The standards body has lost millions in endless repairs of its vehicles as a result of adulterated fuel it is supposed to deter from entering the Ugandan market, writes BENON HERBERT OLUKA.
The Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) is mandated to ensure that substandard goods are not traded on the local market. But the standards body seems to have become a victim of its own inability to perform its role effectively.
A leaked internal email memo, which was written last month by a senior UNBS official, indicates that vehicles belonging to the standards body have suffered malfunction due to use of adulterated fuel prevalent on the market.
On June 13, 2016, the UNBS manager for finance and administration, Davis Ampwera, wrote a memo to staff by email revealing that the standards body had been consuming fuel that should not be on the market.
“It has been noted that our official vehicles, especially those procured from year 2006, have been having and continue to have fuel management system problems,” wrote Ampwera.
“Investigations into this issue have revealed that the problem is arising from use of not-so-clean fuel i.e. adulterated fuel. This bad fuel, unfortunately, has a pronounced negative effect on the diesel engines (that’s not to say the petrol engines are safe) and many of our recently-acquired vehicles have been diagnosed with injector-related issues.”
Ampwera explained that due to the magnitude of the problem, UNBS drivers should exercise caution when refilling their tanks from fuel stations nationwide to “avoid or eliminate risk” of consuming adulterated fuel.
“It’s unfortunate that as UNBS we should be complaining about bad fuel, but having no option, we have to avoid all the other fuel stations/companies until we have assurance of good fuel from them,” he wrote.
According to Ampwera, UNBS has already lost millions of shilling to the continuous repair of vehicles affected by the use of adulterated fuel.
“When the fuel tanks of the affected vehicles are opened, the garages have found in very bad/contaminated fuel,” he noted. “Repairs of fuel management systems including replacement of injector pumps, nozzles, sensors, etc are very expensive, often running into millions of shillings.”
UNBS has now directed all its managers to ensure that the standards body’s official vehicles consume fuel from only three companies “until otherwise guided.” These are Shell, Total and City Oil.
“Managers, please ensure that all officers and drivers of vehicles under your supervision conform to this directive,” wrote Ampwera.
“Administration division will be tasked with the review of all fuel consumption accountability receipts to ensure compliance with the directive.”
The government mandates UNBS and the energy ministry to jointly undertake fuel marking and quality monitoring in order to regulate product monitoring, smuggling and dumping of transit fuel.
Marking is currently done at the customs entry points of Malaba, Busia and Mutukula for five shillings per litre. UNBS adds that arrangements can also be made to mark the fuel in Kampala with clearance from URA. Those who do not comply with the requirement, attract a fine.
However, Rev Frank Tukwasibwe, the commissioner for the petroleum supplies department in the ministry of energy, declined to comment when contacted by The Observer.
“The statement of UNBS is sufficient,” he said.
“I can’t comment on what UNBS has commented on when it is a joint programme. You take what UNBS has said.”
The leaked memo highlights the extent to which a considerable number of counterfeit products have infiltrated the Ugandan market right under UNBS’ nose. On June 29, 2016, during a stakeholders’ engagement with traders of electrical and electronic products at the Uganda Manufacturers’ Association (UMA) conference hall, the UNBS executive director, Dr Ben Manyindo, decried the presence of substandard electronics on the market.
Manyindo said the products listed pose a danger to people’s lives because they lack quality and safety requirements.
“Many of the products listed are used in our daily lives hence they need urgent consideration in our enforcement which is planned for this financial year,” he said.
Vincent Ochwo, the UNBS head of surveillance, listed some of the substandard electrical and electronic products on the markets as extension cables, electrical cables, sockets, bulbs, switches, electric kettles, bulbs, radios, television sets (TVs), and refrigerators.
“Some extension cables are marked fused yet they are not,” Ochwo explained in the meeting.