Plates being supplied by MOVESA that are non-compliant
* The case has even attracted the attention of the Parliamentary Committee on Transport
* After also undergoing court processes and an investigation from Competition & Fair Trading Commission (CFTC)
* Which fined MBS together with the Road Traffic Directorate for engaging in the anticompetitive conducts
* When they granted waiver to private firm MOVESA, as sole importer, yet this supplier’s plates had failed to meet specific standards
By Duncan Mlanjira
Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) is accused of manipulating vehicle licence plates standards to frustrate specific importer, Bulldog Spares & Services and also conducting in double standards by granting MOVESA as sole importation of blank plates.
MBS is at loggerheads with Bulldog Spares & Services over the irregularities of the process — a case that has even attracted the attention of the Parliamentary Committee on Transport after it had undergone court process and an investigation from Competition & Fair Trading Commission (CFTC).
CFTC fined MBS together with the Directorate of Road Traffic Services & Safety (DRTSS) for engaging in the anticompetitive conducts when they granted waiver to private firm MOVESA, as sole importer, yet this supplier’s plates had failed to meet specific standards.
Documents which we have seen indicate that Bulldog applied for the licence to import the blank plates and after satisfying specific parameters under MS-639-1 of 2011, the company was granted the licence and was approved to import the consignment from China.
But when the consignment arrived, MBS changed the tune by declaring that the blanks had failed the standards and thus should be quarantined and eventually destroyed.
When Bulldog queried, he was told he used wrong standards (MS-639, 2011) instead of MS-639, 2013, which surprised him because — when his samples that were analyzed and passed by the Bureau that earned him the licence to import — it was based on MS-639, 2011.
The MS-639, 2011 was approved during the administration of Bingu wa Mutharika, who had changed the national flag to indicate a white rising sun, and when Joyce Banda took over and reverted the 1964 flag formation, it became MS-639-1, 2011 — which MBS based on its assessment of Bulldog’s application in 2016.
But then MBS had drafted a new set of standards, the MS-639, 2013 which — by the time Bulldog brought in the samples for assessment — had not been gazetted and was only done so in 2020.
MBS used MS-639, 2013 to manipulate that Bulldog’s consignment had failed but so too did MOVESA — which also used MS-639-1, 2011 but MBS asked the Ministry of Transport & Public Works in 2017 granting MOVESA a waiver to import the “non-compliant” blanks for 6 months “in order to avoid scarcity” of the blank plates.
Signed by former director of quality assurance services, Steve Kamuloni, who is now working for MOVESA, the letter indicated that MOVESA had in stock 65,000 blanks at its warehouse in South Africa and thus informed the Ministry that it was going ahead to grant the waiver.
When the case went into the courts, which was won by Bulldog at High Court but MBS won it when they appealed, the regulator argued that Bulldog did not applied for the waiver.
When the case went to CFTC, the Commission ruled that the reasons given for granting the waiver only to MOVESA “were unlawful and unjustifiable resulting in MOVESA being granted unfair advantage against its competitors”.
In its letter to the Ministry, MBS indicated that during the temporary importation period, MOVESA was “to advise their suppliers to send the MBS pre-shipment motor vehicle number plates, which will be assessed based on the requirements of MS 639-1:2011” — the same which Bulldog used on his consignment of 6,000 and was asked to quarantine and destroy.
When it granted the licence to Bulldog to import his consignment, MBS also gave specifications of the computer and printer to buy “for stock control and printing is stickers and was assigned a code (prefix) to be used when fixing serial numbers to the blanks”.
Bulldog acquired the specific computer and printer which MBS approved and was installed blank registration number plate software with a 12-month operating licence.
The manipulation of the standards is also verified from a correspondence from Ministry of Transport to Bulldog in 2020, that indicated the process of importing number plates should conform with the Road Traffic & Licensing (Amendment) Regulations (2010) Notice Nos 24, 25 and 26.
The specification for plate features as per the Road Traffic & Licensing (Amendment) Regulations (2010) are: identification numbers; sinusoidal virtual security features; the Malawian flag on the left; square hologram, serial numbers and expiry date.
The plates, which MOVESA was granted to import for a period of six months in 2017 — using the requirements of MS 639-1:2011 which we have verified — have some expiring in 2024 up to 2026; indicating that they are still in stock and being sold to motorists despite them being declared as non-compliant and only allowed to be on the market “in order to avoid scarcity”.
According to Section 17 of the Road Traffic Act (1997), the Directorate of Road Traffic & Safety Services (DRTSS) was appointed as the inspectorate of importers and embossers of number plates, to inspect or test any registration number plate which is being embossed or imported — a regulation which MBS has taken powers of.
Meanwhile, after CFTC fined MBS and DRTSS, the two regulators were also ordered to “cease and desist from engaging in anticompetitive conducts in the enforcement of standards regarding the importation of blank number plates” and further referred the case to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to investigate if there were elements of corruption.
The two government institutions were also ordered by CFTC to “comply with and enforce enacted legislation and/or approved procedures in the regulation of the importation of blank number plates in Malawi”.
Bulldog had already petitioned the ACB on MBS and DRTSS decision to award MOVESA as the sole blank number plate importer suspecting that “there might be an element of corruption” involved in the process.
The complaint had asked the ACB to look at the aspect of corruption because the decision to award MOVESA as a sole importer was “to block all players from entering the market” yet MOVESA’s number plates had been “failing to meet the standards many times”.
Over a week ago, some media platforms, whose reports went viral on social media, quoted the chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Transport & Public Infrastructure, Enoch Phale as indicating that the office of the MBS’ director general twice snubbed summons to appear before it over its investigations on the number plate case.
Phale was also quoted as saying the meeting will be rescheduled as the issue on hand has dragged for very long, of which they received a complaint that there is a monopoly of supply of number plates and that MBS has been unfairly failing samples from applicants which had earlier been approved — yet the sole supplier MOVESA has had its samples failing the standards.
Phale is also reported to have said of great concern is that some of the applicants and players in the business are small & medium enterprises (SMEs) — “who need to be well guided and supported for growth to level the business play ground”.
When opening MBS’ new office complex behind the Trade Fair grounds on May 18, President Lazarus Chakwera ordered MBS management to ensure speedy certification processes, stressing that this is key in promoting SMEs.
Chakwera also called for the modification of the product certification system to suit the needs and conditions of small-scale processors and producer, emphasizing that with the new office complex now in full operation, he expects the Bureau to be instrumental in challenges SMEs are facing to grow their businesses.
“I expect the complex will help fast-track the information dissemination to SMEs and cooperatives to enable them to involve the Bureau in the early stages of their production for increased success in attaining certification.
“To put it bluntly, Minister, I want the complaints from the private sector players attending this Trade Fair about the slowness of government in issuing certificates to end, because in this digital age, no certificate should require a business to walk physically into any office and no certificate should take more than a few days to secure,” he said.
Chakwera further stressed that he expects the new complex will strengthen collaboration between the MBS and SMEDI in support of SMEs and making the fees payable by the SMEs favourable.
“Everywhere I go, friends of Malawi who want to help us succeed say that our economy has huge potential, but our problem as a nation is that we take too long to facilitate things for businesses and investors.
“The world is moving at lightning speed into the future and yet we have too many people in this country still moving in slow motion. I don’t want to hear that this is happening here, and I assure you that I will send people regularly to check.
“I don’t want businesses that are working hard to be productive, like the ones whose exhibitions I have seen at this year’s Trade Fair, to be slowed down in their ability to put goods on the local and international market because of slowness in certification procedures,” he said.