In August last year, Benard Njiraini was appointed as the Managing Director of the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs), hoping to bring some stability to an agency shaken by the suspension and prosecution of its former boss and a number of senior managers.
Mr Njiraini, a retired military officer, worked with the Kenya Air Force for 17 years in different capacities in administration and planning, as an instructor and as an engineer in a military industrial complex at Eldoret. He also served in the Africa Forces Mission in Sudan Darfur Union as from 2006 to 2007.
Before that, he had worked in the the private sector for about four years as an engineer in the construction and manufacturing sectors. He spoke to the Business Daily about his transformation agenda for Kebs.
SOME OF YOUR PREDECESSORS HAVE BEEN HOUNDED OUT OF OFFICE UNCEREMONIOUSLY AND HAVE COURT CASES OVER ECONOMIC CRIMES AND ABUSE OF OFFICE. HOW DO YOU PLAN TO DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY?
Kebs has a lot of diverse interests from different players in the economy be it the business community, the political class and the public. From my short stint in that office, I have observed that it requires a very strong personality and leadership deeply rooted in ethical corporate governance guided by high moral values and integrity.
In order to succeed as MD, you must resist all forms of manipulation and be guided by national interest and nothing else. I will hold the independence of actions guided by objectivity and in line with the Kebs mandate.
The government has also made it very clear that Kebs must correct the past mistakes and embrace reforms.
WHAT IS YOUR TRANSFORMATION AGENDA?
I will push for an elaborate culture change involving all personnel in the entire organisation so as to have a mindset of delivering services to Kenyans timely, efficiently, diligently freely and in accordance with the philosophy of Total Quality Management (TQM) without corrupt practices.
Kebs personnel have been accused of corrupt practices where traders conspire with Kebs personnel to allow shipment of substandard products into the country, affecting the local industry. Yet manufacturing is one of the pillars under the President’s Big Four agenda.
We admit that as a regulator we have not performed as expected in containing the influx of substandard goods. We are now part of the multi-agency team fighting the menace. We have heightened our market surveillance activities in the recent past. We have banned several products, light gauge mattresses, structural steels & plastic pipes, peanut butter and maize flour, after realising manufacturers were not complying with standards. We have impounded many other products that don’t comply with Kenyan standards or other specified standards. Traders have been up in arms complaining Kebs is frustrating trade while in actual fact they just want to import substandard products to increase their profit margins.
SMES COMPLAIN THAT KEBS FRUSTRATES THEIR EFFORTS TO GET THE STANDARD MARK…
Although we want many SMEs to be certified, their product, factory premises and quality assurance systems must meet the minimum required standards.
One of our roles is to promote and facilitate trade through standardisation, metrology and conformity assessment.
Kebs is also reviewing inspection charges with a view of reducing the charges and cost of imports. We have also opened one-stop-shop called Biashara Centre in Gikomba and Kariobangi just to disseminate information of the certification process to encourage SMEs to register. We have also created the Kenya Quality Awards Scheme to encourage SMEs to have their products certified.
RECALL OF PRODUCTS THAT ARE NOT COMPLIANT TO STANDARDS IS NOT VERY COMMON HERE IN KENYA, YET RECENTLY YOU INSTRUCTED MANUFACTURERS TO RECALL THEIR PRODUCTS.
Alert and recall and withdrawals of products are used the world over to protect the consumers. Alerts are issued either voluntarily by the manufacturers or by government agencies.
In our case, the products failed due to input of contaminated maize and peanut and once the manufacturers stopped use of the contaminated maize and peanut then their products conformed. After publishing the names of non-compliant companies, the market has set up self-regulation mechanism and any identified contaminated maize is circulated amongst the firms.
We will continue to use this strategy to eliminate non-compliant products out of our market.
THERE HAS BEEN CONFUSION AROUND DESTINATION INSPECTION. CAN YOU CLARIFY THIS MATTER?
As you are aware there was rampant importation of substandard goods before the multi-Agency operations. There was a need to terminate destination inspection and get necessary logistics to undertake inspection here in the country. Kebs has created the necessary systems to undertake limited destination inspection of goods coming into the country.
TRADERS HAVE ALWAYS COMPLAINED OF THE INFLUX OF GOODS FROM NEIGHBOURING COUNTRIES SUCH AS MILK, EGGS, CEREALS AND SUGAR. ARE WE REALLY PROTECTING THE FARMER?
Under the EAC integration, there is an agreement that there would be no border restriction in the trade of goods as long as the rule of origin is complied with. Kenya’s biggest trading partners are our neighbours and the EAC states’ policy is to encourage cross-border trade to increase the market range.
It is important to appreciate not all goods pass through the gazetted custom areas. The government is keen to ensure the strict rule of origin is adhered to protect our farmers and those imported goods where no value addition is done are barred from accessing our markets.
There are border control inspectors whose role is to ensure only quality products are allowed into the respective EAC countries.
SOME TRADERS HAVE MADE ALLEGATIONS THAT SOME OF THE STANDARDS DEVELOPED AT KEBS FAVOUR CERTAIN COMPANIES AND THAT SOME OF THE STANDARDS ARE OUTDATED, CAN YOU MAKE COMMENTS OF THIS.
Kebs, as a secretariat, is a facilitator and does not create the standards. Standard development involves many stakeholders, including research organisations and market players. The standards are developed on a consensus basis and therefore Kebs does not have the ability to influence the standards in favour of one company or trader.
On outdated standards, yes the developed countries may have revised standards that contradict our standards and that is why we are working for the adoption of relevant standards.
FARMERS HAVE REPORTED CASES OF SUBSTANDARD ANIMAL FEEDS. WHAT IS BEING DONE TO ASSURE THEM OF THE QUALITY OF ANIMAL FEEDS?
Animal feeds manufacturers are required to apply to Kebs for a standardisation mark for their products. There are various standards for the various animal feeds products which manufacturers must adhere to.
The livestock feeding regime in Kenya is such that most animal feeds are supplements rather than complete feeds. This means that the formulated animal feeds account for a small portion of the livestock diet, except for poultry which exclusively feeds on the formulated feeds.
Retailers of animal feeds and farmers are encouraged to always request for proof of certification of the products being presented to them by manufacturers and distributors.
HOW SAFE ARE THE PAINTS IN THE MARKET?
Kebs tests the paints for compliance with the set maximum lead limits. From January 2019 to date, 130 brands of paints have been analysed for lead content and they have met the requirements of the set maximum levels of lead content. This means the paints in the market are safe with regard to lead levels.