Ugandan commodities are still facing stiff competition locally and at the regional level due to the production of substandard commodities that do not comply with the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) agreed standards.
UNBS requires industrialists/manufacturers to follow the mandatory procedures before selling their products on the market. These include, product certification Quality Mark (Q-Mark), ensuring proper packaging and labelling of finished products i.e. brand name, date of manufacture, address of the manufacturer, storage instructions, instruction for use, size, and weight of the product.
Among UNBS' requirements, it has become very challenging for local infant industries to obtain the Q-Mark as a statutory requirement for them to sell their products on the market. The process is very complicated and many manufacturers are not aware of the steps involved in obtaining the Q-Mark.
UNBS certifies each particular product upon fulfilling all the requirements/ processes for acquiring a Q-Mark. This explains why most of the manufacturers have failed to obtain a product certification as a result of stiff bureaucratic tendencies and have been seen operating behind the curtains.
Section (1) (f) of the UNBS Act mandates UNBS to enforce standards in the protection of the public against harmful, dangerous, and substandard products while clause 20 of the same Act prohibits the manufacture, selling, distribution, or holding for the purpose of selling any product that does not meet compulsory Uganda standards.
The 2017/2018, UNBS performance report highlighted that 54 per cent of the products on the market are substandard proving how Ugandans are at risk of adverse effects arising from the production of such substandard products.
Regarding the acquisition of Q-Mark, a number of manufacturers lament that the overall cost of acquiring the UNBS mark exceeds the official fees charged. From inquiries made by Gateway Research Centre, many producers informally pay some UNBS officials to carry out pre-inspection audits so that when the main inspection comes, they are ready.
The cost can thus go up to Shs 2 million and above depending on the size of the production plant. Micro and small enterprises have to pay a certification fee of Shs 500,000 while medium and large enterprises pay Shs 1 million to be issued with a permit to use the quality mark valid for a period of one year (12 months).
Manufacturers say this cost has to be reduced due to the many product ranges they deal in - with each product having to be certified independently which becomes too costly for them.
The one-year period for the Q-mark renewal is also too small as most of these manufacturers are still in the infant stages which allow them to only meet operational costs. There is a need to increase the period to at least three years to allow them to build a firm foundation.
Besides meeting the certification fee, manufacturers have to pay testing fees and Shs 500,000 for batch certification (certificate of conformity). For products that have not yet completed the certification process, manufacturers are mandated to pay Shs 250,000 for pre-market approval to get the authorization letter while medium and large enterprises pay Shs 500,000 for the same valid for 6 months.
All these costs hinder manufacturers from accessing the required quality mark from UNBS and at times the cost may end up outweighing the capital invested in their business. Failure to obtain the quality mark has forced manufacturers to produce underground and thus offering substandard products on the market.
In 2020, UNBS destroyed 232 metric tonnes of substandard goods worth 2.5 billion which would have been converted into national revenue.
1. There is a need for UNBS to increase the grace period for the Q-Mark before it is renewed to at least three years (36 months) to allow manufacturers to build a firm foundation.
2. UNBS should increase the number of staff to easily handle the Q-Mark acquisition process, including opening regional offices, at least 2 offices per region in Uganda. Besides, there is a need to embrace technology to allow manufacturers to submit applications for quality marks and other similar tasks without moving to UNBS offices.
3. UNBS should reduce the fees by 50%, especially for manufacturers with more than one product line. Certifying a particular product looks quite expensive in addition to other related fees charged in the process.
4. There is a need to improve the promptness or timely response in processing applications submitted by manufacturers to acquire the Q-Mark. This should not take more than a month before the manufacturer receives feedback.
Conclusively, without revising the product certification procedures and costs, majority of the local manufacturers will remain without Q-Marks yet continue to produce uncertified products. This is likely to limit Uganda’s poverty eradication potential, worsen unemployment, discourage growth of local infant industries, undermine business startups, and harm people’s health.
The authors are researchers and directors at Gateway Research Centre, Uganda