Mission of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards:
“To provide standards, measurements and conformity assessment services for improved quality of life.”
How much do you know about the quality of your television set? Or your washing powder? Even your toothpaste? You probably did some research before handing over the money for your TV, perhaps asking your friends, comparing costs, or even checking online. But did you bother to check that your washing powder actually does what the packet says it does, and won’t bring you out in a rash? As for your toothpaste, which you put in your mouth at least twice a day, how do you know it won’t poison you?
In Uganda, the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) is the organisation that ensures that consumer products meet current standards including safety. In 2010 the UNBS, with assistance from the Sweden International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) began a five year Quality Infrastructure and Standards Programme (QUISP)worth US$2.7 million, to establish and strengthen the standards development and implementation capacity of the country. The programme is designed to assist not just Ugandan producers, but also importers who suffer delays due to product testing.
QUISP has five components: to put in place a national standards and quality strategy; to develop a legal framework for quality infrastructure;to coordinate the different players, especially regulators, standards developers and standards implementers; to build the capacity of the above players in terms of training and equipment; and to raise awareness of and produce publicity for standards issues.
Deusdedit Mubangizi is the Manager Testing at UNBS. As well as being responsible for all the testing carried out in the UNBS laboratories,he coordinates the last two components. Based at the UNBS offices in Kampala, Mubangizi explained why QUISP was needed.
“We looked at the impact of quality infrastructure on users,” he said “and found the gaps – regulators didn’t have enough resources to regulate, the business community did not have enough equipment to test products, which caused long delays on goods customs clearance; and there was poor service provision. We wanted to speed up the process and have clear and transparent conformity assessment in lab testing, inspection, certification and calibration of equipment.”
New products must be tested
Most products that cross borders, unless they carry a recognised certificate from the country of origin, have to go to Kampala to be tested. Because of the limited resources available at the testing labs the results used to take up to three weeks. Today, said Mubangizi, it is one and a half weeks, and once all the new testing equipment is installed, he hopes it will be reduced to one week.
UNBS uses four main laboratories to test new products. The chemistry lab calculates chemical composition, the microbiology lab tests for bacteria in food and drink, the building materials lab, amongst other things, tests the strength of cement and steel, and the electrical lab for all electrical goods. When something does not meet the laid down standards it is either destroyed or downgraded, which means an importer, who has already paid to transport goods from one country to another (and perhaps transit through a third) makes a loss.
However, once certified, a product is labelled accordingly and manufacturers are allowed to put the UNBS standard on the product label at the production process. Thus, part of UNBS’s work is to advise the importer of the laid down quality standards before the importation process begins. That’s where the final QUISP component, to raise awareness of and produce publicity for standards issues, becomes relevant.
Making producers and consumers aware
As well as funding over US$1 million worth of equipment to upgrade and strengthen the laboratory capacity, TMEA has also funded an awareness and publicity campaign. The campaign has been taken to the community, via town hall meetings and mobile roadshows, engaging business people, consumers and local leaders, showing how quality standards can improve productivity and competitiveness. In addition, radio and TV programmes have been created to sensitise the public on the importance of standards, both at home and at work.
For manufacturers, the message is all about producing (or buying) good quality products that must meet local and international standards. Importers are encouraged to buy products that have been tested in the country of origin and where certificates of quality are internationally recognised. Not only does this prevent delays at borders, it also foils the importation of counterfeit goods. The consumer, meanwhile, is taught that if you are going to buy a product you need to know its quality. For both producers and consumers, therefore, quality is the key.
People with small businesses, such as cross border fruit and vegetable traders, who may not have the time or money to get products tested are encouraged to buy their products already tested by the country of origin. Thus fruit from Kenya bearing a KEBS (Kenya Bureau of Standards) label will not have to go through another testing process. The UNBS has also offered training to small businesses and where necessary, assists with product testing. Those who have had their goods tested are identified and encouraged to show others the benefits, such as easy market access, and increased business competitiveness.
Part of a wider programme
QUISP, which was due to end in December 2014, is part of a wider TMEA programme to increase business competitiveness in East Africa. Alongside a reduction in non-tariff barriers for transit goods from port to market, a computerised customs system which makes goods clearance faster and one stop border posts that are designed to reduce the time at the border by at least 30%, quality standards and infrastructure play their part.
TMEA has been working to establish and strengthen standards in the region, through financial and technical support. The final objective is to harmonise standards throughout the East African Community, which will ultimately allow the free movement of goods across borders, leading to a reduction in the cost and time of doing business in the region.