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By Charles Ongwae - Managing Director, Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS)
The volume of imported goods into the country has consistently been on the increase year in year out and in 2014 the value of imports grew by $ 2.5 billion compared to 2013 imports. In addition there is a significant volume of imports that enter the country illegally through our porous borders and unmanned routes and hence are not documented. The imports comprise of all manner of products majority of which could be manufactured in Kenya.

Over the past few years data collected by Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) through its market surveillance and quality assurance activities reveals that significant volumes of imports especially those that enter the country illegally are counterfeits and substandard. As a result consumers are being ripped off their hard earned money as they are unable in many cases to tell the difference between quality products and substandard products.

The situation has been made worse since majority of the consumers decisions to buy or not to buy are mainly based on price and not the quality and safety of the product. It is high time we started to question why similar products have big price differentials. This is usually a sign that one of these products is substandard. Consumers must start to appreciate the fact that "cheap can be very expensive" and hence it is important to for them to consider both price and quality when making a purchase decision.
The Government through the various agencies that include the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and the Inspector of Police have put measures in place to curb the influx of illegal and often counterfeit and substandard goods into the country.

Whereas these measures have achieved some level of success, a lot more needs to be done. Effective implementation of the Single Window System (a clearing platform shared by all agencies at entry points) coupled with effective and efficient coordination among the agencies charged with clearing of goods at entry points to Kenya would significantly mitigate the influx of substandard imports.

At the same time individual agencies must avoid the silo mentality as they implement their mandates. Eradication of substandard products from our country requires the concerted efforts of all relevant government agencies, consumer protection organizations and the consumers.
One of the key deliverables of vision 2030 is industrialization and this must happen to drive economic activity and in every sense is core to economic growth of our country. For this to happen several factors that drive industrialization must be in place such as affordable and reliable power, efficient rail and road network, skilled labour etc. and the often forgotten and rarely mentioned factor - Standards. Effective implementation of standards will drive industrializations by opening market access for the products in local and international markets. Standards will also stop dumping and substandard imports and this will help to drive industrialization.

Having said all the above, KEBS has a responsibility / mandate to develop standards, maintain measurement standards (metrology), disseminate standards and to provide quality & assurance on products with an overall goal of trade facilitation, protection of the consumers and the environment. These are key activities that will positively contribute to the well-being of our nation. So far KEBS has developed in excess of 7900 Kenya / EAS standards covering almost all products sold/ used in the country and a result KEBS has an obligation to ensure these products whether locally manufactured or imported comply with the requirements of these standards.

KEBS has implemented a number of programmes to ensure compliance of products manufactured or imported to the Kenya / EAS standards. These programmes include PVOC (Pre- export Verification of Conformity) that requires goods to be inspected for compliance at the country of origin and Scheme of Product Certification that leads to award of KEBS quality marks i.e. Standardization Mark (SM), Diamond Mark (DM), Fortification Logo and Import Standartization Mark (ISM). The PVOC program is working well and KEBS has appointed inspecting partners in all countries that are known to export their products to Kenya. The quality marks on the other hand and especially Import Standardization Mark (ISM) have experienced cases of being counterfeited by importers of illegal products that are most often substandard and counterfeits.

To control the printing of fake ISM stickers, KEBS set up a team in 2014 to develop a standardization Mark that is difficult to counterfeit, that has security features complete with a trace and track solution. The committee completed its assignment successfully and a result the procurement of the solution was tendered for this year and completed about four months ago.

KEBS has subsequently implemented a new ISM effective September 1st, 2015. The new secured ISM is a unique solution that has Kenya specific requirements and will help KEBS to control entry of substandard imports and dumping to the country. The solution makes it possible to efficiently deploy market surveillance officers and empowers the consumers to query and obtain product information while shopping either by use of their mobile phones to scan information on the ISM or by sending an SMS to 20023 quoting the unique number on the ISM. We have agreed with key stakeholders full compliance to the new ISM effective 1st July 2016 when we expect the importers to exhaust stocks with old ISM. In the meantime ALL new imports must apply for the new ISM.

Successfully implementation of the ISM will drive fair trade and eventually will contribute to industrialization of our country by eliminating substandard products from our shops.

The new ISM requires prove to full compliance to Kenya Stardards before it is issued to the importer. Obviously not everybody will be happy with the new ISM and especially the illegal importers who for many years have taken advantage of our porous borders and unmanned entry routes to illegally import products to Kenya.
We call upon all Kenyans to purchase goods effective 1st July 2016 that have ONLY the following marks; new import standardization Mark (ISM) for imports or Standardization Mark (SM) for locally produced products or Diamond Mark (DM) given to a chosen few both imports and local products who have demonstrated excellency in their production processes.

Once KEBS has achieved success on imports, the plan is to extend the security and trace and solution of the ISM to high risk local products e.g. alcoholic beverages and water. This will provide the consumers of these products with confidence that the products are of acceptable quality and safety and in any case these products will be traceable to the manufacturers thus shifting the burden of consumer protection to them.

Effective development and implementation of standards will make a difference in people's lives. Nothing value adding happens in this world without use of a standard. As we celebrate the world's standards day on 14th October 2015 whose theme is "Standards, the World's Common Language" we are all urged to consider standardization as a way of life. The world cannot operate without standards neither can our country! We must embrace and enforce standards for quality life.

Charles Ongwae

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