22 November 2007

Tanzania: Counterfeit Merchandise And Global Terrorism Are Cousins

opinion

THE other day I found myself chuckling to myself at a cartoon in a local ki-Swahili daily on the proliferation of counterfeit goods at the marketplace.

It is perhaps the height of callousness to read 'fun' into (or even out of) a dire situation that can otherwise have tragic consequences upon Nature and her charges: humanity and other living organisms, as well as the Environment.

But, I could not help squeezing the last drop of catharsis out of the tragedy of (say) the sick being subjected - albeit unknowingly - to a course of treatment using fake drugs, or a busload of hapless passengers when the front tyres burst at speed high out of being sub-standard for the pressures they are subjected to.

The matter of counterfeit goods has of late taken centre stage under the strobe lights of mass media organs across the globe. I have read dozens of articles and Readers Letters to Editors from as far a-field as New York and Peshawar, Dagenham and Bandar Abbas.

Then I saw the cartoon that, for me, reduced the tragedy to a farce of sorts - and sparked off this verbal friendly fire.

Briefly put, the chief character was lamenting the proliferation of fake goods, which are estimated to account for up to 70 per cent of trade today.

At the end of it all, the character concludes in frustration that the authorities who have been charged with the task of curbing counterfeit goods must themselves be fake!

To my way of thinking, the cartoon graphically portrays the direct relationship which thrives - albeit doing so under the surface for the uninitiated - between counterfeit merchandise and the authorities that should be effectively tackling the problem on a sustainable basis.

Tanzania is 'top-heavy' with official controllers of this, that and the other. We do have in place Customs controllers and port health officers at most of the entry points into the country. Yet, importation of counterfeit goods, including medications and foodstuffs continue to flow into Tanzania virtually unabated.

Tanzania has had in place since 1975 the ultimate organization in matters of quality standards, the Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS). The Bureau has been charged with the noble tasks of preparing and publishing Standards in

Tanzania. In the process, the Bureau conducts testing and calibration activities, as well as the certification of products as to their standard of quality and suchlike.

The Bureau has also certified for quality more than 300 different products under its Standards Mark Scheme, a Batch Certification Scheme, and a Tested Product Certification Scheme. Certification is a vital area of its operations, covering as it does the quality, material composition, design, safety, durability and performance of each product.

Generally, standards in Tanzania are prepared by about 100 technical committees which comprise 800 or so members from various sectors of the economy.

In view of the foregoing, it should be possible to say with a reasonable degree of certitude that, on the whole, TBS is well organised and properly constituted to carry out a task that is not only of national importance, but that is also of regional and global importance.

Besides, Tanzania does have in place a legal framework that lays out the requisite procedures of dealing with dealers in counterfeit goods, as well as pecuniary and custodial penalties for convicted offenders. The basic law, the 'Merchandise Marks Act,' was enacted in 1963 (and as Chapter 85 of the Revised Laws of Tanzania, 2002).

Yet, it lay dormant on the statute books for 42 years, until April 15, 2005 when it was formally gazetted as applicable! The Act deems it a criminal offence to deal in counterfeit items in any form, manner or style. The law also criminalizes the importation into Tanzania of counterfeit goods. But, for all practical purposes, it is as if the law did not exist at all.

Ideally, there should be no reason why Tanzanians should have to come across substandard products today as a matter of course. But, we still consume, handle, deal with and otherwise come into contact with shoddy products, both imported and locally manufactured.

As you read this, there is an ongoing case in the Arusha Resident Magistrate's Court whereby one John Masapi is charged with selling by the crate fake Coca Cola and Fanta brands of beverages otherwise licensed to Bonite Bottlers in Moshi. Reportedly, the accused was 'producing' the beverages at home, and selling them off packed in Bonite bottles! [Nipashe: November 9, 2007.

The problem is not, therefore, confined to imports from the orient and elsewhere, but is also home-grown - and growing!

Nor is the problem a monopoly of the Third World, as consumers in the developed, industrialized world are also victims of counterfeit imports. Ask US President George Bush on counterfeit imports into his country. The only problem is that he has accorded priority to what he lovingly refers to as 'War on Terror' rather than to a much deserved War on Counterfeits.

In the event, Bush will be remembered for his manner and style of prosecuting his war on global terrorism: an exercise in futility.

In a manner of speaking, the character created by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervante's (1547-1616), Don Quixote, is better remembered for another exercise in futility aeons ago: flailing at windmills!

Had Bush re-directed the fortune he is wasting on his man-made problems in

Iraq, Afghanistan and Ousama ben Laden's Al Qaeda towards fighting the global counterfeit goods trade, he would be better remembered by consumers from John O'Groat's to Land's End to Tierra del Fuego!

But, that is another story ...

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