By Patrick Kisembo
The Guardian; Monday 8, October 2007
Counterfeit goods will stop flooring the country only after the government destroys the well-knit syndicate behind their importation, distribution and sale, highly regarded Tanzanian business consultant Nikubuka Shimwela has warned.
Shimwela, once an expert with the National Institute of productivity in Dar es Salaam and now CEO and lead con-suitant with Kasuto Company Ltd Economic and Business Consultants, issued the warming at a workshop on Consultation of Church Leaders on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) held in the city at the weekend.
He said authoritative research shows that counterfeit constitute about 38 per cent of all the products imported into the country, adding that fake products adversely affect both consumers and the government when it comes to destroying them.
“It is very expensive destroying counterfeit products, as clearly seen from the consignment of fake Kiwi shoe polish recently destroyed at Wazo Hill in Dar es Salaam because one has to pay the destruction teams heavily,” he stated.
According to the consultant, it is no easy task controlling the importation of counterfeit goods “because most importers are Tanzanians who deliberately order cheap products from outside so as to reap a windfall upon selling them in the local market”.
“It is not easy to control these products because we local businesspersons form the bulk of the people who import the goods in order to get super profits,” he said.
Shimwela, a member of the Tanzania Ecumenical Dialogue Group (TEDG) warmed that raining in people fond of importing fake products was further complicated by the fact that the whole business is supported and perpetrated by a sophisticated network of people who know how to evade law-enforcement agents.
“It is a very strong network that only the combined strength and force of all relevant government organs can beat,” he noted, adding that many members of the Tanzanian business community had made it a culture to import counterfeit goods.
“It is a very serious problem because they are the same ones who have created a virtual national culture of loving foreign things even if they are if poor quality,” he said.
Participants of the workshop had earlier wanted to know what the authorities overseeing the quality of imports and goods made locally were doing when the country was fast turning into a dumping site for fake goods, mostly foreign junk.
Grace Masalakulangwa of the African Evangelistic Enterprise questioned the government’s capacity to check the importation of counterfeits, regardless of the fact that the country is in a liberal market situation.
She said it was sad for local supermarkets to be fully stocked with foreign products.
“I once saw a heavy duty truck with a container full of substandard light bulbs. When I asked the owner about the origin of the products, he said he had paid all the relevant taxes and duties for their importation,” she explained.
A visibly upset Masalakulangwa said the owner of the container told people who had surrounded the truck of contact the Tanzania Revenue Authority commissioner general it their cared to so as confirm if the container had not gone through all the clearance stages.
“But all the contents in the container were fake and people knew that before it went through the ‘proper’ government channels,” she said.
She challenged government and other authorities “not to gamble with people’s lives by accepting bribers from a few unscrupulous and greedy elements.”
Another participant, Prof Francis Matambalya, named the Tanzania Bureau of Standards as the authority officially charged with ensuring conformity to certified standard and added that the academic world to which he belonged was there merely to educate and sensitise people on such matters.
Problems associated with controlling counterfeit products do not have to do only with the absence of presence or proper mechanisms but also with the manner in which the relevant state organs deals with corruption, he argued.
Chipping in to clarify on some issues after the debate had especially heated, Shimwela said the Government enacted the Fair Competition Act in 2004 and later set up the Fair Competition Commission to deal with counterfeits.
“But as you may be aware, the competition is practically toothless. It only has powers to conduct inspections in godowns and other retail outlets to impound counterfeit products,” he observed, adding that the government is reviewing the law governing FCC to give it legal teeth that bite.
Last month police and FCC personnel impounded large consignments of imitation goods in Dar es Salaam, including Hitachi television sets and Kiwi shoe polish, which sources said were imported from China.
Recently, FCC said half of all consignment of Chinese made goods sold in Dar es Salaam markets are fakes. However, China struck back shortly later, denying the charges and instead heaping the blame on dishonest traders using the Far Eastern country as a transit route for their exports to Tanzania.