Baker Kaddu is poised to lose Shs 17.2m to Uganda National Bureau of Standards, as surcharge for failure to comply with the recently introduced Pre-export Verification of Conformity (Pvoc) programme.
Pvoc, effected in July, involves all Ugandan imports being tested at their countries of origin for conformity with minimum Uganda standards. The Uganda government contracted Bureau Veritas, SGS and Intertek as inspection service providers with whom all traders were expected to liaise for inspection before importing anything.
In September, Kaddu, an importer of new motor spare parts, went to Shenzhou, China to do business as usual. After completing his purchases, Kaddu sought assistance from a friend, who lives in China, to call one of the service providers for inspection.
"They told us their nearest offices were in Guangzhou - which is three hours away by air - and they promised to come the following day," he says.
They did not come and Kaddu's extended stay was becoming costly.
"I was paying $60 (Shs 153,000) for every night at the hotel and I also had to pay a surcharge for my air ticket," Kaddu says.
A week later, the inspection team had not come. Kaddu directed his consignment, left with friends, to be loaded for shipment. Kaddu's container is expected to reach Mombasa port at the beginning of October, when he will have to pay a 15 per cent surcharge for these goods as per the UNBS regulations on Pvoc.
Kaddu is not alone, many traders are up in arms with UNBS, saying this Pvoc's implementation was premature and rushed.
These say before implementing it, the standards body should have started with sensitisation projects across the country with all importers.
"There is a lot of information gap. People go to buy without knowing which standards are required in Uganda. UNBS should stop sitting at that information and make it available to all traders," said Peter Lubwama, vice chairman of Kisekka Market Traders association.
Though UNBS recently started sensitisation for all importers of goods (electronics, foods and beverages, motor spare parts, cosmetics, etc) eligible for Pvoc, traders insist this was late.
"Now they are coming to sensitise us when we have already incurred losses. If I had good knowledge of the system, I would not have faced the problem of using a third party," Kaddu says.
According to UNBS, Kaddu can only be pardoned if he brings evidence that he contacted the service providers and they did not come - which he can hardly do. To avoid these extra charges, UNBS Import Inspection Manager Andrew Othieno advised traders to always contact service providers before travelling.
"The companies have offices in Uganda and most of the countries where you buy from. You just need their contacts in the respective countries and call them when you finish the purchases," he said.
Joseph Mugula, the operations and quality supervisor at SGS, says testing and verification of goods can take about four days. But this is still another source of concern for traders.
"I go to China with a plan of staying for three days. Now I have to incur an extra cost of four more days waiting for the certificate of conformity," complained Bukenya Burhan.
Mugula says there are no express routes for Pvoc because commodities have to go to the laboratory which takes some time. If some of the goods do not pass, a trader can either replace them or decide to load only those that passed.