I must say, UNBS is largely executing the above mandate, and here is how. First, on a daily basis, the institution audits companies through the certification process.
By Richard Luyombya
The Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) is a government statutory body under the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives established by the UNBS Act of 1983 and became operational in 1989 to majorly; formulate and enforce national standards for commodities and protect the public against harmful products amidst promoting fair trade, and to conduct product certification in a bid to ensure quality of locally manufactured goods among others.
I must say, UNBS is largely executing the above mandate, and here is how. First, on a daily basis, the institution audits companies through the certification process. UNBS has managed to encourage at least over 400 companies to get certified. This, on the part of the company, means increased sales because of increased consumer confidence in the manufacturers' products while one the side of UNBS means increased compliance to standards.
Furthermore under standards development, UNBS develops and published standards for use annually. The recently declared and published standards by the National Standards Council are 255 bringing the total number of Uganda standards to over 2600. Lastly, among the core mandate of the institution that is being executed on a daily basis in enforcement.
This component fits into market surveillance unit. The latest figures indicate that during the financial year 2014-2015, the following products were seized. 1706 mattresses, 488 rolls of non-conforming electrical cables, 18 tonnes of non-conforming cosmetic products, 493 pieces of non-conforming roofing iron sheets, 3663 pieces of non-conforming toilet paper, 1074 loaves of non-conforming bread, and 10,798 bottles of non-conforming juices were seized from all parts of the country.
On top of the above, UNBS has established initiatives to complement its activities and ultimately execute its mandate better. For instance, the Pre-Export Verification to Conformity programme (PVoC), introduced to reduce entry of substandard imported products into the country, and the Fuel Marking Programme where regular monitoring of fuel pumps is done in partnership with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development to ensure that consumers are not given underweight measurements. Other initiatives include; the introduction of a customer care complaints desk and toll-free line 0800 133 133 for the public lodge complaints. In this regard, a monthly Customer Care Report is drafted to inform management of the common concerns to be addressed.
The latest Customer Care report for the month of November 2015 shows that food product complaints received the highest number of complaints representing 37 percent, while on the services side; standards received the highest number of complaints representing 14 percent.
However, despite the effort, the Bureau continues to face challenges in trying to protect the public from unfair trade and consuming harmful products. One of the biggest challenges is underfunding to be able to man all porous borders in the country. The just released Auditor General's report clearly states the challenge.
The report indicates that the Bureau can test up to 500,000 out of an estimated one million weighing scales as well as measuring instruments such as fuel pumps due to the shortage of staff largely because of underfunding.
It further shows that out of the 5,000 market outlets, UNBS staff can only inspect about 1,000 and that UNBS can only test half of the 100,000 imported consignments. Some of the imported items are electrical, tyres, helmets and shoes.
These and many more other challenges have sparked a lot of criticisms from the public.
However, whereas the onus is on UNBS to protect the public from substandard goods, it is also important for a consumer to play a part in enhancing standards in Uganda. This is the partnership that UNBS is calling for; as our health and safety is the responsibility of all of us. The fundamental question here would be, how have you helped in eliminating substandard goods?
Here is how one is being mindful of what you buy and consume. A consumer must take time off to read the labels and look out for the following indicators of a quality product. A valid expiry date, packaging or seals not tampered with, manufacturer's names and address, must have product ingredients and should be certified. Furthermore, a consumer should also buy from genuine dealers, keep receipts of a product for evidence purposes, and avoid buying products in a hurried manner and shopping in the night.
On the side of weights and measurement, always buy from a weighing scale or a fuel pump with a UNBS sticker.
These are some of the consumer tips UNBS continues to give out to the public during its sensitization activities.
We believe that once the public embraces the culture of being vigilant, we shall surely eliminate unscrupulous trades hence reducing the sale of substandard goods on the market. On the other hand, it also helps UNBS to investigate complaints once reported on the toll-free line 0800 133 133, or posted on UNBS social media platforms; twitter (@UNBSug or @UnbsEd) and Facebook (UNBSug)
Let us all embrace standards and enhance competitiveness.
The writer is a social and website management officer at the Uganda National Bureau of Standards