How Kebs ensures safety of masks, ugali, cars and hips enhancers

 Kenya Bureau of Standards CEO Bernard Njiraini

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  •  As a national standards body, our top most priority is the protection of safety and health of consumers.
  • Manufacturers are responsible, through their backward and forward supply systems, for controls to prevent conditions that encourage growth of the fungus.

The Kenya Bureau of Standards is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that the goods and services Kenyans consume meet basic quality and safety requirements. Has it done its job well? Are Kenyans satisfied with its performance so far? Mr Bernard Njiraini, the Managing Director, responds to your questions.

Corruption at ports: In sampling, testing, labelling and stamping of approved goods and products, Kebs officers have been accused of wanton corruption that compromises the health of end users. This is rampant at the port of Mombasa and border posts. How do you intend to fight this menace?  Dan Murugu, Nakuru

 As a national standards body, our top most priority is the protection of safety and health of consumers. We have established elaborate systems that ensure sampling and testing of locally manufactured and imported goods are conducted in a structured manner. Dissatisfied customers have alternative arbitration mechanisms — through a tribunal as well as requests for re-tests.

We have three layers of inspection: Pre-export Verification of Conformity (PVOC) at the country of origin, risk-based random sampling at the ports of entry, and market surveillance when goods are placed for sale in supermarkets and shops. Our strategy to fight against substandard products is through our campaign, “Wajibika na Kebs” , which aims at creating awareness for quality checks on our products through verification on the validity of the standardisation mark on the products before purchase by sending the code underneath the mark to 20023 (SM#Code) to get product validity status details.

Bags standards: Pursuant to Gazette Notice 2356 of February 28, 2017, Kebs approved the use of 100 per cent biodegradable bags (starch and cassava bags) as alternatives to banned plastic bags. On the basis of this notice I developed a business plan with an international company already producing biodegradable bags from cassava starch in Asia. For the joint venture to materialise, the international partner requested for approval of standards before we could proceed. I sent several emails to Kebs but didn’t get any response. I visited your offices in South C and met a woman who informed me that such bags cannot be imported or manufactured in Kenya due to lack of standards and regulations for managing their manufacture or importation. Why did Kebs include such bags as alternatives to plastics without setting the regulations? And when will these standards be developed and gazetted? Elisha N Oduor, Nairobi.

 First, let me correct you. The Gazette Notice No 2356 of February 28, 2017 was not issued by Kebs, but by then Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources. There has been no time that Kebs has approved the use of 100 per cent biodegradable plastic bags. The standards are being discussed at the technical committee level and we shall have them ready by June 2021. 

In the meantime, we have adopted ISO 17088 Specifications for compostable plastics. However, these are only suitable in situations where they will end up in an industrial compost. For the time being, this is not possible in the country. Regarding the many unanswered mails that you sent to Kebs, I take note and will follow up to ensure that such never happens again.

Aflatoxin in food: There have been several instances of some millers selling maize flour with aflatoxin, yet your organisation exists to ensure consumers get good and healthy products. Is this all because of corruption?  Michael Ngunjiri, Mukurweini.

  Aflatoxin in food arises from growth of fungi that release the toxin called aflatoxin. It comes as a result of poor handling of cereals and can be introduced at any stage of the value chain, including at home, as long as the conditions are favourable for growth of the fungus.

Manufacturers are responsible, through their backward and forward supply systems, for controls to prevent conditions that encourage growth of the fungus. Kebs has been at the forefront in fighting the aflatoxin menace through sensitisation of food safety and market surveillance campaigns, but is also the responsibility of the food business operator to ensure that the food being offered for sale to the public is safe for consumption.

Original vs Counterfeit: Cases of substandard goods in the market have been so common that some traders ask you if you want original products or counterfeits because there are price differences. How much does this affect our economy and what is your organisation doing about it? Francis Njuguna, Kibichoi.

 Market demand diversity dictates that there should be variety in terms of the degree of quality based on people’s purchase power, hence there will always be products with different prices and quality.  However, our standards always define the minimum specifications for proper functioning of the products. We are consistently developing standards that are consistent with market needs and have also enhanced our market surveillance.

Why were you arrested? In early July you were arrested and spent some considerable amount of time at the EACC offices in Nairobi, and the allegation was that you were obstructing investigations into allegations of bribery in the procurement of tenders for pre-export conformity of goods, used motor vehicles and spare parts at Kebs. The fact that you had to be arrested could suggest you were trying to hide something. Could you speak on this and explain why Kebs was not cooperating in the investigations. Leonard Kanji, Nairobi.

 Kebs is a government agency and operates under public service guidelines. All documents at Kebs are public, held and preserved as per the procedures of government documents control. In compliance to our controls on documents, which requires, among other things, identifications, duplications, serialisation, and authorisation from the various user departments, delays were misconstrued to be hiding documents.

Quality of masks: Several weeks ago KEBS banned three types of substandard masks arguing that they are risky and give one a false sense of protection against Covid-19. What should one look at when purchasing a face mask? Dickie Murimi, Kirinyaga.

 Kebs operates a product certification scheme that entails allowing manufacturer who meet standards to apply the standardisation mark on the product. The mark is issued after an evaluation of a company’s production systems to ensure the manufacturer has quality controls in place and after demonstrating compliance with the standard. The validity of the mark can be verified by sending the permit number indicated under the mark in an SMS message in the format SM#PermitNo to 20023. A response giving details of the right owner of the permit will be received and this should match the details on the actual product on which the mark is displayed. For the general public, this should be the tool to use to verify that the product has been subjected to the certification programme and found to be in compliance to set requirements and thus safe to use.

Hips and breasts enhancers: What is the role of Kebs in regulating the importation and sale in Kenya of hips and breast enhancement products? They are all over the place yet they do not bear any standards mark or anything to show that they have been approved for sale in Kenya.  Brenda K Wabomba, Busia.

 Health-related products are regulated under various laws and there are various agencies involved. Kebs’ role is to check if a product meets the requirements of the applicable standards. As for suitability to a specific consumer, it is important that an evaluation by a qualified professional is undertaken because of potential side effects that may vary between individuals. Any product intended to alter either the appearance or functioning the body should only be used under the professional advice of a qualified medical practitioner.

Inspecting cars: In the contentious tender to expand the field for pre-export conformity of goods, used motor vehicles and spare parts, what was the wisdom in Kebs bringing in more players just a year before the existing contract was due to expire? Don't you think you exposed Kebs to potential litigation for varying an existing contract mid-way? Phanuel Mogusu, Nairobi.

 The main objective of expanding the PVOC contract was to improve service delivery to importers of used motor vehicles and spare parts. And as you know, data never lies; there has been great improvement of that programme much to the delight of importers and the general Kenyan public.

Compiled by Walter Menya.