interviewBy Amie Sanneh
In today's edition of Know Your Public Institution we feature below The Gambia Standards Bureau. In an interview with the institution's Director General, Mr. Papa Secka, he was able to explain what The Gambia Standards Bureau is all about.
Foroyaa: Can you please introduce yourself for the benefit of our readers?
Standard Bureau: Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be given this opportunity to talk to you. My name is Papa Secka. I am the Director General of The Gambia Standards Bureau.
Foroyaa: For how long have you been working with The Gambia Standards Bureau?
Standard Bureau: The Gambia Standard Bureau is a new institution that was set up by government through an Act of parliament and I came on board in October 2011, so I am pretty much like just over a year in this institution.
Foroyaa: Can you give us the history of The Gambia Standards Bureau?
Standard Bureau: The Gambia Standard Bureau as I said was set up by an act of parliament. It was established by The Gambia Standards Bureau Act 2010. Prior to the setting-up of the Bureau, matters pertaining to Standards and Standardization in general were being handled at a Unit within the Ministry of Trade called the Gambia Standards Focal Point. This has been the case until October 2011 when I was appointed as the Director General of the Bureau. From this date, the Focal Point at the Ministry ceased its operations and handed over to the Bureau. This Bureau was established by government to develop and promulgate Standards and also to offer services in the field of Metrology and in another field of Conformity Assessment. Therefore, the Bureau is responsible for delivering three out of the four pillars of the national quality infrastructure. I mentioned three and the fourth being Accreditation which a separate Institution will be responsible for, although with a strong collaboration with the Bureau. I will dilate on all three areas later on in the interview.
Foroyaa: What is the Importance of Standard?
Standard Bureau: First, let me try to put in context what exactly a standard is. There are many definitions of a standard. Very generally, a standard might simply be defined as a set of rules for ensuring quality. In other words, standards make a product, process or service fit for its purpose. Therefore, a standard is a common language that promotes the flow of goods between buyer and seller and protects the general welfare. While we normally don't think about standards unless their absence causes inconvenience, it would be extremely difficult in fact to imagine daily life without standards. Take any scenario, and you will be amazed just how many standards support that aspect of daily life. From the moment you wake, throughout the day, standards in some form are helping to shape your day, to make it easier, more comfortable, safer, and simply more convenient. Imagine, for example, not being able to withdraw money from an automated telling machine (ATM) because your bank card is too big to fit in the slot; imagine batteries that will not fit any of your electrical equipment; stores without barcodes to quantify and price stocks of goods; imagine Internet sites without standardized domain names. How about shoe sizes and electrical plugs? Thousands of such standards are readily available, and thanks to the common language of standardization, buyer and seller have little difficulty communicating. They encourage an improved quality of life by contributing to safety, human health and the protection of the environment. Standards are so useful and relevant to daily life because they are based on the experiences of daily life itself, and developed from the perceived needs of actors in the different spheres and fields. They are thus the material results of these experiences.
Foroyaa: How does the bureau operate to handle the issues that it is mandated to?
Standard Bureau: The Act clearly specifies what our mandate is, what our powers are and how we should operate and the scope of work. I said earlier that the bureau is mandated to develop, promulgate, amend or revoke standards specifications for locally-produced and imported goods in the Gambia. To do that the bureau works through a multi-stakeholder process because if you look at standards, a lot of stakeholders have something to do with it; the consumer has a stake on it because the consumers are the ones who use the goods or the services, government has a stake in it because government it is interested in promoting trade in export and import of goods and services and has to assure that the goods and services that are produced in the Gambia meet the expectation of the international market and the goods that are imported into the country meet the expectation of the consumer. The other stakeholders are the regulators which regulate the quality of goods and services, the Consumers, Trade and Professional Associations and Academia. In fact, all of these stakeholders area represented in the Board of Directors. This ensures everyone's interest is well taken on board in the policy direction of the Bureau. Therefore, standards are developed through Technical Committees composed of these stakeholders. They drive the process and the procedure followed is in accordance with the internationally-accepted one used by all standards-setting organizations. In the area, of metrology, we have set up a National Metrology Laboratory for calibration services. As for conformity assessment, it will mainly be in the area of testing and certification. We provide information on standards through our Standards Information Centre.
