Policy makers and regulators from government institutions, law makers, private sector and civil society representatives converged yesterday, Thursday, 20 December 2012, to validate the draft national Quality Policy for The Gambia, at a workshop held at the Laico Atlantic Hotel in Banjul. Organised by the Ministry of Trade, Industry,
Regional Integration and Employment (MOTIE) in collaboration with the EU funded and ECOWAS executed West Africa Quality Programme (WAQP), the validation is sequel to the consultative workshop on the policy options for the draft ECOWAS regional quality policy which was held earlier.
In his opening remark, Mr. Lamin Dampha, Director of Industry at MOTIE, described the draft as an important policy document for government as it identifies the various roles and responsibilities of regulators in the framework of the National Quality Infrastructure (NQI).
He noted the importance of the Gambia coming up with such a policy for the implementation of a framework that guarantees the production, exportation, importation and consumption of quality products. He also stressed the importance for people to be conscious of quality with regards to what we import, produce and consume. He said ECOWAS encourages the development of national quality policies that will be aligned to the regional quality policy being evolved by the regional organization.
Dwelling on the genesis of the draft policy document, the Director of Industry said the policy is linked to WAQP as part of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the EU and ACP countries which the region opted for in order to compete in international trade. He said the region is required to produce products to meet European standards and as such the countries solicited for support from the EU to strengthen, where it exists, or develop, where it is not, quality infrastructure to enable companies in the region to be able to comply with EU standards and SPS (Sanitary/Phyto-Sanitary or animal and plant health) requirements of WTO. He said this is what had led to the setting up of the West Africa Quality Programme which is also established at the level of the non-UEMOA ECOWAS member states to assist them set up quality infrastructure to enable them trade not only with EU but within the region. "To have this policy at the both the regional and national levels will certainly provide the framework for the development of quality infrastructure," said Mr. Dampha.
Mr. Dampha noted that WAQP has benefitted the Gambia in many ways as it helps in the establishment of the Gambia Standards Bureau, the Metrology Lab at Abuko which is responsible for measuring mass, volume and pressure, the review of the Weights and Measures Act, Food Safety and Quality Bill, Consumer Protection Bill, the present National Quality Policy as well as supporting the Microbiology lab at Fisheries to get accreditation to enable the exportation of fish and fishery products from the Gambia.
Mr. Joseph Ndenn, WAQP National Coordinator, gave the background of activities and processes leading to the development of the draft national Quality Policy being validated. He said the policy involves many stakeholders as it affects the lives of consumers. He said the process started in May 2011 when WAQP commissioned a UNIDO consultant on standards, standardization and quality matters to look at what options to agree on for a policy. Following the consultations, he said, a draft was developed for stakeholders to be engaged to enrich the document and that since May of last year, WAQP and MOTIE engaging stakeholders. He noted that in September 2011 another workshop was held for policy makers and the governance body of the Programme on the policy document. These engagements continued since September of this year (2012) when a national consultation mission was undertaken countrywide to get the input of all the stakeholders into the document, he added.
Mr. Ndenn reiterated that the national Quality Policy dovetails into the ECOWAS Quality Policy which was approved only two weeks ago. He informed participants that the draft sent to them which they are to work on today attempts to bring out the substance. Concluding, he also noted that the policy will be adopting the format in the ECOWAS policy document and urged participants to focus on the substance during their interventions.
For his part, Dr. Omar Touray, Chairperson of the WAQP National Steering Committee (NSC), dwelled on the introductory part of the policy as well as the objectives. He noted that without a National Quality Policy a country cannot have a conducive environment for the production, import and consumption of products that are of quality. He agreed that Gambia has an element of NQI in the form of the various laboratories existing in the health, agriculture and industry sectors. He however added that these labs are not accredited and therefore are not recognised internationally.
He said the introduction in the document deals with practices and how to harmonise them. He also talked about the need to expand industrialization and to also for the country to have an industrial policy in place. He noted that in the past the government was playing a dominant role in the productive sector with little involvement of the private sector. He concluded that the policy should be coherent with all the existing policies for the purpose of ensuring the effective functioning of the NQP. He observed that the practice in the country in some instances is like "jumping before the gun" by rushing to enact laws before promulgating policies. He said this is understandable because people are concerned, and rightly so, with having laws in place to deal with given issues. He however noted that the logical thing is for policies to precede and inform Acts or laws.
In his closing remark, Mr. Dampha reminded the participants the process which the validated draft Quality Policy document will be going through from now. He said a cabinet paper will be prepared to accompany the document to cabinet for its ultimate approval.
The participants discussed the document thoroughly in an interactive session and with enthusiasm and made their input in the form of recommendations for more elaboration, additions or substitutes in given areas.