What awaits new UNBS chief 

The Bweyogerere-based standards agency has for long been dogged by several issues amid an increased supply of substandard products on the local market. Photo / Courtesy 

What you need to know:

  • Mr Kasigwa takes over from Mr Daniel Richard Makayi Nangalama, who has been acting UNBS executive director since the sacking of Mr David Livingstone Ebiru in August last year

Starting Monday this week, Mr James Nkamwesiga Kasigwa reported to office as the new executive director at Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) after his appointment by Trade and Industry Minister Francis Mwebesa. 

A statement from UNBS on Tuesday said Mr Kasigwa takes over from Mr Daniel Richard Makayi Nangalama, who had been serving in the position in acting capacity since the sacking of Mr David Livingstone Ebiru in August last year following a Parliamentary investigation in which he openly admitted that he had bribed members of the board to extend his term. 

However, Mr Ebiru, who was later charged in the Anti-Corruption Court, withdrew the claim, but the damage had already been done.   

Mr Kasigwa joins the standards body when its reputation is at its lowest, bogged by years of alleged inefficiency and corruption and a general lack of public trust as a result of the rise in the number of substandard products.

Only about two weeks ago, a UNBS report had indicated that the percentage of substandard goods had increased by 7 percent in the year ended June 2023 to 58 percent. 

Mr Kasigwa also comes at a time when traders are grappling with harmonisation of standards at both the East African Community and African Continental Free Trade Area levels. 

The Makerere University-trained electrical engineer will, thus, have to immediately deal with the issue of harmonisation to solve standardisation challenges that Uganda has had with its neighbours over the years. 

For instance, UNBS is battling credibility issues after trucks carrying maize and wheat from Uganda were intercepted by the South Sudan National Bureau of Standards last year over claims of failure to pass aflatoxin test. 

The same cereals had been given a green light by UNBS.

South Sudan sought testing from another country, but UNBS protested. However, results later indicated the maize was not good for human consumption and was subsequently returned to Uganda. 

Kenya has also had an on-and-off with Ugandan products, denying entry to some commodities over quality concerns. 

Thus, Mr Kasigwa has his bag already full. However, the biggest headache will be dealing with the increasing number of substandard products on the local market, which has grown from about 54 percent in 2021 to 58 percent in the period ended June 2023. 

There has been an increase in substandard products, which will be a key challenge for Mr Kasigwa to solve. Photo / File    

By UNBS’ admission, the percentage of substandard products on the market has been increasing, with soft drinks, energy and alcoholic drinks, many of which are pre-packed, being the most affected. 

This has further been compounded by an increase in counterfeits both within and outside the country that find their way onto the local market.  

Safeguards such as pre-export verification to conformity regulations and UNBS market surveillance have been of little help, even though they have intensified over the years.  

Away from this, Mr Kasigwa must also see to it that the standards agency is fully supported in terms of budgeting. UNBS has been an easy target for budget cuts. For instance, in the 2022/23 financial year, its budget was cut and was further cut during the 2023/24 financial year.

A report from the Budget Committee on the National Budget Framework Paper for the 2023/24 financial year indicates that the budget cuts have gravely affected the operations of UNBS, curtailing mainly field surveillance, which is a key component in ensuring adherence to standards. 

And in dealing with these challenges, Mr Kasigwa will have a lot of support and more cheerleaders given their impact on local manufacturing and international trade.

“We expect to see the development of standards and real-time response,” Mr Stuart Jason Mwesigwa, the Roofings Group corporate affairs manager, says, and notes that “harmonisation of standards within the region and at the international level should have happened yesterday”. 

Consumers, he says, must be protected from substandard goods and counterfeits because they have a negative impact on both government revenue and manufacturing.

On the other hand, Dr Ezra Muhumuza, the Uganda Manufacturers Association executive director, says there has been laxity in ensuring that the pre-export verification to conformity programme works well. 

In addition, he says, there is need for a reduced turnaround time for certification that has over the year been a point of concern among manufacturers for a long time.  

“We want a change of how we access services, we expect reduced turnaround times and a change of attitude [to that of] service providers other than punitive implementers - enforcers of the law rather than facilitators,” he says. 

However, UNBS has remained largely infective due to underfunding, with the standards agency running at a budget gap of approximately Shs28b. 

In the 2022/23 financial year, UNBS was allocated Shs46.6b, including a supplementary release of Shs5.3b for gratuity, against a required budget of Shs79.9b.  

This, Mr Mwesigwa says, illustrates the level of underfunding, which curtails activities such as surveillance, enforcement, training, developing standards and adaptation of advanced technology. 

Mr James Nkamwesiga Kasigwa started work as the new UNBS executive director on Monday. Photo / Courtesy 

Who is Mr Kasigwa? 

He is an electrical engineer with an illustrious career, having worked with multinational corporations, and private and public sector companies over a period of two decades in leadership and strategic management.

The fifth executive director of UNBS has expertise in science, technology, innovation, standards, and infrastructure. 

Mr Kasigwa holds a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from Makerere University, a bachelor’s in computer engineering and a master’s of science in telecommunication from London South Bank University, UK and a master’s in business administration from ESAMI.

Before this appointment, Eng Kasigwa has been working as a director of science, technology, innovation regulation and biosafety at the Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation and has also previously served as the commissioner of ICT Infrastructure Development at the Ministry of ICT.