International Alert is helping Ugandan businesses to peacefully negotiate with the government over the introduction of controversial import laws, which are creating tension between traders and officials.
The Pre-Export Verification of Conformity (PVoC) scheme was set up in June 2010 by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) to promote fair competition and guard against counterfeiting. Although local businesses are largely supportive of the principles behind the policy, they describe the current process as counterproductive.
Under the scheme, all goods coming into Uganda need to be inspected in their country of origin by an international inspection agent. Yet the burden of proof for doing so currently rests with the importer, not the exporter. This has hit businesses hard and led to strong opposition from local traders.
As a result, the PVoC was put on hold while a committee of experts discussed the issue further. Following discussions, the committee, comprising of the UNBS, Kampala City traders Association (KACITA), Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UNCCI), Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (MTIC), and Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU), recommended that the onus for complying with the scheme be switched to those exporting goods to Uganda.
When the government tried to reintroduce the programme last June without alteration, it was therefore met with fierce opposition by the business community. Traders responded by closing their shops in protest and demanding that the programme be delayed.
“It has come to our attention that rather than use PVoC to further standards, the government and UNBS are scheming to collect a lot of taxes from the traders using the programme,” said KACITA Chairman Everest Kayondo. “We will not have that.”
Yet Barbara Kamusiime, a spokesperson for the UNBS, insists that the programme is gradually producing results, and asked KACITA to be patient and wait for a progress report, which is due at the end of the year. “All we ask for is your patience. We will take [PVoC] step by step,” she said.
We are currently working with KACITA, one of our local partners, to bring together consumers, representatives from the business community, regulatory agencies, civil society members and academics in dialogue meetings, to discuss the PVoC standards and how the process can be improved.
David Okidi, Business and Peace Project Manager at International Alert Uganda, said: “Our work has remained supportive, encouraging negotiations between the different parties so as to agree on a better, peaceful way forward.”
Photo: KACITA's Publicity Secretary Issa Ssekito speaking to journalists after traders closed their shops in June 2013. © Kennedy Oryema