The Botswana Bureau of Standards (BOBS) last week Thursday convened a workshop designed to update local stakeholders about new measures imposed over imported goods amid glaring reports Botswana could be used as a dumping site by unscrupulous foreign traders owing to her over-dependence on alien commodities.
Dubbed the ‘Standards Import Inspection Regulations’ (SIIR) workshop, the event attracted quite a notable number of stakeholders, including farmers, retailers and government officials from different departments who received news of the impending import regulations to go into effect on April 1.
They also learned that the regulations are not necessarily tailored to hamper trading businesses but to ensure that sub-standard goods stay away from our country’s shores.
Currently Botswana relies heavily on her long time partner, South Africa, for imported goods and indications are that the country could be taking advantage of the status quo at the expense of the local consumers.
Says the BOBS managing director, Elsie Meintjies, briefing the audience about the birth of the regulation: “SIIR is a piece of legislation that was gazetted on 12th September 2008 following a research carried out in 2003; the contents of which painted a gloomy picture of the quality of imports into Botswana. The report indicated that Botswana imports more than 80% of its products ÔÇô a figure that proves that Botswana consumers are exposed to poor quality products and loss of value for money as their health and safety may be comprised.”
While BOBS recognizes that Botswana is a member of the World Trade Organisation – a global organization whose aim is to facilitate International Trade and thereby discourage technical barriers to trade – the same cannot be said pertaining to issues surrounding health and safety of the people, plants and animals as well as other practices because the same body also permits member countries to apply technical regulations to elude hazardous stumbling blocks.
“It is against this background that Botswana, through BOBS, will be implementing the SIIR as of 1st April 2009. The main purpose of these regulations is to reduce importing of substandard goods into this country and also to protect the health and safety of our people, animals, plants and environment and to discourage deceptive practices in line with the international regulations,” Meinjities added.
To avoid duplication of services and systems, BOBS intends to apply the leverage strategy, manning boarders that are currently in the hands of BURS and the agricultural permits system operated by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Through this arrangement traders will submit the certification documents to BURS officers, as guided by BOBS, instructing the destiny of the goods.
“Should the imported goods not comply with BOBS standards or any other external body with whom we have bilateral agreements, the consignment will not pass through. The aim of this law is not necessarily to punish the traders but to align ourselves to good regulatory practices applied world wide, which calls for the safety of products for consumption,” BOBS Director of Regulatory Compliance, B. Kebapetse, argued.
Those caught violating the law, thereby bringing in unwanted commodities, will earn the wrath of the law – whose penalties include, among others, the revocation of the certificate, the destruction of the products and even imprisonment.
According to BOBS’s Manager of Testing Services, Pilot Masunga, the imposition of this law is destined to bear positive fruits as indications from other countries show a sharp decline with non-conformity traders, thereby indicating most entrepreneurs comply with law – a healthy development to the consumers.
Masunga encouraged the importing traders to go under testing saying such an initiative improves the buyers’ confidence and regulators confidence in the product.
For this initiative to take root, BOBS’s management called for concerted efforts amongst the stakeholders.
Whilst embracing the envisaged law, the traders expressed fear they would be complications and delays at the boarders, calling on the management to take officers on the ground on board.
“We do not want to see a situation where one officer would say ‘this’ and the next day the other says ‘that’. This development must be uniform amongst you people,” one participant argued.
Although BOBS intends covering most importing products in the future, there are limited items to require a legitimate certification, among those being cattle feeds, chicken feeds, sorghum, adaptors and plastic bags.