Monday May 19 2014

Help UNBS enforce quality assurance

The Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) is facing huge challenges. The national standards and quality assurance enforcer is starved of staff and has only one in Lira to oversee the entire northern Uganda. This limits certification of small and medium scale businesses in the more than 22 districts in northern Uganda.

In light of this, government must act quickly and boost UNBS’s capacity for a round-the-clock surveillance and inspection to rid the market of counterfeit products. The overall staff strength of UNBS at 106 is inadequate to effectively operate countrywide. UNBS must especially heed the recent cries of West Nile leaders and small scale industrialists to exert presence on the ground.

In fact, the thin presence of UNBS is not unique to northern Uganda. Even in Kampala, the Kampala City Traders Association (Kacita) secretary, Mr Isa Ssekitto, says UNBS’s presence is insufficient. This is made worse by inadequate benchmarks for products. This means UNBS has not adequately developed and declared standards to protect consumers from products and services. UNBS cannot, therefore, claim to strengthen Uganda’s economy, promote quality, safety and fair trade.

As Arua District chairperson Sunday Ayikoru said, the thin presence of UNBS risks the health and lives of Ugandans who could be consuming fake products. UNBS’ Winnie Atugonza’s admission that only two of 50 small scales processing factories in Arua were certified is distressing. This means many industries in northern Uganda do not benefit from UNBS’s laboratory testing and scientific measurement to enhance the competitiveness of local industries.

This contrasts sharply with other national enforcement agencies, for example, the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA). While URA has 100 per cent presence in all 54 of Uganda’s entry points, UNBS has presence in only 17 of the entry points. Moreover, URA has a 24-hour presence while UNBS only works an eight-hour day schedule. This means Ugandans are not insulated against sub-standard products, making more urgent demands to strengthen UNBS as is done with other national enforcement agencies, including URA.

Therefore, government must, as requested by Kacita chairperson Everest Kayondo, decently fund UNBS and boost its capacity to mainstream quality assurance.
Besides, share of fees between pre-shipment standards verification firms and UNBS must be reviewed. Government should allocate more funds to revive UNBS to exert its presence countrywide.
UNBS must be helped to develop better standards and enforce quality assurance.