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SABS Acting CEO briefs Parliament on intervention and diagnostic process

Strachan, was appointed Acting CEO after the resignation of Dr Boni Mehlomakulu on 2 August 2018. The other two co-administrators are: Ms Jodi Scholtz - Chief Operating Officer and Dr Tshenge Demana – Chief Director of Technical Infrastructure of the dti.

Strachan said “the co-administrators have been mandated by Minister Davies to undertake a diagnostic analysis and develop a ‘turn-around’ strategy for the SABS. The development of these implementation plans are being done in conjunction with the Executive Management team and, collectively, we have stabilised the business. We are now going to focus on the SABS customers”

Strachan explained that the diagnostic assessment has focussed on:

  • An analysis of the financial position of the SABS, its short- and long-term sustainability, the organisation’s institutional arrangements and its current business model;
  • The identification of all the critical and short-term ‘burning platforms’, which includes the permit backlog and all customer complaints;
  • An investigation into the lifting of the moratorium on ‘partial’ testing;
  • The re-enforcement of core SABS mandates, with special emphasis on Standards and Conformity Assessment; and
  • An evaluation of the structural issues and constraints affecting infrastructure and equipment.

“We have reviewed the leadership structure and created an interim organisational executive. This included the finalising of vacant executive positions, divisional reporting lines and the appointment of a Human Capital Executive. The resolution of outstanding customer certificates is now being supported by the implementation of an optimised ICT system and we are also expediting the re-issuing of expired permits. There has also been a number of unintended consequences when the moratorium on partial testing was implemented and it is now under review and consideration by the leadership team. Finally, we have developed a stakeholder engagement and marketing strategy to address weaknesses in internal and external communication.” said Strachan.

The diagnostic process, which is being driven by the co-administrators, will be an ongoing process and will proceed into the New Year. Strachan went on to say that the turn-around strategy will require ‘a carefully sequenced approach, with an interlocking series of interventions that had to be linked to the budget and financial position of the SABS.

The SABS said the Ministerial intervention and subsequent events have not impacted the SABS operations and that it continues to deliver quality services to clients. The SABS accreditation status remains unaffected and the organisation will uphold the commitment to modernise operations, improve operational efficiencies and enhance the customer experience.

The SABS which is the sole shareholder of its subsidiaries, SABS Commercial SOC (Ltd), said that it has removed the former SABS Board members as Directors of SABS Commercial SOC (Ltd).

The SABS is confident that this process has been lawful, accountable (to the shareholder, the Department of Trade and Industry), and in accordance with the rule of law and in the public interest.

The SABS notes that there is a court process underway, which has been initiated by some of the former Directors of the SABS Board. The SABS will oppose these court applications and will respect the outcomes of the legal process which is underway.

For any related media enquiries contact Mr Bjorn Buyst, email: media@sabs.co.za or phone 0861277 277



PRESS STATEMENT

On 6 July 2018 Dr Rob Davies, the Minister of Trade and Industry, appointed three Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) officials as co-administrators of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and tasked them with undertaking a diagnostic analysis and developing a “turn-around strategy” to improve operations at the SABS.

This followed Minister Davies’ decision to dissolve the SABS Board of Directors on 28 June 2018.

The Chief Executive Officer of the SABS, Dr Boni Mehlomakulu who was suspended after due process was followed, has subsequently tendered her resignation with effect from 1 August 2018.

Mr Garth Strachan, previously the Deputy Director-General of the Industrial Development Division at the dti, has been appointed as the Acting Chief Executive Officer of the SABS.

The Administrators’ diagnostic analysis will be completed in cooperation with the existing management team, staff members as well as with internal and external stakeholders and will reaffirm and strengthen the organisation, its structures and systems.

The SABS is a strong organisation which has been exposed to temporary weaknesses and operational problems. The SABS remains open for business as the organisational weaknesses are being addressed by the Administrators.

Media enquiries to: Mr Bjorn Buyst / Ms Verna Schutte

Email: media@sabs.co.za



The publishing of the draft Competition Act Amendment Bill in December 2017 re-ignited a myriad of debates about the stark reality of the economic challenges facing South Africa and the pressing need to create conditions that support transformation and inclusive growth. The draft Bill acknowledges that South Africa has a unique history that was designed around exclusionary practices – exclusion of the outside world and exclusion of internal constituents as well. In order to maintain that structure, it became expedient for business and government institutions like the SABS to work in concert. This symbiosis, coupled with limited expansion in the skills base needed to input into the process to develop industry standards has led to an unhealthy shift in the power dynamic where industry currently holds more power than would be optimal for robust governance.

In seeking to achieve the desired outcomes of inclusive and robust economic growth as well as accessing and exploiting process and technical innovations, the SABS is looking for new ways of collaborating with industry to make meaningful participation of new market players accessible and tangible.

The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) is mandated by the Standards Act (No.8 of 2008) to develop and maintain a National Norm for the development of South African National Standards (SANS). To achieve this, a consensus building process amongst key national role players must be established. The national norm thus provides for the representation of divergent economic and consumer interests in the standards development process.

If the outcomes of the development process are correctly applied, it should then also support the desired outcomes of the Competition Act. That is, to prevent the abuse of any form of market dominance by a business or person and promote a wider economic participation in the national economy. National standards can also facilitate the introduction of new technologies and innovations by ensuring that the products, components and services that are supplied by different manufacturers are compatible and interoperable. Standards are also aimed at providing safety and quality assurance to the consumer.

