The Executive Director for Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), Dr Ben Manyindo has said that the institution is critically understaffed which has hindered its efforts to crack down on substandard goods.
He made the revelation on Tuesday while briefing the press on UNBS’ performance highlights for the financial 2017/18.
The issue of substandard goods continues to affect Uganda and significantly pinching the exports sector. A 2017 study commissioned by UNBS discovered that 54% of the sampled products did not meet standards. This percentage included both imported and locally made products.
While UNBS has received a lot of criticism for its laxity to enforce the required standards among manufacturers, Manyindo says UNBS suffers inadequate capacity.
“At the close of the year, the staff levels were 290. This represents 45% of the required 640 staff and forms the number one challenge of scaling up service delivery to the people of Uganda,” Dr Manyindo told the press.
The inadequate staff, he said, makes it difficult for UNBS to effectively carry out market surveillance operations to crack down on the substandard products which continue to flood the market.
He also pointed out the lack of laboratory facilities for carrying out product tests as another serious challenge for UNBS.
“One of the challenges UNBS has is the large volume of samples to be tested in the laboratories. As a result, the turn around time has been a major concern of our clients and not user friendly,” Manyindo said.
To deal with this, UNBS has started to work with other agencies in government and private sector by using their labs for product tests.
That notwithstanding, Dr Manyindo said that the 2017 study indicated that the proportion of substandard products on the market had dropped by 19% over the last 4 years. He said that this achievement should not be underlooked.
He however said that there is a lot that is still desired especially on the aspect of enforcement, urging government to increase funding to UNBS. In the last financial year, UNBS was allocated Shs 38.5 billion.
During the press briefing, Manyindo noted the issue of demand for cheaper products among Ugandans which continues to render efforts by UNBS furtile.
“We found out that the lower prices charged on substandard goods is the main reason some people knowingly buy such products. Our traders go to China, India and Dubai as far as imported products are concerned. They order products that fit their money, unfortunately, those are substandard products,” said the UNBS boss.
According to 2017/18 financial year figures, 8.6 billion imported products were inspected and out of these, 33 products were denied entry into the country as they were poor quality. During its routine market surveillance operations, UNBS seized 413 metric tonnes of goods worth Shs 3.5 bn deemed to be detrimental to the health and safety of consumers.
Manyindo believes that the fight against poor quality products requires not just UNBS but other agencies as well as the media educating the public about the dangers associated with such products.
Overall, he said the performance by the institution was “very good” in the period under review. He said all targets were achieved and that an excess of Shs 1.7 billion was collected in non-tax revenue.
In addition, 254 more national standards were developed including one on green coffee beans, building materials as well as agricultural produce like wheat flour, maize flour, milled rice and dry beans.