The vision of the Swaziland Standards Authority (SWASA) is to be the recognised centre of excellence and preferred partner in the provision of standards-based solutions in Swaziland and beyond calls for a serious and honest introspection of self as an organisation. The recent strategic plan set to the period 2013 to 2016 revealed some gaps that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Such shortfalls, it is comforting to report, were not for the lack of conscientious effort from within the organisation but were realised to be due to an ever-changing and ever-increasing demand for better and more efficient products and services from SWASA by all stakeholders. Starting from the shareholders, to the Council and staff; and finally to the Swazi nation at large, each has a need that needs to be met through informed and calculated moves by SWASA. Entering into its third three-year strategic period in April 2013, it would seem, the organisation can no longer plead infancy.
It came out loud and clear during the strategic planning session that there is still a lot that needs to be done in elucidating who exactly SWASA is and what her duty is to stakeholders across the board. With the passage of time it would appear that as the internal stakeholders of SWASA understood what their national mandate is, it was falsely assumed that even the external stakeholders held an equal level of understanding. The clarion call heard at the strategic planning session was to the need to develop a robust marketing strategy, based on facts collected from the ground. This was closely accompanied with the need to craft and operate on a business model which would answer equally to the expectations of both the internal and external stakeholders whilst ensuring that SWASA continues to comply with international best practice. In short and in modern terms, we need to work smart.
Working smart, in the face of resource constraints, calls for innovativeness. We are a standards body and we believe that standards foster innovativeness. It would be expected that as the advocates of this notion we would be less challenged to put it into action. True to the word, all SWASA operations are founded on the provided international norms. The standards development, standards-based training and certification functions are premised on the provided ISO guides. Whether they should be under the same umbrella or not is an issue of another norm informing international best practice. Be that as it may, the Standards and Quality Act (10) 2003 still stands and has to be delivered on. This delivery as the Public Enterprises Unit expectations further dictates has to ultimately reduce the dependency of SWASA on government funds. This then becomes a chicken and egg situation which is questioned by the first sentence of this paragraph. The reality is that SWASA has to rise above the resource constraints and end up being a lucrative business. Talk about reaping from barren land...talk about serious innovativeness.
Being in the service industry, SWASA relies highly on the skills of its 15-odd core technical team that has to multi-task in order to meet the nation’s demand on quality and standards services. It is humbling to note the level of competency that lies within this core technical accumulated through SWASA’s ISO membership, relationships with other national standards bodies and internal skills transfer activities. At some point the demands on SWASA stretched this team to a level that, without the professional enlightenment of this team, would have presented as a conflict of interest. This underscored the need for more personnel to be engaged into the organisation. Addition to the head count of SWASA, as the economics of business dictate, would have inflated the wage bill of SWASA to a percentage that would have defied operations. At the same time this did not mean that some of the services had to be suspended since the nation needed them. It then called for the spread of these deliverables over a longer time span, meaning that the organisation might have been seen as slow or non-responsive. Fortunately, opportunities, by way of collaborations, continued to present themselves.
The advent of the Swaziland Investor Road Map (IRM) presented an opportunity for the realisation of the importance of the issue of Quality and Standards in the Kingdom of Swaziland. In its totality, Objective 13 of the road map succinctly emphasises the need to have a sound and operational Quality Infrastructure in the country. It was quite opportune for SWASA to be assigned to lead this objective since the operations of SWASA stand to benefit immensely should this national endeavour be fruitful. One of the sub-objectives here is the Quality Inclusion Program which was crafted by SWASA in 2010. This is a national project that is targeted at the individuals, small and medium entities that, for some reason, find themselves in the periphery of the quality and standards discourse, resulting in them not reaping the benefits of standardisation. With the understanding that the benefits of standardisation do not come overnight, the overall aim of this sub-objective is to gradually pull these entities and individuals into the central corridors of national standardisation and make them realise that standards are part and parcel of everything and that they improve the world we live in. At this stage SWASA has sectorised these Swazi entities and is preparing to launch a nationwide education program.
The Quality Inclusion Program (QIP) seeks to promote the benevolent kind of professionalism that is rare in this part of the world. It also realises that knowledge that is not used very often becomes stale. Swaziland possesses a wealth of quality and standards (Q&S) information that is sitting with professionals that would like to use it to benefit sectors of society that cannot for many reasons access it. The QIP presents an opportunity to transfer this knowledge to those sectors for them to use for their businesses whilst it stays fresh in the mind of the professional. It is very costly to source this knowledge and the trend lately is that such opportunities are dwindling. In essence the QIP is a self-perpetuating cycle of Q&S information transfer with the ultimate result of all people in Swaziland speaking, consuming and operating on standards. Interested parties are encouraged to get hold of the QIP document for the finer details. SWASA still has the task of further demystifying this project as, at first encounter, it is clouded by its altruistic nature, which in these times is a laughable notion.
In line with the QIP also arises the need for SWASA to recognise professionals in the Quality and Standards arena as mandated by Government. The 2008 global financial meltdown shifted the dynamics of global dependency and made some countries realise that self-sufficiency and accountability are not very bad concepts to be familiar with. Unfortunately whilst the sun still shines, nobody ever thinks of making the hay. SWASA is in full support of the formation of professional bodies in whatever professional sphere there is in Swaziland. With the call from the ISO Secretary General for Swaziland to transform from being a standards-taker to being a standards-maker, SWASA plans to upgrade the country’s membership at ISO from being correspondent to being full member body. For this purpose, SWASA needs to have a rich body of professionals in all the Swazi-relevant standards that are being formulated at ISO, to represent the interest of the country at ISO from a truly professional perspective. Identification of such professionals will be easy for SWASA if there are well defined and well governed professional bodies in Swaziland. The other advantage of professional bodies is the peer assessment and recognition that serves to control the ambush of professions and promotes the concept of initial internship where necessary.
