Media‎ > ‎

Quality Chronicles

The ChroniclesJulius Mirembe

discuss UNBS 'Q' and 'S' classification

 Julius Mirembe, the proprietor of EAMC

Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) held its annual quality awards dinner last week. The dinner is basically to recognise and appreciate companies that have observed the continuous standards, “Q” and “S” throughout the year.  The dinner is also intended to encourage those companies that have not yet obtained standards to do so.

The event didn't happen last year due to logistical challenges and restructuring exercise at the standards organisation and for the first time, UNBS contracted East Africa Media consult (EAMC),  an organisation that publishes independent magazine (The Chronicles) to promote standards in the country. Qmag’s Milly Kalyabe talked to Julius Mirembe, the proprietor of EAMC about general issues of standards in the country and below are the excerpts. ..

Qmag: You have been involved in promoting and disseminating information about standards for about ten years now through your magazine, The Chronicles. What are your feelings about standards in Uganda?

JM:  The standards in Uganda basically are little bit behind according to the East African Community. They are not yet harmonised but they are quite ahead of Rwanda and Tanzania although Kenya is a bit ahead of us in terms of the actual numbers standards. I think the Standards Council is doing whatever it can to ensure that they harmonise the standards and everything looks to be on course. There are a few products that still need standards but these standards are developed according to demand. So I can say the standards are rolling, they are moving forward given our market, and what we produce.

Qmag: There are people producing without standards in our market and yet competing in the same market. What is your take on this, how fair is this?

JM: The standards Council would probably be in better position to answer that but I think normally standards are developed according to demand of the market and the technical personnel. For instance, if you look at the demand of standards for plastic tanks it has just been developed and yet have been producing these products for a long time. They haven’t been having standards, but as the market grows, of course there is need for the standards, and that is the rationale for developing standards.

Qmag: What do you think of enforcement of standards in this country?

JM: Enforcement is there. It doesn't look at standards per say, they look at quite a number of things.  When you look market surveillance and also import inspection, the two departments in UNBS that are mandated to monitor the market, you will appreciate that UNBS is still under funded and under staffed. So enforcement is where they find a challenge, as they cannot be everywhere all the time as they would be required. That is why there are other mechanisms that are being developed to ensure that they reduce on the importation of substandard goods.

Thus, the idea of Pre- Inspection Verification of Conformity (PIVoC) to restrict entry of sub standards goods. I think this a point where enforcement can yield results. The enforcement team in the field also keep monitoring.

But there is also what is called quality management system which is going to be put in supermarkets because some of those people selling those products are tasked to explain why they have goods on their shelves which do not have standards marks.

So basically enforcement is there but because of lack of personnel, UNBS is looking at other mechanisms that can cartel substandard goods from the market.

Qmag:  From your experience, are manufacturers and or importers happy to acquire these standards willingly?

JM: Of course the world over everything has a standard.  It may not really be by choice, but standards are the yard- stick of everything we do, but certainly some of the manufacturers it cuts across. It’s not casting stones that there must be particular standards, but by default there have to be standards.

The genuine manufacturers are happy to be involved with the standards. Some of them have approached UNBS and asked them for standards here and there. And the market is driven by standards, if you don’t have a standard I tell you, that it will be very hard for you to export your products, say to Rwanda.  You can’t export to certain markets if you don’t have certain standards marks.

So people are happy to have standards, both manufacturers and importers.

Qmag: Many of our local consumers are not really sensitised on standards.  In most cases they buy what is affordable. What is your experience on this one?

 JM: Consumers here will always go for the cheap products. It may not necessarily follow that whatever is cheap doesn't conform to the standards. But because of our nature and our society in that by and large semi illiterate or illiterate, they normally go for the cheap products. Truth-be-told, most of the cheap products don’t conform to standards because the manufacturers use less of the materials than they would be using for something that is durable.

You will also agree that our economy, pockets and incomes may not necessarily be in consonance with what people consume. So there is need to sensitive people about what they consume. You buy a belt for Sh 4000 instead of going for a belt of sh 6000, the former will last months and the later will last two year and the difference is only sh 2000.

But sensitisation needs money and it is another whole a ball game.  You have to go into radio and TV talk shows but slowly UNBS is doing whatever they can to make people aware of the benefits of buying quality.

There are some products which have mandatory standards, those that normally have direct impact on people’s lives, for example food, construction materials, shoes etc. So whether you like or not these ones have to conform to standards.

There is a lot that needs to be told to the consumers, but besides the pre verification conformity to standards will come in handy to try and stop importation of sub standards goods, then even if one wanted they will not find them.

Qmag: There are reports that even with the standards marks obtained, some businesses still produce sub standard goods at the expense of quality marks? What is your comment on this one?

JM:  It depends on who says what. For anyone to get the quality marks they go through various stages but like we know, some the businesses don’t get to renew their licenses.

Standardisation is a continuous process, renewals and calibrations never end. There is a lot more than saying I have the marks.

Well, UNBS also has its challenges, we can’t say it’s an angel, but by and large, if we talk about percentages, I would say about 98 percent of people with the quality marks really qualify. Some people may maneuver and get the Q mark, but what I know is that UNBS tries to make sure that whoever gets the standards marks truly deserving. And when you look at our products and compare them with other products, say from Kenya or Rwanda, they better. I grew up knowing that Ugandan products are best for example our plastic basins from TAMPECO, NICE toothbrush have always been better regionally.

So, say for the market that is now flooded with Chinese cheap imports, most locally manufactured products are really OK. Look at Movit products, people, mostly women who use them, say they are good. At least they pass the test and they qualify to be on the market.

Qmag: On the side of manufacturers, is this area that needs more sensitisation to bring more on board of standards?

JM: Of course, most of the manufacturers here are really manufacturers. Most of them import these things and repack them here. They bring them as raw materials and repack them as though they manufactured here. That is why there have been fights between manufacturers and UNBS because they know that PIVoC will catch them easily and the issue of taxation will come in and it will be eating into their profits. But the genuine manufacturers are really happy about PIVoC because it protects the indigenous manufacturers. So the genuine ones know the essence of standardisation and the mark, but the quicker ones will always fight with UNBS. Otherwise why would anyone fight someone trying to aid you in produce a good product and then have a market?   UNBS is a watchdog but main purpose is to aid trade and to ensure that best practices in trade.

Qmag: On the question of sensitisation you are a publishing a quarterly magazine. Who is targeted to and do what you more could be done in this area?

 JM: The magazine targets people who are supposed to ensure that the information trickles down. We target politicians, District chair persons, manufacturers, supermarkets etc. We make sure that people who get this magazine help the person who may not be able to read which much of our population is. It’s a downstream kind of mechanism but a lot more still needs to be done, radio, TV talk shows and a host of other media to make sure everyone benefits. 

Qmag: This brings us to the Qmag, our online publication. What do you think about it?

JM: ya ya ya. This comes in handy, people can receive it on laptops, computers, phones and I think it’s really a good idea. People should be able to consume all media. UNBS should be able to utilise all the media as much as they can to reach out the population

Qmag: Slightly on the Dinner. What is the purpose of it?

JM: The UNBS Quality Gala has always been set aside to acknowledge and reward people who continue conforming to standards and to encourage others who are yet to come on the scheme of standardisation.  Also to encourage the SMEs and invite them to learn from the big boys. Most of them are producing without the standards. It’s a day that has been set aside for UNBS to appreciate these manufacturers and the importers. It’s also a platform to tell Ugandans that these are the manufacturers who are safe to buy from.  So it’s basically a celebration for people who are on Q mark and not the S mark. May be in future we will incorporate the two standards because S mark is the largest sector.

Qmag: Any other activities to loudly appreciate the companies that have embraced the standards?

JM: We had the east African standards conference but it has been put on halt because the institution (UNBS) has been going through a lot of changes. But maybe next we will revive it. It’s a big one, it brings across people from all over the world.

Qmag: Any specific message to your clients

JM: Well I would like to encourage people who were not at gala to make sure next year, they participate. We will keep improving it and we encourage feedback from those who attended.