Not up to scratch: Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies says he has written to the SABS management demanding that they provide an urgent response to allegations of declining standards. Picture: SUPPLIED
Not up to scratch: Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies says he has written to the SABS management demanding that they provide an urgent response to allegations of declining standards. Picture: SUPPLIED

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies is concerned about the state of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and has instructed the agency’s board to urgently oversee the development of a turnaround strategy.

SABS has the critical function of testing and certifying the quality and safety of products, and public confidence in the soundness of its testing is vital.

It emerged from the minister’s supplementary replies to parliamentary questions by DA MP Ghaleb Cachalia that from 2015-16 to end-April 2018 the SABS lost 1,051 customers, resulting in a financial loss of R50m. The peak in customer cancellations was in the 2016-17 financial year and was due to customers cancelling their permits and certificates with the SABS. Among the reasons given were the suspension of the SABS by the South African National Accreditation System (Sanas), customers moving to competitors and expired certificates and/or permits.

Sanas is the only national body responsible for accrediting, testing and verifying laboratories and certification bodies, among other entities.

One of the matters the turnaround strategy will tackle is to fully scope all the SABS testing facilities and their capabilities, and identify those that are no longer functional or have been degraded. The board was also instructed to resolve any legal issues that might stand in the way of SABS undertaking partial testing.

The turnaround strategy will also determine the cost of maintaining, upgrading and reopening those facilities regarded as critical to the country’s industrialisation effort, Davies said in his reply to a question by DA spokesman on trade and industry Dean Macpherson.

According to Macpherson’s information, the SABS "was completely on the point of collapse". It was losing customers and was working with outdated equipment, which meant it could not do specific tests.

"It is beyond doubt that there is a crisis unfolding in the SABS. The only way to bring stability back to the organisation is to put it under administration," Macpherson said.

"The SABS is an institution of trust, and if that trust is damaged, people will begin to view SABS-branded products with suspicion. We simply cannot afford to have a trust deficit develop."

SABS was not available for comment on Monday.

Davies also wants the SABS to provide a full scope of all the existing SABS mark functions and the processes involved in developing the mark.

The SABS mark is a product certification scheme that aims to provide a third-party guarantee of the quality, safety and reliability of products to the consumer.

The presence of the SABS certification mark on a product is an assurance of conformity to industry specifications.

ensorl @businesslive.co.za

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