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Patricia Ejalu Interview


Interview No.2: UNBS:  'Q' & 'S' Marks will become compulsory soon

                                               Interview No. 1: UNBS:  'Q' & 'S' Certifications

Our director/editor, Milly Kalyabe, met the Deputy Executive Director – Technical Operations, Mrs Patricia Ejalu, who explained the role of UNBS, the set standards and most importantly the problem of substandard goods in the market that could threaten the consumers and the industry alike - locally and regionally.  

Mrs Patricia EjaluDeputy Executive Director, Technical Operations

Introduction of PVoC  
The Pre-export Verification of Conformity (PVOC) programme was put in place to promote fair trade and protect the health and safety of our consumers by substantially reducing the importation of substandard products into Uganda. In this program, which resumed on the 1st June 2013, all goods that fall under the Compulsory Uganda Standards are inspected in the country of origin or export.   

Uganda is mainly an importing country. Before the introduction of the Pre-export Verification of Conformity (PVoC) scheme, most resources were spent on checking the quality of the imported goods. Since PVoC requires the imported goods to be inspected in the country of its origin and the cost paid by the exporter, resources can now be re-directed to monitor the local situation through audits, surveillance inspections and testing as well as assist, educate & train the local producers to improve their products to meet the required standards. 

‘Q’ & ‘S’ Certifications 
The ‘Q’ mark is issued to producers who meet the specifications outlined in the Uganda Standards. This mark is recognised by all the East African countries i.e. Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania – so it broadens the market hugely for the producer/importer.  The process starts with an application which is filled by the producer. This is followed by documentation review and an on-site audit. Samples are taken for testing over an agreed period to establish the producers consistency in producing a quality product.. There are on average 500 certificates issued to date.

The ‘S’ mark is issued to small and medium enterprises that meet the minimum requirements of the Compulsory Uganda Standards The Statutory Instrument that governs this certification scheme is under review and when approved it will be a requirement for all products in the Ugandan market that are covered under compulsory standards, to bear this mark.

The process includes registration of the producers’ premises (where goods are produced) and nature of goods produced (type and numbers). It also involves audits, and testing as above but at a smaller scale, focusing mainly on the safety of the product.  Certificates are issued annually. The SMEs represent a large proportion of the Ugandan industry and therefore UNBS is obliged to offers support to the SMEs in various ways, including training, to improve the quality of their products and offering subsidised audit fees. The scheme which has attracted many SMEs has on average 200 certificates issued to date.

The UNBS invites more producers to join the certification schemes so as to provide support to them in improving the standards of their products. 

The Certificate Cost
There is a cost involved in issuing the certificate. The cost for the Q Mark Certification is in the UNBS Act which has been amended. It is likely therefore to go higher. It has been in at 800,000 per product for the last 20 years.  The cost  includes testing and audit fees as well as the costs of document reviews and issuing of certificates. 

The Quality Awareness
The Producers:  The standards are developed, with ‘safety’ and ‘quality’ in mind, by a technical committee consisting of experts such as academicians, business people, manufacturers, politicians etc that form a stakeholders’ group. The secretariat (UNBS Standards Department) then takes it through to the National Standards Council (the Governing Board for UNBS) for an approval. When it is established that the only way to have products meeting the standard is by enforcement, a request is sent to the Minister (Trade Industry and Cooperatives) to make the standards a compulsory standard. Producers failing to comply will be penalised according to the requirements stipulated in the UNBS Act. 

The Consumers: The UNBS will educate the consumers how to recognise the standards via various campaigns on radio & TV talk shows, billboards and other media (in English and the local languages). The UNBS will also liaise with the various communities to ensure the messages reach maximum people. 

The UNBS will work to introduce a culture of rejecting and reporting the non-standard or sub-standards goods that will hurt the producers/importers concerned. 

The UNBS will also educate the consumers about the metrology - weights & measures – as the fuel pump meters & weighing scales etc still remains a big challenge. Issues of calibration and factory gauges are of concern too. 

The Penalties
The Act has been amended to introduce tough penalties for producers who fail to comply with the required compulsory standards. The penalties’ formula varies according to the problem involved and the size of the business e.g. if the entire consignment contains the ‘unfit’ goods, the fine (including imprisonment) will reflect accordingly. This could result into some retailers who intentionally fail to comply, to go out of business. 

The Inspection Team
The UNBS engages trained and experienced inspectors backed by the specialised laboratories facilities. They are able to use their experienced knowledge backed by the huge supportive product information available to them to decide if the goods meet the required standards or not.

The officers involved are regularly monitored to ensure that they carry their duty ethically and honestly. The UNBS regards all complaints from the traders very seriously and deals with it immediately and effectively to ensure that the traders do not suffer unnecessarily. 

The Chinese Syndrome
It is understood in Uganda that most if not all substandard goods originate from China. This has been due to two main reasons: the Chinese exporters who send sub-standard goods intentionally  and the local importers who intentionally seek out the producers of sub standard goods. This is all done in the name of making unrealistic profits in the shortest time possible, with no regard to the health and safety of the consumers. China produces excellent quality goods too. However for profitability purpose, the traders have avoided to buy such goods - a sad story. The consumer affordability is not the question as Ugandans were poorer before but were purchasing better quality goods even then.  The PVOC program will be able to weed out traders as well as exporters from China with the intent of sending sub-standard products to Uganda.

Cheap Goods Outflow Regionally
The PVoC will ensure that better quality goods are imported in future and the certification scheme will ensure that the local goods are produced to the required standard. The outflow of the sub-standard goods should stop .  

The Target Period
The PVOC program commenced on 1st June 2013 but the Certification schemes have been running for a number of years. With the forthcoming awareness campaigns, we hope that more local producers will join the existing certification schemes. During the campaigns we will listen to their concerns and guide them to improve the quality of their products while remaining competitive in the market. Likewise, we will educate the consumers to look for quality goods and reject the sub standard goods. 

UNBS is set to install new hi-tech machines worth $2.5m (about sh6.5b) to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery. The acquisition, which is part of the broad Quality Infrastructure and Standards Programme (QUISP) aimed at improving trade in the country, will be implemented in two phases to be completed by the end of the year. It is predicted that by June 2014 the full effect of the program will be visible.    

The Diasporas and the Foreign Investors
The UNBS welcome the return of the Ugandans in the Diaspora who not only have capital but have knowledge and experience on what quality products are like. With all foreign investors, we are happy to discuss the area of their interest and work with them and guide them on specific standards required - although most foreigners do believe in better standards.  

Identifying the right product remains the key to a business success and the UNBS, in association with other concerned agencies, can help with the selection.