, the government took advantage of the well-established private sector, allowing licensed engineering firms to review construction permit applications on behalf of the public authorities. These steps reduced total time from 174 days to 57 days.

Figure 2: Higher building quality control index is associated with shorter time required to deal with construction permits in non-FCV affected countries


Figure 2: Higher building quality control index is associated with shorter time required to deal with construction permits in non-FCV affected countries

Quality and efficiency can go hand in hand: Governments in FCV-affected economies should aim at maintaining a balance between simplifying the permitting process and supporting safety and quality of construction. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo strengthened its building quality control between 2014 and 2019, and while the number of procedures increased from 11 to 15, the time required to deal with construction permits was actually reduced from 150 days to 122 days. This time decrease was mainly due to the restructuring of the permitting process, through the creation of a national commission responsible for reviewing all building permits in Kinshasa. Similarly, Myanmar reformed its construction permitting process in 2019, managing to strengthen its building quality control, while reducing the total time from 93 to 88 days. The Yangon City Development Council improved its internal processes by setting service standards and introducing an internal digital platform, which rendered the process more efficient.

Finally, while the general trend shows that stronger building regulations are related to slower processes in FCV settings, reforms can certainly be implemented to increase efficiency and building quality control simultaneously.

1 Dabara, Daniel. (2016). Building Collapse in Nigeria: Issues and Challenges. Conference of the International Journal of Arts & Sciences, ISSN: 1943-6114 :: 09(01):99–108 (2016). 09. 99-108.

2 The Building quality control index is a part of the Dealing with Construction Permits Indicator of the Doing Business Report, and measures the quality of building regulations, the strength of quality control and safety mechanisms, liability and insurance regimes and professional certification requirements



Jayashree Srinivasan

Regulatory Specialist, Development Economics Indicators Group

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000