Golden Sibanda Senior Business Reporter
Government has hired seven more companies to assess the quality of imports to increase the turnaround period for the conformity exercise. Prior to Government making the decision to engage the companies, only French company, Bureau Veritas, was contracted to inspect all formally imported goods into Zimbabwe. Bureau Veritas is a world leader in laboratory testing, inspection and certification services.
Created in 1828, it has around 77 000 employees in more than 1 500 offices and laboratories around the globe.
However, there have been complaints about its processes in testing imports destined for Zimbabwe, causing delays and creating additional costs for already distressed firms.
Already, hundreds of millions of United States dollars worth of imported products have been rejected for failing to meet expected quality standards since Bureau Veritas was contracted to undertake the conformity based assessment on imports in 2015.
While the identity of the companies the Government has enlisted could not be immediately established by yesterday, this publication has it on good authority that contracts for the pre-shipment inspection services were already being finalised by authorities.
This also comes as there have been complaints from industry that physical inspection of the imports, under the conformity based assessment exercise, had become an added cost on business.
Secretary for Industry and Commerce Dr Mavis Sibanda, said that while there were complaints that inspections were causing delays in importing products, it was critical for Bureau Veritas to assess the imports for quality.
Dr Sibanda said the concept of testing imports for quality remained critical to guarantee high quality and the safety of consumers despite protestations from sections of the business community who are against the work of the independent inspectors.
Since adoption of a multiple-currency system dominated by the US dollar in 2009, Zimbabwe fell victim to numerous counterfeit and cheap imports, including smuggled goods, as foreign businesses and individuals sought cheap access to the greenback.
Some of the imported goods were and or are sub-standard and came cheap, a move that provoked authorities, with the support of local firms, to seek urgent interventions to protect the local market.
“Maybe, when we started it was not the right thing to do when we started using just one company (to test the imported products for safety and quality). Many people were complaining (about delays on imports), that I agree with, but I do not know how it started (to have one company), but it (testing) gave us good ideas.
“In everything you do no matter good or bad, you should come out with something good out of it. So what has come out good is that we have now realised that it is very important for us to check the quality of things that are coming to the country,” she said.
Dr Sibanda said imported products destined for Zimbabwe tended to be of inferior quality compared to the quality of products destined for western countries like the United States or Germany because the countries force conformity to set standards.
“We also need standards if we are going to be successfully exporting to the rest of the world, we need to have standards. What we have since done to improve what we get, we have now invited a number of companies to participate (in testing imports), not one company.
“So the process is almost being finalised, I think there will be about five, six or seven companies which will be given the job to do that pre-inspection, which for the past four or so years was being done by one company; now we are introducing more.
“That way it will be faster because there are many companies now and they are in different countries. (Imported) products should be of a high quality; the problem is that our people do not want to check the quality of (imported) things.
“But we have had houses burning down because they bought cheap electrical wires, but the importers do not want to check for quality and would rather have their houses burning down after buying in good faith thinking they are buying proper wiring,” she said.
Zimbabwe imports significant amount or value of products because the economy either does not have the technology and capital to produce certain sophisticated products or industrial is just not financially capacitated even where the technology exists.
While latest statistics could not be obtained, earlier data shows that a huge number of imports are not fit for consumption after the global standards firm indicated in 2017 it had rejected US$182 million worth of sub-standard goods destined for Zimbabwe since 2015.
Bureau Veritas said in 2017 that prior to the implementation of the programme Zimbabwe faced a situation where conformity was widely dogged as many products came in without being inspected for safety and health implications to the consumers of the products.