Foroyaa: How do standards contribute to the lives of people and economy of the country?
Standard Bureau: That is a very good question. Standards have a core role in the lives of people in general and also they are core to the development of the nation. People don't recognise the importance of standards in their daily lives but there is hardly anything that is done in which standards don't play a role. Standards are an integral element of consumer protection, as they often underpin national legislation and certification schemes. Standards are developed in response to the needs of life today. They provide the end-user with a criterion for judgment, a measurement of quality, and a certain guarantee of compatibility and interoperability. Whether it is a standard to ensure global linking of telephone networks, a standard to ensure that life-saving medical equipment in the hospital is electromagnetically compatible, or a standard to help a company in providing a service that is quality managed and environmentally friendly, International Standards provide a veritable backbone for daily life. We live in a world profoundly reliant on product standards. They have far-reaching implications for economic activity. Empirical research has documented that standards have a positive impact on national economies. Standards reduce variety so that production costs are lowered. Standards form an essential part of the institutional infrastructure crucial for the development of innovation. Both standards and innovation strongly impact the growth of the economy. The very existence of standards is positive for trade. Standards facilitate trade by increasing the compatibility of products. Standards make the characteristics of domestic markets more transparent, in particular for foreign producers and consumers. They improve investment decisions by offering credibility and confidence for current as well as potential investors. Standards have contributed to acceptance of goods worldwide and thus serve to facilitate trade, spread knowledge and disseminate technological advances. May I take a moment to dilate on trade facilitation because this is pertinent to your question and very important for our national economy? As you may know, trade facilitation is fundamental for economic growth as it is one of the most important vehicles for external market access. Here the role that standards play cannot be overemphasized. In addition to creating a common language across an industry sector, standards help businesses compete on a level playing field and thus open up export markets for our products and services.
Foroyaa: In terms of food, how do you ensure that the food imported in the country is up to standard?
Standard Bureau: Please allow me to highlight and emphasize that the Bureau is essentially not a regulatory institution. It is set up and mandated in such a way that it provides part of the enabling environment through the publication of standards and their dissemination, the provision of conformity assessment and metrology services. With these in place, Regulators can rely on objective foundations to effectively enforce their mandate. For example, they can base their technical regulations on any of these standards and also avail themselves of credible testing services. By Regulators, I mean Institutions which have been mandated legally to enforce certain requirements deemed important by the Government. One example of a Regulator that is directly relevant to your question is the recently constituted Food Safety and Quality Authority which is responsible for regulation of all matters on safety and quality of food. In the area of food, the Bureau began work on food standards as its first series based on their importance to both the people and economy of the country. The Bureau, in line with international best practice, collaborated with the National Codex Committee to build upon the work already begun on food standards. The National Codex Committee had formed a number of Committees assigned to review various food and related standards of CODEX. Their work were reviewed by the Bureau and following a number of consultations, a sub-task force was formed, spearheaded by the Bureau to work on adoption of ten (10) food and associated standards. These standards apply to both imported and locally-produced food and related processes. When the Standards are formally published as Gambian Standards, they would be available through the Bureau to all concerned. Traders and consumers alike will have the opportunity to access and use them voluntarily either as a proactive move to assure quality of products or as a means to differentiate between products for better decision-making. The Regulator may also choose to enforce them or base their Technical Regulation on them.
Foroyaa: What are some of the achievements your institution has made since its establishment?
