Moments of Excellence...in a Fruit Salad.
The nature of the work of SWASA demands that each individual within the organisation be excellent in whatever they have been engaged to do. Being part of the quality infrastructure of Swaziland, our work has to be of quality. Talking of the phrase “Quality Infrastructure” one must not miss the opportunity to explain that in the standards world this means the totality of institution and supportive legislation for standardization, quality assurance, accreditation and metrology. There is the tendency to think of good roads, railways and telecommunication lines when the term quality infrastructure is mentioned. Here we are talking of the infrastructure necessary to assure quality goods and services produced by the country. I digress. In this arena, mediocrity is not an option and being at the helm of such an organisation excellence is what I have to instill and continuously encourage within the team. It has to be habitual.
The TC orientation workshop recently held buy SWASA was a case in point. You cannot expect excellence if you have not prepared for it and worked it into your plan. The workshop was meant to prepare new technical committee members of SWASA for the work ahead in Work Program VI. This being an annual event, it had become customary to make the same presentations each year with the people just sitting and listening. This year the TC Orientation workshop was planned for in such a way that it stimulated interesting discussions. The result was that the Q&A sessions were not focused on the business of the day, but focused on shaping the organisation for future work, for SWASA that was very rewarding. The discussion veered toward the contentious issue of procurement tenders wherein the procurer will stipulate the brand name with the unintended result of shutting out all other brands from the tender. This, as it was explained, is a result of the entry of one brand of product on the market, which then becomes so well-known that it becomes the determinant of the market. One here deliberately avoids saying that the first entry product on the market “becomes so popular” because popularity is never the case, it is just that the consumers will have no other alternative and be forced to consume that product. Fortunately, globalization has put an end to that. Markets have opened up and alternatives are now coming into Swaziland.Is that good for a small population like Swaziland? I am still trying to figure that out in my head...since there is no assurance of quality, due to limited conformity assessment resources.
Another interesting point of discussion, was the pollution of sector industries by people that just come in for commercial interest but do not possess the prerequisite skills for the business, let alone the ethics for the business. This is normally defeated by a lot of competition amongst the legitimate players who often forget to become organised for the protection of their industry. This is more dangerous in the areas where the lives of the consumers are at stake. Here we’re talking of the construction sector, the chemicals and pharmaceuticals sector, the food sector - especially food for infants, the environmental protection sector and others that touch upon the lives of the consumers and the general well-being of the economy. Each and every sector has its own attendant standards which need to be observed and how better to get to know those standards than to be schooled in the profession. Professional associations will ensure that they only register and permit to play in their space only the people that meet the criteria stipulated for membership. This will eliminate the opportunists that more often than not compromise the sector and corrupt the ethics just for commercial gain. It then pains one to note that even the overall policies tend not to guard against this by just being silent on any possible failures. It puts to question the sustainability of the professional rectitude that must be commonplace in all sectors for the benefit of the economy. This is when the emphasis on standardisation and compliance to those standards becomes absolutely necessary.
The endorsement and high anticipation to the question of why SWASA declares voluntary standards by one of the participants of the TC orientation workshop was clear on all the faces of the participants. There was a general feeling around the room of why we even bother to invest so much of the taxpayer’s money into standardisation only to produce standards that you may or may choose not to comply with. Tensions were high. I however felt a ripple of excitement growing within me, for knew how well that question would be addressed. I saw a moment of excellence coming up on SWASA right there. The TC orientation workshop was planned such that the first half of the morning was about “how to be a Technical Committee member” and then the second half was about the declaration of technical regulations. Here SWASA had planned to conscientise the Swazi people that it is only when standards are absent that one sees their importance. It was explained to them that compulsory standards, to deliberately use the wrong phrasing for the sake of those not in our business, were more of a can of worms than a solution. That they required one to have thought the whole process through and thoroughly consulted with the nation and the commercial players before the standard was declared. This needed an exemplified explanation.
The example used was the declaration of the Occupational Health and Safety standard as a compulsory standard. Say for example the Ministry of Labour kept receiving complaints from the many ladies that are employed in the textile factories. How they inhale dust for eight hours a day whilst working inside the textile factories, because even though the ventilation is installed, it’s often not working and they are not allowed to venture outside at any moment to clear their lungs. This is because they have to hit the daily production target. Most have developed chest pains, most are afraid to report sick, because of these work conditions they fear that their old age will come sooner. Say, the Ministry also receives numerous complaints from the mining industry about workers that get injured due to lack of safety measures being put in place. The Ministry then decides to declare in the gazette that everyone who employs five or more people must ensure that their workers are safe and healthy. Normally, it would be left to the employer to pick whatever tool they want to use to ensure that their workers are safe and healthy. But then you would find that the level of protection or coverage of the workers will differ from one company to the next because of the disharmony in the tools used. Also, for the reason that a compulsory standard has to be monitored by the body that exacts it, it would be very expensive for the Ministry of labour to develop mentoring tools for the variety of protection instruments that exist in industry. It would then make sense for the Ministry of Labour to pick SZNS OHSAS 18001, a recognised national standard, based on a recognised international standard and declare it as a “compulsory standard”. But this would not be an overnight declaration, there is a process that has to be followed.
