Lessons learnt from counterfeit cellphones shutdown

19Jun 2016
Guardian On Sunday
Lessons learnt from counterfeit cellphones shutdown

THREE days ago, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) shut down more than 600,000 substandard mobile handsets.

These were discovered not to have been coded in line with the approved International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) system.

We strongly support the decision taken by TCRA; however, we fault the level of operational coordination among government agencies charged with guaranteeing quality of products in the country.

For example, the Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) focus is on the need to become a centre of excellence in standardization and quality assurance in the country.

In pursuit of its mission TBS was expected to have its own top of the range quality management system installed and functional as per ISO 9001 by the end of the year 2015 and have an inspection and product certification unit accredited against ISO 17021 and promote the availability of good and safe products for the Tanzanian public with a view to enhancing economic development. A noble mission, indeed.

However, the flooding of substandard goods (not only fake cellphones) in the local market, which has been going on for many years with attendant ‘suffocation’ of the local industry, would indicate that TBS has to pull up its socks. Erratic corrective measures to address the challenges have never been sustained for explanation that TBS was seriously understaffed.

As a result, cellphones are not the only substandard industrial products available in the local market but rather dozens of many others items.

Although this does not depict TBS in good light, the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), the Fair Trade Commission and other related bodies have their fair share of blame in the whole saga.

There are reports that numerous unauthorized entry points, especially along the long coastline, make it difficult to plug entry of substandard goods in the country. But we understand that it does not require a host of quality inspectors to verify the superiority of products on display in shopping malls.

Electric equipment such as bulbs, extension wire cables and electronic consumer goods such as computers, cellphones, TV and radio sets, besides vehicle spare parts and tyres are widely sold throughout the country, but little effort is made to remove them from shop shelves.

Perhaps the problem lies with the sustainability of the inspection and verification exercise by TBS and other bodies charged with attendant duties, loopholes which unscrupulous traders seem to take advantage of.

We therefore expect closer coordination of activities among government in future to avoid turning the country into a dumping site for substandard goods. For example, the knowledge about IMEI numbers was supposed to have been shared a long time ago to help mobile phone users to purchase genuine products.

That TCRA has had to block over 600,000 handsets goes to prove the shoddiness of government bodies charged with quality assurance. Had so many unsuspecting victims been informed about IMEIs they would not have bought such phoney products.

We believe that far-sighted measures will henceforth be taken as a routine to ensure that counterfeit products do not find a place in this country.