Standard Bureau: The bureau is just over one year old. During the first year of 2012 we were focused on setting up the bureau. By this, I mean institutional setup that is to establish the institution, employ its staff, to give them some basic training to be able to do their work and to engage in engagement of relevant stakeholders. In the area of capacity-building for the Staff, a number of personnel have received training on standardization and related areas and metrology. In terms of visibility and international collaboration, and as provided for in the Act, the Bureau is a member of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Committee (IEC) and the Standards and Metrology Institute for Islamic Countries (SMIIC). Through these memberships, almost all the international standards on goods and services are accessible directly by users in the Gambia through the Bureau. The Bureau provided Standards to stakeholders for their use which include the Fisheries Food Microbiology Laboratory just to name one example. As part of our achievements also has been the installation of metrology equipment and associated training on their use by a Metrology Expert; this major task completed the setting up of the National Metrology Laboratory of the Bureau which we located at Abuko. This has been facilitated by the Ministry of Trade through the West Africa Quality Programme Project and I would seize this opportunity to appreciate their support. I already discussed our work in the development of food standards which is very important to our mandate. In the area of information-dissemination on standards, we celebrated World Metrology Day in May last year and World Standards Days in October. Activities in this area are still ongoing mainly targeting our education institutions.
Foroyaa: What plans do you have for the future?
Standard Bureau: Our plans for the future generally are to build on our modest successes so far. We expect to work diligently to publish relevant standards in national priority areas that have been identified by the stakeholders. May I emphasize that standards are needs-driven. They are not documents that the Bureau just develops and impose. We will roll-out our services in the area of metrology mainly calibration of equipments and instruments for industry, laboratories and related organizations. We will continue to develop our Standards Information Centre and standards repository for easy access by users. We also would roll out the TBT Enquiry Point. We hope to increase our sensitization outreach through the media and other channels and hopefully get our website up and running. We also would like to develop our capacity and international visibility to represent Gambian interest in the area of standardization both at the regional and international level.
Foroyaa: Do you have the required support needed for your office to function normally?
Standard Bureau: We have got a lot of support from the government who subvented us fully last year and continue to do so. We have also a lot of support from the Ministry of Trade which is our line Ministry and they assisted us a lot to get on our feet in the first year of operations. Our Board of Directors were also very instrumental in our set up and I do appreciate their moral support and guidance so far. We also received support and encouraging collaboration from our peer institutions and collaborators both national and international.
Foroyaa: Any Institution is bound to face with challenges, what are some of the challenges that your institution is facing?
Standard Bureau: Thank you, yes the challenges that we are faced with is standards are relatively new in the Gambia so the biggest challenge has been to recruit staff who are qualified to work in this specialized area. It was extremely difficult to attract staff who have any training in the area of standards directly. Secondly, to get the Bureau up and running and to put the right conditions for the laboratory which is very specialized both in design and operation? Now the biggest challenge is how to promote the adoption of the standards to be published soon and create the awareness needed nationally.
Foroyaa: How do you intend to address some of the challenges your bureau is faced with?
Standard Bureau: In terms of staffing, capacity challenges can be addressed through provision of the right training. Through our membership of the organizations I mentioned earlier, we benefitted from such training. There was an expert who came to install the equipment and train our staff and also there have been some staff sent overseas for some training. The other challenge is with regard to acceptability and use of standards which we hope to address through sensitization and awareness raising. We are also developing training packages for the Technical Committees who will be responsible for the adoption and development of standards.
Foroyaa: What advice do you have for your stakeholders and the general public at large?
Standard Bureau: Well, I would like to advice our stakeholders, the general public, the consumers in general, industries and promoters of industries that the Bureau has is their partner and should always be seen as such. Part of our mandate includes promotion of industrial development and efficiency which can be achieved through the use of the right standards. I encourage them to express their needs and requests for standards and related matters to us so that we can work together to address them. It is those kinds of request we would like to see more and more from stakeholders such as industries, companies who are engaged in production of goods but from the largest stakeholder group which is the consumer. We would encourage them to make use of our Standard Information Centre. As for our stakeholders, we would like them to continue their collaboration to engage us and to work with us to develop standards which they need.
Foroyaa: Finally do you have anything else to add on to what you have said so far?
Standard Bureau: Well, the only thing I have to add is we appreciate your coming here and your column is extremely important. We call upon all the media houses engage us anytime any moment for better dissemination of information to the general public because this is also a core mandate specified in the our Act. I thank you for your time and initiative.
Foroyaa: Thank you very much for sharing your time with us.
Standard Bureau: You are welcome.