Mobile phones that will explode while charging; generators that do not work; shoes whose soles will not last a day; radio batteries that cannot play the full length of Franco's Mario - those are the products on Uganda's streets.
Each time you go out to shop, you have an 80% chance of taking home a fake product, according to the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS). What is even more worrying is that there is no law in Uganda that entitles you to make a claim for a replacement.
Dr. Ben Manyindo, the bureau's executive director, says local industries could close down due to unfair competition, while the environment is suffering as fake products, which are difficult to recycle, are dumped.
A prominent businessman who imports goods from China told Saturday Vision that most of the fake goods are deliberately brought into the country by Ugandan traders.
"People curse the Chinese for making products that do not last. But Americans and Europeans also use Chinese products, why is it that they do not complain?" he asked.
When Ugandan traders go to China, he says, some of them connive with the suppliers to make imitations of the genuine products.
Uganda still operates under the UNBS Act of 1983, and the Sale of Goods Act 1932, which experts say prescribe penalties and fines that are not prohibitive enough.
Culprits are often released as quickly as they are arrested because the punishments under the current law are modest.
"Under the current law, a person found guilty of selling sub-standard goods can pay a fine of between sh3,000 and sh7,000. Someone can pay sh10,000 and ask you to keep the change," he says.
Counterfeit Bill shelved?
Although the Anti-Counterfeit Bill 2010 was tabled before the Eighth Parliament, it was reportedly deferred to the Ministry of Trade, after a section of the business community rejected it. The draft law had proposed a penalty 10 times the cost of the counterfeit product.
The framers of the Bill had also proposed that any trader found dealing in counterfeit goods could face up to 20 years in jail. In spite of this, however, there are fears that the law will not effectively fight substandard goods since it says nothing about the dealers.
The law defines a counterfeit as a product which is an imitation of another, but does not necessarily have to be substandard.
Kacita speaks out
Issa Sekiito, the spokesperson of the Kampala City Traders Association, says they are uncomfortable with the fact that the association cannot punish traders who cheat Ugandans by importing fake goods.
"When we interfaced with Parliament recently, we proposed that the Anti-counterfeit Bill 2010 incorporates counterfeit goods," Sekitto said.
He added that they were opposed to passing the Anti-counterfeit Bill 2010 in its current state, because it would favour only big companies.
On top of the weak laws, Manyindo says they do not have adequate staff and vehicles to monitor the whole country. As a result, he adds, they can only cover a few areas.
"For three years, we have not recruited because the Government imposed a ban on recruitment of staff. Currently, we have over 100 vacancies," he says.
He says their surveillance is also weak due to lack of funds. Out of the 54 border entry points Uganda has, only 19 are under their control.
Worse still, Manyindo says, they work eight hours a day, unlike the Uganda Revenue Authority, which operates 24 hours at check points.
"Our intelligence shows that from between 8:00am and 5:00pm, when our staff are deployed, most traders are reluctant to clear their goods. But business begins when our staff leave. Unfortunately, there is little we can do because labour laws state that one can only work for eight hours," he says.
Will sensitisation help?
For now, Manyindo says, they have intensified sensitisation of masses such that consumers can learn how to differentiate a fake product from a genuine one. He urged the public to call their toll-free line, 0800-133133 to report any fake products.
"We hope that when people learn to identify fake products, the demand for them will fall. Someone will think twice before bringing the product if there is no market," Manyindo adds.
However, this will be an uphill task because to most consumers, it is hard to tell the difference between fake and genuine products.