When declaring a standard as compulsory, that standard must be cited in a law, which will be enforced. For the sake of clarity, this will be explained in layman terms. The first step is to announce to the whole nation and the world, the intention to make the standard compulsory. This announcement will give all interested parties all the reasons why the standard cannot remain voluntary as well as 60 days to comment on this intention to make the standard compulsory. Interested stakeholders will lodge their comments at the address given by the announcement. Some will be lauding the drive and others will be taking away from it. At the end of the comment period the technical committee responsible for the decision will dispose of all the comments received and invite those that have substantial issues against the drive to a forum where they will give justification for any opposing views. Opposition may be due to the cost implications of implementing the standard, it may be due to the in availability of technology cited in the standard, it may also be due to cultural considerations within the nations and so forth which the declarer of the compulsory standard may not have foreseen. With sufficient extra consultations, as so often necessary, these will be resolved. Then again the Ministry declaring the compulsory standard will announce in the gazette the date of entry into force of the compulsory standard and that date must, at minimum, be 60 days after the date of the announcement. This is done in order to give the economic players that are affected by the compulsory standard, time to adjust to the requirements of the standard. This is quite an interesting process that ensures that the implementation of the compulsory standard does not meet resistance. The proper name for a “compulsory standard” is “technical regulation”.
At the Global 2013 Smart Partnership Dialogue hosted by His Excellency Jakaya Kikwete in Tanzania, the subject of the “Emerging Role of Standards as Strategic tools”, SWASA made a presentation on the importance of using standards in technical regulations. Most exciting was that this session was chaired by His Majesty King Mswati III who made and excellent preamble about the importance of standards in any economy. During his session, His Royal Highness made a joke about the abundant energy of the Smart Partnership CEO, Dr. Mihaela Smith, how it was a standard that everyone must try to meet. SWASA presented in the same segment of the program as BSI’s Mr. David Bell and Former ISO Secretary General Mr. Alan Bryden. The issue of the emerging strategic nature of standards was in line with their ability to ensure competencies and open new markets. The issue of technical regulations was in light of the fact that since they are based on internationally agreed standards, it is highly unlikely that they will cause market failure. This is in addition to the advantages of using standards in general such as technology transfer, transparency of a system, predictability of results and protection from possible liability. More companies and business coalitions are now coming closer to SWASA to request for applicable standards that will give them all these advantages. Most comments on the presentation by SWASA ware on the definition of “consensus”. Which was defined as “a general agreement characterised by the absence of sustained opposition to material issues by an important part of the concerned interest, arrived at by a process that involves seeking to take into account the views of the parties concerned and to reconcile any conflicting arguments”.
Once again a moment of excellence was necessary when SWASA was making a presentation at the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) conference on the expectations of industry with regards to standards education. At this conference SWASA presented on the national initiatives that SWASA was undertaking. In line with this, SWASA will hold a High Schools Symposium in early Spring where high school children will be presenting on three topics. These are:
- The importance of Metrology in our Daily lives?
- How does conformity assessment certification help to ensure the quality of goods and services?
- How do standards facilitate the use of technology for national transformation?
This promises to be a very stimulating symposium as one can already tell from the jibes the teachers pass to each other at the preparatory meetings. The nine participating schools, in no particular order are: Salesian Boys’ High School; Kobe Ramokgadi Advanced Learning Academy; Inkhanyeti High School; Bahai High School; Manzini Nazarene High School; St Michaels Girls’ High School; St Francis High School, KaBoyce High School and Mjingo High School. Yes…..this will be a battle of the Titans.
