By Patrick Kagenda
At the end of July, the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) was set to destroy expired confectionaries worth Shs 22.5 million, cosmetics worth Shs 10 million, tinned beef worth Shs 4.9 million and food supplements worth Shs 6.5 million.
The haul is part of goods worth Shs 147 million that UNBS was destroying at the Kampala city council garbage dumping site in Kiteezi off the Gayaza Road near Kampala city. UNBS confiscated them from businesses because they do not meet the standard bureaus requirements.
Speaking from his office in the branch office at Kanjokya House on Kanjokya Street in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb, the UNBS Manager Quality Assurance, Patrick Ssekitoleko says in spite of such efforts to kick expired commodities off the shelves of shops, “the situation is getting worse’.
In the week of the interview, UNBS had just discovered expired industrial chemicals for cleaning re-useable bottles in the beverage and alcohol industry. When UNBS recovered the expired chemicals in a raid on their premises, officials at Lawsam Chemicals Ltd, a major importer and supplier of chemicals, claimed they were not aware of the expiry date.
The chemicals involved are mostly bought by the small companies in soft drink and alcohol business.
“The health danger to the end user from such expired chemicals is that the active ingredients become inactive and therefore can’t kill the germs and bacteria,” said Ssekitoleko.
UNBS officials say, in some cases, the offenders totally change the expiry date on the products and blame the practice on the proliferation of small manufacturing units in homes turned into factories.
“When the economy was liberalised some people turned their homes into factories,” says Ssekitoleko, â€œThere is no way you can enter a person’s home to inspect to find out whether there is any packaging or manufacturing taking place. The people involved in these vices work at night, distribute in the wee hours of the morning and by day break everything is in order,” says Ssekitoleko. He says UNBS plans to start working at night to counter the illegal activities.
He warns that the most affected products on the list of expired consumer goods are powder milk, juices, tooth paste, bathing soaps, detergents, edible oil, ladies cosmetics, medicinal syrups, and wines.
According to UNBS, most expired commodities are sold in the small retail shops in the low income areas where buyers lack information and buy without first checking the expiry date.
“We need more money to be able to deepen awareness more effectively,” says UNBS Executive Director Terry Kahuma in an interview at his office in Kyambogo.
Under the plan, Kahuma wants all district councils and police units to know how to liaise with UNBS.
“We would want police to intercept commodities which they suspect to be expired and then call us. We want it to get to that point where people should not only have a citizen`s arrest for criminals because it is under the Police Act, but also a citizen`s arrest of counterfeiters, producers of substandard goods, people merchandising expired goods, and of people altering expiry dates”.
In an earlier interview, Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA) spokesperson Issa Ssekito told The Independent that expired goods flood the market because of weak trade regulations and an influx of the so-called investors who have turned into retail traders. He named some Chinese and Indian traders.
“Because of weak regulation, when they are arrested they pay the fine and return to business,” he said, “Uganda has a Sale of Goods Act of 1950 which carries a very light penalty. The rules and regulations to trade need amending to meet the present day challenges.”
Charles Kwesiga, the Executive Director of the Uganda Industrial Research Institute, which compliments UNBS, also blamed fake investors for some of the counterfeit and substandard goods.
Under Clause 2 section (1) (f) of the UNBS Act of 1983, UNBS is mandated to enforce standards in protection of the public against harmful, dangerous and substandard products, while under Clause 20 of the Act, there is a legal obligation for anybody not to manufacture, sell, distribute or hold for the purpose of selling any product that does not meet compulsory Uganda standards. The proliferation of expired good means UNBS needs to put more bite into bark. Stricter new laws could help.