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Opinions of Friday, 24 January 2020

Columnist: Sani Abdul-Rahman

Standards Authority handicapped in fighting substandard goods

How will you describe a technically-competent state agency - whose mandate is to protect consumers - but lacks the capacity to do so? A toothless bulldog? A chained dog? Please help me find the right phrase...

But that is the story of the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) – the agency responsible for protecting the Ghanaian market against the influx of substandard goods and services.

Undoubtedly the GSA has been more visible since 2017 with consistent market raids, seizures of substandard goods and periodic sensitization of importers, especially dealers of electrical materials – due to the perennial fire outbreaks in the country.

The question remains “how effective has these efforts been?” NOT effective at all, and I will tell you why.

Ideally, fake products must not find its way onto the Ghanaian market, but the country’s porous borders coupled with the complicity of some corrupt border officials across agencies, have made the West African nation, a dumping ground for substandard goods.

Surprisingly, when the GSA raids the market in a grand style with media cameras all over, it ONLY picks samples of substandard products, lock the dealership shops or warehouses, administer paltry fines stipulated by the less punitive law, and later unlock the shops for business to continue.

“Traders whose shops were locked for dealing in substandard goods are back in business and selling the same products for which they were penalized. That encourages the import of such goods,” the Ghana Electrical Dealers Association lamented during meeting with GSA in Accra.

But why does the GSA pick sample of fake products, instead of collecting and confiscating the goods? Because it does not have the facility or power to do so.

More than 52 years since its existence as the agency to enforce standards, the GSA does not have a single warehouse to keep impounded items. Yes, you heard me right, not a single warehouse.

Whiles the agency lacks the storage facilities, it does not also have the power to destroy confiscated goods - making it difficult to collect a large volume of counterfeit goods.

“When we seize substandard goods, a warehouse to keep the items until a decision is taken is even a problem, thereby making the work difficult for us,” a senior officer at GSA lamented.

The GSA has been complaining over inadequate funding from governments, describing it as a major impediment to its operations.

But analysts have also questioned the whereabouts of the GSA’s Internally Generated Funds from its services like certification, testing among others, citing it as a good source to finance necessities like warehouses.

The challenges have crippled the Ghana Standards Authority in promoting and enforcing standards, raising questions over the government’s commitment to the fight against substandard goods.

Indeed the GSA is a toothless bulldog!

Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement

As Africa becomes borderless in July 2020, trade analysts have been asking the preparedness of Ghana to prevent the influx of substandard goods on the local market, considering the myriad of challenges faced by the country’s standards agency.

Already, the government has failed in preventing the influx of substandard goods from neighboring countries under the pretext of ECOWAS’ free movement protocol.

The AfCFTA presents Ghana with a more difficult task of having to prevent her markets from the dumping of substandard goods from a larger community - if managing West Africa alone was a challenge.

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