As the World Standards Cooperation or International Cooperation on Education about Standardization (WSC/ICES) conference progressed at ETSI, the discussions became centred on the best ways in which standards education can be introduced into the formal school’s curriculum. Bearing in mind that the curricula are generally overloaded, would it be practical to have a separate standalone standards course or to have it integrated in an existing course or subject. Other countries in the Far-East have produced games for primary school kids, which ensure that the children learn the SQAM concepts whilst having fun. It is a pity that such games may not be available in the English language. It is also very important that such games are made available in the vernacular so as to reach other people that could be in business, and yet did not rise very high in the education system. At secondary level this could then develop into a chapter in a Technology Book and then become a standards module or full course at the University level. The important consideration here is to blend the standards education relevantly and appropriately at each level to achieve the intended objective, that of producing graduates that are ready for industry. In this regard, SWASA is interested in a possible area of cooperation with institutions of higher learning especially the national university of creative technology.
Currently SWASA has produced a presentation of ISO 9001 in the SiSwati language. This was produced for the benefit of the Business Women’s Forum that exists under the Federation of Swaziland Employers and Chamber of Commerce. The challenge being addressed here is the high and technical language of standards, compared to theirlevel of proficiency in the English language. Speaking of language, it was quite interesting to attend a presentation by the National Curriculum Centre to the Ministry of Education de-crying the use of the English language as a gate pass into the University. It was argued that this was undermining the cognitive thinking ability of the person who was interested in studying other subjects other than a degree in languages. I was quite happy with the Director of Education’s summary wherein she stated that, this did not imply that English must stop being the medium of instruction in Swaziland for the sake of the easy integration of the Swazi economy to the rest of the world. This was the direction that the national debate had started to take in some quarters. This is a “watch this space” national debate that SWASA will follow.
The Chairing of the standards session by the King of Swaziland should portend good things to come for SWASA as the national Authority on Standards and Quality. How high would one desire the awareness of the subject to be which is beyond the Head of State? It is a pleasure to report with appreciation to NORAD and UNIDO the final arrival and inception of the Swazi Government - SWASA – UNIDO project for Swaziland titled “Market Access and Trade Facilitation through a Conformity Assessment Infrastructure’. SWASA is the main beneficiary and counterpart of the project in that all the developments that the project seeks to bring are centered around SWASA. Currently running in the integrated model, there is the intention to align the Swazi SQAM infrastructure to the fragmented model of the first world. It remains for the project to be very creative in achieving the necessary degree of fragmentation that will ensure a reduction in conflicts of interest, without creating too many institutions that government cannot afford to support.
The articles covered by this edition of the 4th Edition of the LIZINGA Magazine are quite inspiring and characteristic of a chain of moments of excellence that each of the writers have experienced. We appreciate that countries seek deeper economic integration at the tripartite level by first overcoming the exigencies endemic in the constituent RECs and strive to reach consensus on singular NTBs that will govern the tripartite and ease trade. We also appreciate that being members of international standardizing bodies like the ITU has helped us advance technologically by compelling us to comply to the international agreement to migrate from analogue to digital television to improve our reception of advances and quality televised services. Also, SWASA highly welcomes the introduction of the e-Government system which will improve among other things, our public administration. SWASA is proud to be part of the inception committee as this will give us the opportunity to make timely interventions to the system with the appropriate standards. Soon SWASA hopes to renew Swaziland’s membership and participation ARSO as it now promises good initiatives such as the African Eco-labelling Mechanism it now hosts. There is more where all these articles came from, but alas, for the limitations of space in this magazine, you would read about the others that we have had to save for the next issue. It remains for me to thank you for taking interest in our magazine which shows your interest in SWASA. Stay in touch with us as we continue with improving the world we live in.
The Quality Assurance Department will be the custodians of the SWASA mark for quality as it is through this department that quality testing and certification will be carried out. The department’s functionality will depend on local industry utilizing the Swazi National Standards that will have been developed by the Technical Department and further seeking to be certified ...
SWASA will be disseminating standards addressing technical problems in various sectors and will be encompassing many professions. People involved in these sectors and others will be invited o partake in Technical Committees. The sectors already identified are:
- Fresh Produce
- Prepackaged stuff ...
- In order for the people to be able to implement the standards, they must understand exactly what is implied in the various paragraphs within the standard. Standards-based training may be facilitated by SWASA staff or it may be done by a subcontracting company. Based on the type of standards that are on demand it is envisaged that SWASA may offer more than 10 courses per year. Training on standards forms part of the Standards Marketing Strategy of SWASA, since, as more people understand standards, the more they will be willing to implement them ...
The Swaziland Standards Authority’s Information Centre is a reference point for technical information on standards and quality issues within the Technical Department, and its basic objective is to provide a means for acquiring and disseminating information on standards and related matters from and to the stakeholders. Information is availed to SWASA clients and general public through the print media, radio, the SWASA website www.swasa.co.sz and by visiting the Centre ...