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Importers of fast-moving consumer goods are up in arms against a decision by the Kenya Bureau of Standards to introduce a quality mark on all imported goods sold in Kenya by October 1.
Importers of fast-moving consumer goods are up in arms against a decision by the Kenya Bureau of Standards to introduce a quality mark on all imported goods sold in Kenya by October 1.

They raise very valid points against this new requirement by the standards body. First, the requirement that the mark be stuck on goods per product brand will cost time and money.

Second, the one requiring them to unpack every imported item and to stick the mark on it will cause them to endure time-wasting logistical problems.

Third, in these days of globalisation – where companies manufacture goods in separate locations in far-flung continents – and where packaging is done to conform global tastes, insisting on a quality standards mark for the Kenyan market alone is superfluous and tantamount to introducing non-tariff barriers.

Fourth, if forced to comply, the importers will inevitably pass on the costs to consumers, with negative consequences to a market already faced with consistently rising prices.

I do not want to go through the whole catalogue of grievances by the importers. But I think they have a major point, especially when they complain about the nuisance value of the new requirements.

The painful truth is that businesses in this country are forced to endure foolish and maddening regulations and laws. Law-abiding citizens are being converted into dodgers by excessive regulation and taxation.

In the computer world, they talk of user-friendliness to denote technology introduced with convenience for the user in mind. In this country, regulators do not bother to ensure the rules and regulations they introduce are user-friendly. They ram these regulations down your throats and expect you to comply.

In the specific case I refer to, the importers were invited to a meeting with the managing director of the Kenya Bureau of Standards one afternoon, told about the new requirement, and informed that the implementation date would be October 1.

It was as if the management had just discovered that standards marks for imported products were a legal requirement. The Standards Act, which they invoke has been in the statute books for ages. There was no gazette notice.

Indeed, the importers were more or less invited for an ultimatum: Introduce a new quality mark for your products or face discrimination in the market-place.

The only thing the management of the standards body is willing to discuss is the implementation and the timing of the effective date. It is the law and must be respected.

In a liberalised environment like ours, effective regulation is critical. But regulators destroy taxpayers’ morale – a valuable but delicate national asset – when they flex muscle without considering what some of these regulations do to business in terms of time and money.

The quality being introduced will be a big nuisance to implement in terms of time and energy. Compounding the problem for businesses in this country is the multiplicity of regulatory bodies and certification agencies they have to deal with.

At the Mombasa Port, you have to deal with the Kenya Bureau of Standards, Kenya Revenue Authority, public health authorities, the police, the National Intelligence Service, and many more.

And, complying with one set of these strangulating controls does not necessarily mean that you are compliant.

As an importer, you can wake up one morning and find that inspectors from the Nairobi City Council have raided retail outlets and removed your products from the shelves on the grounds that the packaging has included the manufacturing date but left out expiry dates.

Yet some of the goods, for instance, imported motor vehicle spare parts, do not expire.

We all know that the City Council possesses neither the competence nor the machinery to determine whether or not the products are harmful or below standards in terms of quality. It is just plain meddling. Period.

The Bureau has also introduced a new standards mark for locally manufactured products. Without doubt, this is a good effort at giving our businesses easier access to our regional markets.

What I find unfair is the requirement that products have to be subjected to quality assurance by specific brands. The requirement that businesses pay Sh20,000 per product also amounts to excessive taxation.

The Government should listen to the importers, and must ensure that the introduction of the quality mark for imports is in line with the terms of international trade.

We must strive to make this country attractive for business. According to a recent investment climate study, businesses here pay more bribes to regulators than their competitors in Asia.

This is the “unofficial payment” which an investor has to pay to get things done. Businesses pay too much for electricity, transportation and many other costs associated with poor infrastructure.

Why make things worse by introducing a quality mark that will only serve to increase the cost of doing business?