Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies. File photo: (dti)
JOHANNESBURG - Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies has instructed the SA Bureau of Standards (SABS) urgently to oversee a detailed process to develop a turnaround strategy for the bureau.

Responding to a parliamentary question from the DA’s shadow minister of trade and industry, Dean Macpherson, Davies said the department, the SABS’s only shareholder, admitted there were concerns related to the SABS’s testing function.

Davies said the detailed process to develop a turnaround strategy for the SABS would, among other things, fully scope all the SABS’s testing facilities and their respective capabilities; the facilities that were no longer functional or had been degraded; the cost of maintaining or upgrading and re-opening those facilities that were critical to South Africa’s industrialisation effort; resolve any legal issues that may stand in the way of undertaking partial testing; and conduct a review of three technical infrastructure acts.

He said the SABS had 30 business units that undertook testing.

However, Davies has demanded that the management of the SABS urgently provide his department with the names of the laboratories that were conducting partial testing of products, the cost to bring each partial testing laboratory up to standard so that full testing could be conducted at every laboratory, and the equipment that was needed in each laboratory.

The DA’s questions stemmed from the SABS irregularly certifying substandard coal by Gupta-linked mines to facilitate the suspension imposed by Eskom on another supplier to pave the way for the Gupta-owned Tegeta contract to go ahead.

The SABS last year reported a R44.3million loss for its 2016/17 financial year and received widespread criticism from many industries about the level of service these industries were receiving from the bureau. Of particular concern to these industries was a decision taken by SABS chief executive Boni Mehlomakulu that the bureau would not do any partial testing.

Sources close to the SABS claimed the bureau had for decades done partial testing, and this decision played a significant role in reducing the bureau’s income during the year, because clients who wanted or needed partial testing of products to be conducted referred this work to private test laboratories.

Business Report reported in January last year that South Africa’s coatings industry claimed the SABS’s paint-testing laboratories appeared to be non-operational, which was damaging the local industry.

Deryck Spence, the executive director of the SA Paint Manufacturing Association (Sapma), said at the time that the paint section at the SABS had about 13 employees about two years ago but was now believed to have only one.

Spence added that a SABS quality approval mark was essential for any government contract.

Ian Plaatjes, the SABS’s corporate services executive, said “some” of Sapma’s allegations were unfounded, but failed to respond to specific questions posed by Business Report.

The Master Chemical Blenders Association, which collectively represents more than 50 companies, last year told Business Report their members were unable to obtain compliance certificates from the SABS, despite interacting directly with Mehlomakulu. The association said the SABS did not have testing capability and may possibly no longer be compliant.

The SA National Accreditation System (Sanas), which is responsible for accrediting industry bodies and laboratories that conduct testing and is recognised through legislation as the only national body responsible for carrying out accreditation, suspended the certification programmes of the SABS, but subsequently lifted this suspension in March 2016, claiming the suspension was of an administrative nature.

Many other industries have complained to Business Report about the level of service provided by the SABS.

Following the Business Report article on Sapma’s complaints, two members of the executive committee of the SABS left their positions, according to an internal SABS email. It disclosed that Frank Makamo, the certification executive, had requested to vacate his position, while Katima Temba, the certification executive, had tendered his resignation. The SABS refused to officially confirm these resignations.

Macpherson said yesterday the SABS only had one executive board member who had not resigned since 2015, which pointed to a serious governance problem. He said the SABS was unable to account for how many customers it had lost in the two previous financial years; the cost of this to the SABS; how many expired SABS marks were being used; what these products were and when they expired.