Conforming to int’l standards

…will require harmonisation of laws  

Quality: Most of the laws and regulations guiding the government’s regulatory agencies must be re-examined, should the country harmonise all its standards in conformity to international standards, according to the Bhutan Standards Bureau (BSB).

In doing so, it will facilitate international trade in a transparent, efficient and accountable manner, said the BSB director general, Sonam Phuntsho.

For instance, in December last year oranges worth Nu 1.2M were denied entry to Bangladesh because a testing machine at the entry port broke down and authorities in Bangladesh did not accept the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority’s (BAFRA) certification.

Officials from the BSB said that Bangladesh did not accept the BAFRA certification because it is not a national standards body like the BSB. But because the food Act has also mandated BAFRA to develop food safety standards and regulate them, they are also in the business of developing standards.

Likewise, the National Environment Commission (NEC) governs the water standards that are derived from the water Act. The Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) develops and regulates the road infrastructure and Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA), among others, are also into the business of developing standards.

BSB, as per its Act is also given the status of a national standards body to develop and adopt standards. However, BSB is a latecomer, established in 2010 and upgraded from the erstwhile standards and quality control authority under the works and human settlement ministry. In absence of a national standards body prior to 2010, regulatory and implementing bodies of the government have set their own standards.

“It is for these reasons, standards in each law require a re-look and harmonise all laws,” the director general said. “But we are not saying that we are the most competent and professional institution,” he said. However, he added that BSB is aware of how the game is played.

“Even the International Standards Organisation (ISO) has limited expertise but they develop standards for everything,” Sonam Phuntsho said, adding expertise from abroad is being sought.

He said standards are not developed without the consensus of the implementing agencies. BSB, he said, acts as a secretariat to facilitate standards development. It has ties and agreements in place with the International Standards Organisation (ISO), Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and many other such institutions, accreditation bodies and laboratories abroad to assist in the certification process.

For instance, to develop food standards, he said BSB’s technical committee members include BAFRA officials and people who have the expertise in food manufacturing. “Process of standard development is not to restrict but to facilitate the best way of producing something.”

Currently there are nine technical committees, mostly pertaining to the construction sector. But there are plans to increase the technical committees based on the economic needs and to disband some committees where standards are already in place.

There are also about 122 standards, mostly adopted from the ISO and Indian standards as most of trading is with India. There are about six national standards, wherein slight changes were made to international standards to accommodate the local situation.

“I don’t see any reason why BSB certified products and standards will not be accepted world-wide,” Sonam Phuntsho said. “BSB certified products pretty much guarantees quality.”

But most of the clients seeking certification of these standards are government bodies. Those from the private sector include cement, bricks, and sand, among others. As and when a client approaches, standards are developed an official from BSB said

“Once BSB certifies an agency, that agency is subject to our audit,” the director general said.

Implementation

Standards are voluntary in nature and it is up to the agencies to pursue the process of standardisation or not.

This is where the regulatory agencies come in because BSB’s mandate is limited to development and adoption of standards. BSB officials said standards could be made mandatory and even penalties could be imposed for non-compliance, if the government formulates a technical regulation.

As of now, standards for use of wires, bricks, cement and electrical fixtures for government construction are mandatory. The challenge, as per the director general, lies in the private sector, which goes for cheaper products available across the border and are usually counterfeit.

However, an official said not many people know about the BSB services and that the organisation lands up advocating and pushing its clients for certification. For goods and services that have wider impact on the economy and those that affect the community and personal health, an official said standards should be made mandatory. “The decision has to come from the government,” he added.

It is usually those people and organisations that are keen in doing business who come for certification. “Bringing counterfeit goods and making money is like cheating yourself because that will not pay you in the long run,” Sonam Phuntsho said. “Standardisation is the right way if you care about yourself and the community.”

Beyond goods

Certification does not end with products. BSB also has the competency to standardise services.

An official explained that should the education system be brought up to international standards, schools could seek certification. There are standards as to what a class III student, for instance, should be able to perform. Then there is the certification of management bodies, where an organisation is calibrated based on its competence and efficiency.

Even in the health system, there are standards prescribing, for instance, after how many days a patient is discharged, and whether the prescribed drugs are of required standard.

Officials from the BSB are of the view that all government agencies in the business of delivering services should obtain certification. “Be it for the regulatory bodies or service delivery or policy making, we can develop the standards.”

This is becasue certification is subject to renewal every year upon the fulfillment of auditing process, thus bringing about transparency and accountability.

“It is high time we felt the need to have an overarching policy with the government to conform to quality infrastructure,” the director general said.

The government agencies, an official said should focus on their key mandate instead of ancillary mandates such as developing standards, where they neither have resources nor competency.

Tshering Dorji

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