Let us move to put to an end the influx of shoddy imports

22Nov 2019
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Let us move to put to an end the influx of shoddy imports

SEVERAL years ago the government adopted a presumably failsafe system aimed at arresting the importation of substandard or fake goods into.

The Pre-shipment Verification of Conformity to Standards (PVoC) replaced the Destination Inspection (DI) until then in use but which was widely dismissed as having failed to detect imports of suspicious quality.

PVoC was primarily meant to shield the local market from the influx of substandard and therefore more affordable goods, and three foreign companies were hired for the job.

However, substandard goods still find their way into the country, as every now and then officials from the likes of the Tanzania Food and Drugs Administration (TFDA), the Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) or other watchdog agencies raid shops and warehouses and seize fake items including cosmetics, foodstuffs and electronics.

It will also be recalled that PVoC, also known as pre-shipment inspection (PSI), had been used for several years in the late 1990s before it was abandoned. At least one of the firms picked to “oversee” the operationalisation of PVoC was among those commissioned to do the job at that time.

Many countries use the PSI system, but some of the firms doing the pre-shipment inspection are known to have been embroiled in corrupt practices through collusion with unscrupulous government officials.

For instance, in the Pakistan of the early 1990s, then-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was thrown out over allegations of corruption involving a PSI firm.

As pointed out, in Tanzania the influx of substandard or counterfeit imports is still cause for grave concern and surely warrants more serious intervention.

This partly because among those said to “sustain” it are corrupt tax and other public officials who connive with corrupt businesspersons, meaning that tax collection targets will for long remain a mirage – and what that will ultimately mean is not hard to imagine.

Part of the tragedy here is that a good chunk of the money the Tanzania Revenue Authority collects as tax or levy on imports is in respect of counterfeit and other junk goods, as noted including foodstuffs, toys and other household items.

Sadly, this suggests that concerns relating to the people’s lives are continually overridden by the imperatives of meeting revenue collection targets. The role of customs officials at the country’s entry points, apart from collecting revenue, should ordinarily be to ensure that prohibited, counterfeit or hazardous goods do not make it into our country.

But, considering what is commonly witnessed there and elsewhere, could one say that the border points are really water-tight and tamper-proof as they ought to be?

When it so happens that some shops in the country are stocked with substandard export and various other suspicious goods, including those well past their sell-by dates, what message will watchdog agencies like TFDA, TBS, the Police, the Anti-Narcotics Unit and the Chief Government Chemist Agency have for consumers? A few months ago a TV news bulletin showed TFDA officials inspecting goods in Dar es Salaam shops.

In one shop, an official was shown appealing to members of the public to serve as whistle-blowers and report to the relevant authorities any item that they might suspect to be counterfeit or substandard.

But that approach will likely prove a non-starter, as not that many ordinary people are conversant enough to identify fake or substandard goods from quality or genuine ones and thereafter reporting such cases.

Clearly, this is an issue well worth working on for better results in efforts to sweep our markets clean of junk items. Indeed, leaving the responsibility only to those agencies or agents officially charged with the oversight role will not work much. Only moving as a joint army will.