Another delivery under Objective 13 is the elucidation and augmentation of the existing Technical Regulatory Framework of the country. SWASA is currently weeding out all the technical information that is embedded in the technical regulations of the country and deciphering the standards source documents from which it was all drawn. This is no easy feat as some of the regulations that are meant to achieve similar national legitimate objectives, monitored by different regulators may have come from non- equivalent standards. The second stage of this exercise would be to find such inconsistencies and harmonise them. This will have the advantage of widening the scope of the possible work of SWASA, indeed with the necessary prior permission from the concerned regulatory agency. This would be a good opportunity for the SWASA Regulatory Mark.
The third and major sub-objective here is that of assuring the accuracy and traceability of measurements of all key precision instruments in Swaziland. Metrology being a very important aspect of trade, health and law enforcement stands to benefit the whole nation if all the activities under this sub-objective are fruitful. The advent of the Bio-Technology Park that is under conceptualisation in the Ministry of ICT promises to anchor this sub-objective and it not have been more opportune for these two national initiatives to coincide. One needs to be appreciative of synergistic national initiatives as it maximises on the productivity and profitability of limited national resources. As is already evident, the IRM is one of the opportunities that show Government commitment to Quality and Standards in Swaziland, disregarding the fact that this objective is number thirteen. SWASA definitely appreciates this opportunity.
In line with the development of the Technology Park in Swaziland one is reminded of the conformity assessment function of SWASA. The rate of development of events around the National Laboratory Association of Swaziland is not very encouraging and SWASA needs to pay more attention to it. Perhaps this needs commitment at higher administrative levels in each of the members of this association. It is a known fact that laboratory ownership and administration is costly and may involve some level of confidentiality but it should also be appreciated that laboratories benefit more from collaborative initiatives. Swaziland has invested greatly in conformity assessment infrastructure and personnel and this investment must not be allowed to decay. Consolidation of this investment and proper utilisation will benefit the country both in terms of credibility of conformity assessment results and collective professional image. In the standards world we recognise that it is easier to comply with standards if operating as a group than when operating solo. Therefore the members of NLAS are here encouraged to step up their activity and feel free to use SWASA to source bridges to any identified gaps.
The introduction the subject of quality and standards in the formal education system of any country is a strong item on the ISO agenda. As Swaziland is a country with promise, it needs to be one of the regional pioneers in this initiative. As an organisation, SWASA strongly believes that this is achievable, even just for the mere fact that the country already has an aptly capacitated national standards body. A few universities abroad have introduced academic standards and quality programs in their curricula and this is done as an initiative to have an industrial workforce that holistically addresses problems with the application of standards. In the east, primary schools have developed games that cultivate thinking in standards in the young minds. One would imagine that for such games to be enjoyable and effective to the children, they would have to be home-grown so that they are locally relevant whilst having the international outlook. During the recent ISO General Assembly held in San Diego, ISO was requested to consider training a first crop of academician that can have the capacity to develop standards and quality curricula. This would be a very good and solid starting point. But whilst this is being planned, any national standards body is challenged to start thinking about and making in-roads into such futuristic initiatives, as this would ultimately make its national mandate less arduous in the medium to long term.
Sitting at this desk, I would be remiss if I did take this opportunity to thank the persons that nominated me for the “Emerging Business Leader” Award under the REDI/Nedbank Business Woman of the Year Awards. Winning this Award was quite an honour and an encouragement to work harder for the realisation of the aspirations of SWASA. Pressure is always appreciated but the kind that comes in this manner is treasured. On behalf of the team that I work with at SWASA, to whom I have dedicated this Award, may I humbly commit that we will continue to work harder towards improving the world we live in.
The Quality Assurance Department will be the custodians of the SWASA mark for quality as it is through this department that quality testing and certification will be carried out. The department’s functionality will depend on local industry utilizing the Swazi National Standards that will have been developed by the Technical Department and further seeking to be certified ...
SWASA will be disseminating standards addressing technical problems in various sectors and will be encompassing many professions. People involved in these sectors and others will be invited o partake in Technical Committees. The sectors already identified are:
- Fresh Produce
- Prepackaged stuff ...
- In order for the people to be able to implement the standards, they must understand exactly what is implied in the various paragraphs within the standard. Standards-based training may be facilitated by SWASA staff or it may be done by a subcontracting company. Based on the type of standards that are on demand it is envisaged that SWASA may offer more than 10 courses per year. Training on standards forms part of the Standards Marketing Strategy of SWASA, since, as more people understand standards, the more they will be willing to implement them ...
The Swaziland Standards Authority’s Information Centre is a reference point for technical information on standards and quality issues within the Technical Department, and its basic objective is to provide a means for acquiring and disseminating information on standards and related matters from and to the stakeholders. Information is availed to SWASA clients and general public through the print media, radio, the SWASA website www.swasa.co.sz and by visiting the Centre ...