Role of weights and measures in trade facilitation

By John Paul Musimami

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” may be a popular cliché. But it serves to emphasise the importance of measurement in our day-to-day lives. Every aspect of our lives involves some form of measurement. From buying items at a grocery store to making decisions on what to wear.

Metrology, which is the science of measurement, involves standardising the measurement process to achieve consistency, minimise errors, and ensure accuracy of measurements.

Ensuring accuracy of measurements is a consumer protection role that involves confirming that consumers are getting the right quantity for the measured items. In addition to consumer protection, accuracy of measurement promotes fair trade since all traders are able to provide goods and services in the right quantities.

Verification of equipment is not only important in promoting fairness in trade but also in ensuring economic development of our country. Errors in measurement can also result in wrong tax assessments which would mean lost revenues for the government.

The Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) is charged with enforcing Weights and Measures Act Cap 103 in what is known as Legal Metrology. The role of UNBS is to maintain a uniform measurement system in line with globally accepted standards in verification results. It is an important aspect in compliance and in conformity assessment.

The significance of enforcing legal requirements in measurement can be felt in trade that involve large volumes of transactions. A small error in measurement can result in large impact on the overall transaction. For instance an error of 0.03 litres for every litre in a transaction can cumulatively result into an error of 300 litres for every 10,000 litres involved.

The UNBS is currently undertaking a nationwide exercise to verify the accuracy of electricity meters in line with the Statutory Instruments 2015 No.69 Weights and Measures (Electricity meters) Rules, 2015 and regulatory notice ERA/002/2017 in the gazette General Notice No. 404 of 2017.

Utility agencies and companies involved in sale of meters are required by law to submit the meters to UNBS for verification. UNBS verifies electricity meters in line with our mandate of ensuring consumer protection and in promoting fair trade. All verified meters are issued a UNBS sticker and the electricity consumers are urged to look out for it.

The other area that is of interest to UNBS is pre-packaging of products. In an effort to fasten trade and increase transactions a number of traders have adopted the pre-packaging of products such as sugar, rice, maize flour, wheat flour. These are mostly common in supermarkets and in shops selling fast moving goods. However, pre-packaging creates a new challenge for consumers.

Consumers rely on the trust of traders to believe that the pre-packed items are in the right amounts. The pre-package division ensures that the labelling and quantity of the pre-packaged goods conform to the sale and labelling of goods regulation.

However, UNBS often  gets complaints from consumers that the products bought off the shelves are not in the right quantities. In such cases, we ask the consumers to keep samples which we can use to ascertain the right measurements. Also our team from pre-packaging division of Legal Metrology carry out market surveillance and randomly pick samples of pre-packaged products to ascertain the exactness of the stated weights.

If the tested samples are found to be of lesser amounts, the culprits are then apprehended and such merchandise seized off the shelves. The Sale and Labelling of goods law also requires that the trader selling pre-packaged goods possesses a weighing scale with a valid stamp of verification at the point of sale for purposes of buyers cross checking the weight of the package bought by the consumer.

Metrology facilitates trade by ensuring that the there is a sound measurement system in place against which goods and services can be measured. The UNBS provides the necessary support to ensure quality measurements for trade are available. It implements requirements that guarantee correct measurements in areas of public interest such as trade, health, the environment and safety.

The Writer is the Deputy Executive Director in Charge of Compliance at Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS).