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Regulator’s hardline stance sparks unease

By | June 30th 2009

By John Njirani

Some say he is haughty. That he does not entertain nonsense from anyone. Despite the perceptions, one fact stands; he is highly learned, and among the few Kenyans to have studied at the prestigious Harvard University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Although Dr Eng Kioko Mang’eli, Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) managing director, is a man under siege, he is not shaken by a protracted campaign by some manufacturers and politicians to have him replaced. "You cannot play politics with standards. What I’m doing is putting in place strong structures, with the understanding that standards are pillars of development," he told FJ .

For the past 30 months that he has been the chief quality and standards policeman, Mang’eli has been on the receiving end, with numerous accusations leveled against him, among them, that he’s on a mission to kill local industries.

Recent edicts from his office range from adoption of the Standardisation Mark, implementation of the PVoC (Pre-Export Verification to standards) programme, and banning of spare parts importation; all have generated controversies of unprecedented levels.

This has left many observers wondering whether Mang’eli is a tough regulator or a loose canon, out to wreck the status quo.

"I am working for Kenyans, and I want our standards to be realigned with international ones," he said.

But local manufacturers think otherwise and are demanding his sacking for failing to crack down on counterfeit products flooding the Kenyan market from China and India.

"It is unfortunate that we don’t get the necessary support from existing Government arms and specifically Kebs. Consequently, we demand the immediate sacking of Kebs managing," argued officials of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers a fortnight ago.

But Mang’eli was categorical that local companies need to invest in new technologies to ensure their products are competitive.

"Kebs is guided by standards that were created through a consensus, and cannot be changed by anybody other than Government agencies and stakeholders who created them," he said.

Mark of quality

Projecting a high degree of dedication to service irrespective of the consequences, Mang’eli’s modus oparandi and policies have highly been criticised.

One such policy is the unrelenting push by Kebs to introduce the standardisation quality marks on local and specified imported products.

Crafted on the premise of improving the level of production in the country, providing consumers with confidence, making local products compete regionally and attracting foreign investors, the policy has been the subjected of bitter exchanges between the standards body and manufacturers.

The battles were fought on three levels; the time frame given for all manufacturers to comply, the procedure and payments required for acquiring the marks and anticipated additional costs on manufacturers. While the deadline to comply was initially July 1, last year, it was twice pushed — to October 1 and later March 1, this year.

The impasse was resolved after Industrialisation Minister Henry Kosgey intervened and formed of a 14-member committee to address the issues. Though so far about 6,000 companies have complied, there is no love lost between the Kebs boss and manufacturers.

Revenue streamlined

"People must understand that standards bring transparency and social equity, which include equality in access to opportunities," he stated.

Mang’eli added that he has dedicated a lot of money and energy in transforming Kebs from a nondescript parastatal to one of the most effective and efficient State corporations.

Since he took over from the late Eng John Masila, he has invested in excess of Sh2 billion in new testing equipment and training of staff and contends Kebs is today respected internationally.

The money was generated internally after streamlining of the parastatals revenue streams that were in the negative of Sh220 million and today it is boasting of a surplus.

The parastatal makes its money by charging levies on standards, import inspection, testing, certification and calibration. But having had the last laugh on the standardisation duel, observers contend Mang’eli is set to assume a larger than life image as he pushes the implementation of the PVoC programme. Based on a Legal Notice No 78 of 2005, PVoC is another controversial policy aimed at minimising the risk of unsafe and substandard goods entering the Kenyan market.

The policy has yet again resulted in a new standoff between Kebs and manufacturers, forcing the Ministry of Industrialisation to suspend the application of the new products list that was scheduled to take effect from May 1, this year until a consensus is reached.

Mang’eli explained the PVoC is in use in most countries in the region and Kenya cannot be an exception if it wanted to participate in global trade. "We want thorough inspection of all goods coming to the country, but some importers do not want that," he said.

Bending rules

Questions have been raised about a decision by Kebs to appoint a Chinese company, China Certification and Inspection (Group) Company Ltd, to inspect imports coming to Kenya from China.

Many interpreted the move as contradictory considering the company was to police its countrymen, who are being accused of compromising on quality and flooding the local market with cheap substandard goods.

But Mang’eli contends the company cannot afford to bend the rules because it has deposited Sh37 billion for product liability and Kebs is entitled to withdraw Sh35 million every time it detects substandard goods in its own random inspections.

He, however, acknowledged inspection by the four companies appointed as point of origin testing agents have not achieved the desired level and recently he wrote instructing them to increase surveillance on certain products.

Beside tussles with manufacturers and importers, Mang’eli’s management style at Kebs has also come under scrutiny.

A past report by the Inspectorate of State Corporations (ISC) said he had turned Kebs to a ‘one-man-show’ where he calls the shots in all spheres of operations, with little regard to procedure and sometimes without even consulting with the board.

The report cites a case in point where he appointed 54 new staff in a span of nine months without advertising the positions or conducting interviews.

Most controversial

"The recruitment was a one man show and most of the applications for employment were approved by the managing director on the same day he received them," stated the ISC report.

But according to him, the 54 were already working as temporary staff when he joined Kebs and he only made them permanent in accordance to labour laws. "The report was an evil design by someone," he said.

Despite carrying the tag as the Kebs managing director who will go down the annals of history as the most controversial, he believes he has fought a good battle on behalf of Kenyans and that calls for his sacking might not yield any fruits.

"I’m looking forward for the renewal of my contract," he stated.

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