’We Are Paying the Price for Killing Technical Institutes’

Dr Ben Manyindo is the executive director of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), a body charged with ensuring standards of goods and services in the country.

Manyindo also chairs the Technical Committee 16, known as ‘TC 16’, which is developing national standards for goods and services for Uganda’s petroleum industry. He told Edward Ssekika why drafting the standards that govern the country’s petroleum industry is not an easy task.

Why are standards in the petroleum industry more stringent than in the other industries?

First of all you need to understand that the petroleum industry is not an ordinary sector. Standards in the oil and gas sector are much more stringent due to their effect of safety, environment and people’s health. Standards are extremely high because any small mistake could hurt an entire investment and lead to loss of life.

That is why the industry takes in people who understand the trade and the way things are handled. The oil industry shall need welders to do pipe work. If you are looking for a welder, for instance, the ones we have will not qualify.

The welding in the oil and gas industry is not your ordinary welding of windows and fabricating doors. It is aanced-level welding. A welder has to ensure that there is no leakage and that is why the industry needs more aanced welders with international certifications.

Uganda discovered commercial oil in 2006. Why has it taken eight years to start drafting the standards?

TC 16 has been around for some time. But it was only dealing with standards of downstream products. For upstream, it only started work last year. So, we may not get upstream standards until around September this year. The team has already been in the field and looked at the market explanations. Now they are debating.

So, which standards are the oil industry players using?

Currently, they are using either international standards or individual company standards. For instance, the Chinese are using Chinese standards while Total might be using European standards. The good thing with the oil and gas sector is that most of the standards are international with only small variations.

Are there dangers of a company applying its own standards?

It may be a problem. If, for instance, Cnooc is applying its own standards and Total is doing the same, then it becomes a challenge for the regulator, who is Uganda, to come up with its standards. Therefore, it means the country has to be familiar with individual company standards.

If most of the standards are international, why are we spending a lot of time and money developing national standards?

Some of these things may vary. For instance, the temperatures in Europe have winter and summer. Therefore, if we are to look at a pipeline, we have to look at those variations. So in the standards, we must adopt our environmental conditions. So, we have to customize international standards to our own.

How far have you gone in coming up with these standards?

We have actually agreed on which standards a subcommittee must look at in one year. The next stage is for every subcommittee to pick and analyze each and every clause in the draft standards. We have different players: Tullow, Total, Cnooc, environmentalists, academia, government departments and others. So, I expect a lot of debates because industry players have their interests, and so does government and consumers.

When they are done, those standards will come from the subcommittee and go to the main committee. After, the recommendations will be forwarded to the National Standards Council, which will adopt them into national standards. Normally, players are given three to six months for implementation.

What mechanisms are in place to ensure companies comply with these standards?

We shall not have a headache in the implementation of these standards. Oil companies are supposed to be self-regulating because they know the dangers of non-compliance.

Once we get these standards, it will not be UNBS to enforce them it will be the regulator. Because it is the regulator [the Petroleum Authority] renews their licences, those who do not comply will lose their licences. TC 16 is going to be a permanent committee because standards are very dynamic due to [changing] technology.

Which challenges are you facing in developing the standard?

The first challenge we are facing is the level of our staff at UNBS. Right now, we have 18 technical committees, with many subcommittees. But we have only 14 staff, which means some staff must run two technical committees. So, on the staffing level, we are thin you can’t schedule two meetings in a week because that causes delay.

The second challenge is the availability of experts. There are not many experts available. In some cases you may not have quorum to debate that delays progress of the work and that is why the standards have delayed.

UNBS has not ventured into standards for skills competences such as standards for welders. Are you considering venturing into it in the near future?

There are stakeholders who want us to go in that direction. Our challenge now is taking in too much, which we can’t handle. We have a challenge in our education curriculum. People want degrees, but industrial development is not about getting degrees. We have destroyed most of our technical institutions and turned them into universities and we are now actually paying the price.

We forget that it is the competence that will drive the economy and not the academic or paper qualifications. If companies look around and there is no one competent, they will either train their staff or bring a foreign expert, because they can’t wait for a Ugandan to qualify. It is our challenge as a country because we didn’t plan ahead.

Source : The Observer

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