A South African National Standards that is either locally written or created by adopting an international (usually ISO or IEC) standard, and which is properly developed can be a cornerstone in the effort to address the socio-economic ambitions and many other development challenges in South Africa. Furthermore, standards can play a role in opening up regional trade opportunities and thus help grow the national and regional economy.

Despite the aforementioned benefits, the process to develop standards can often give rise to a number of competition and regulatory challenges. Competition law, fundamentally seeks to prohibit vertical and horizontal practices that have a direct or indirect restrictive impact on economic growth and market participation. These prohibited practices range from collusion, abuses of dominance, price fixing, exclusionary practices.

At its core, standard-setting involves coordinated action between many interested and effected parties in an industry which could include potential competitors – the very antithesis of what the competition regulatory framework espouses. It is at this intersection that the SABS is grappling with how to navigate potential competition law challenge in the standards development process.

Hard pills to swallow

The SABS has learned some hard lessons in recent years where cases were referred to the Competition Commission for investigation. Although the commission ruled that no further investigations were warranted, the SABS processes were indeed found wanting and seriously in need of strengthening. The SABS thus accepted that there was a need to create a platform for all parties to debate these cases in order to emerge with new tools for collaborating and cooperating when revising and developing new national standards. This impetus resulted in the SABS hosting Standards and Competition Law Indaba at the end of 2017.

The Indaba was supported and informed by leadership of the Competition Commission, International and Regional Standards Associations (ISO and ARSO) the legal fraternity, as well as Chairpersons and members from a cross-section of SABS Technical Committees. Although these engagements were sometimes difficult, they were always robust and highly informative.

Emerging from the Indaba

Some of the key considerations which emerged from the Indaba were the following:

• The governance challenge of setting new standards is not unique to South Africa. It is something that many National Standards Bodies (NSBs) are grappling with. The increase in internet connectivity and a greater reliance on technology-based platforms has assisted other NSBs to facilitate broader participation in the development of their national standards.
• NSBs and affected interest groups need to consistently interrogate whose interests the Technical Committees (TCs) are serving, and monitor that the national standard achieves its intended purpose.
• As a NSB, the SABS needs to look at the role of technology in creating greater inclusivity and participation of the TC s which are constituted on a voluntary basis. In this regard, access to bandwidth and infrastructure is a challenge in many developing countries.
• We also need to test the objectivity and rational basis for the restrictions that govern our participation criteria and whether the practices and criteria inherited from international counterparts serve the needs of countries in our region.
• At every step and in all our endeavours, NSBs, industry bodies, academia, research institutions, policy makers, consumer advocates, civil society and regulators need to continuously ask and interrogate inclusivity of other role players.

In short, all stakeholders must take responsibility for what happens in the technical committees in which they participate. The SABS committee support teams need to be empowered to monitor and call out any risky behaviour by participants, as well give guidance to members. This must give credibility to the overall process so as to achieve the national benefit for which standards created to achieve.

Charting the road ahead

The SABS is on a drive to re-connect with stakeholders and interested parties in the development of national standards. During February and March 2018, three sector-specific workshops were hosted by the SABS which focused on the energy, construction and agro-processing sectors. The aim was to obtain broad-based inputs on issues affecting and driving these sectors. Sector Development Agreements will now be drafted and agreed with a view to informing standardisation activities in those arenas. These will be rolled out with other strategic sectors key to delivering on national priorities.

The SABS and the Competition Commission have agreed to formally establish a Joint Working Committee that can actively drive capacity building, advocacy and interventions which are aimed at strengthening governance supporting the development of new and existing national standards.

Article by:
Zingisa Motloba,
SA Bureau of Standards: Standards Executive


Karabo Ntseke, 31 years old, is the first black South African female that has been registered as competent to operate a high power plant, in the southern hemisphere. She is currently a test officer within the short circuit laboratory at the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS). The short circuit laboratory is one of the laboratories at the SABS’ National Electrical Test Facility (NETFA).

Karabo started her career at SABS as a student completing her in-service requirement for her Electrical Engineering diploma through the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). After her graduation, in 2011 she was employed as a candidate test officer and within a year i.e. 2012 she became the first female Test Officer at the Short Circuit Laboratory. In order to perform as a test officer there are several rigorous competencies and procedures that are required, which Karabo did within a few months. In January 2015, she was deemed competent to operate the High Power test plant and became a SANAS accredited Technical Signatory, making her the only South African woman with such a specialised competency.

“I’ve always had a passion for electrical engineering and gravitated towards high power, so getting the SANAS accredited competency is a significant achievement in such a specialised and male-dominated field,” says Karabo.
Based on her commitment to continuous improvement and her performance, Karabo was also selected to participate in the SABS Learnership programme and completed a study visit to China, to learn and observe testing at an international high power plant.
“SABS provides a great learning environment and I am grateful for the mentors, the highly skilled management and the learning opportunities that enable me to continuously grow,” says Karabo.

South Africa’s National Electrical Test Facility (NETFA), owned and managed by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) is the primary, independent test facility for power utilities and the electro-technical industry, in Africa. The facility is accredited by the South African National Accreditation Systems (SANAS) a signatory to the ILAC MRA for the accreditation of inspection bodies, in accordance with the international standard ISO/IEC 17025:2005 for the operation and management of the facility. A vast range of electrical distribution and transmission equipment can be tested at the facility by technical experts.

The following independent and impartial laboratories are located at NETFA:

• Short Circuit laboratory
• High Voltage laboratory
• Materials & Installation laboratories

The SABS NETFA laboratories are equipped with technology that is unique in Africa and the Southern Hemisphere.

For further information on NETFA or any opportunities within SABS contact: info@sabs.co.za