Each year, member countries of the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC), International Standards Organization (ISO) and International Telecommunication Union (ITU) celebrate World Standards Day on 14 October.

This year the World Standards Day is being celebrated with the theme "Standards make cities smarter", which reflects the importance of one of the toughest challenge that any government is facing.

Development of Smart Cities calls for a comprehensively integrated approach to manage city's assets such as local government's information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, and other community services. It calls for deployment of technology to improve the efficiency of services for a better quality of life. These are the kinds of promises modern cities must fulfil if they are to stay competitive and provide a decent quality of life to their citizens. Sadly, none of these above promises apply to our cities in Pakistan.

So as per usual practice, Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) also joined the International community to commemorate the International Standards day and went through its usual annual ritual, by printing a two page expensive supplement in leading newspapers of Pakistan.

The supplement, as per tradition, carried messages from the President, Prime Minister, the Federal Minister and Secretary, Science and Technology and the DG PSQCA, with the usual messages of the importance of quality and standards and congratulating PSQCA for a job well done.

Standards are of course very important, as they give consumers and the relevant government authorities, guidelines for quality control, but only if they are strictly enforced. They play a vital role in promoting quality, reliability and consistency of products and services and provide major benefits not only to the global economy but also to the lives of people around the world.

Standards help organisations meet their customers' needs while focusing and opti­mizing company processes. Regulators can use standards as a base for market and consumer-friendly regulations, while consumer protection is also an important social benefit which is being made available to common man through these standards in terms of safety and quality.

However, to put the matter in its right perspective, I wish to point out that standards are of no value unless they are strictly enforced.

According to PSQCA, there are 109 items which are mandatory and have to be registered with PSQCA and carry its Quality Assurance logo on its packing.  These include bottled water, cooking oils, biscuits, etc.

However, there is of lack of enforcement of existing laws. As a result the sale of counterfeit, substandard and look alike goods such as food items, confectionery, stationery, mineral water, cooking oil and even medicines of local companies is a common practice.

Unfortunately, this sorry state exists throughout Pakistan and it is now an accepted fact that as PSQCA and other related agencies responsible for monitoring quality and standards have failed to do their job. According to PSQCA’s test reports of samples of cooking oils and bottled water drawn from the open market, over 70% did not conform to the PSQCA standards. Yet, not a single manufacturer, distributor or retailer has been “severely punished”. Ministers and government officials have openly admitted that the government and the present judicial system are unable to enforce the rule of law.

The Pakistan government has placed over 46 items on the PSQCA Essential Items list, which include cooking oils, bottled waters, beverages, biscuits, etc. This means that manufacturers of these products must be registered with PSQCA and their products must conform to the PSQCA standards and must carry the PSQCA logo on the package, including the batch number, the date of manufacture and expiry date.

Unfortunately, out of the many brands of cooking oil, bottled water, beverages and biscuits being openly marketed, not all are registered with PSQCA, while most of these manufacturers do not have testing laboratories nor do they comply to the laws which are mandatory.

To regulate and establish global standards, ISO certification was introduced, with the objective of establishing quality management and a process of manufacturing which would produce a quality product. However, it is not a product certification and only certifies the business practices and management procedures of organizations and is voluntary.

However, the new ISO standard requires all certified firms to comply with all applicable legal & regulatory requirements that relate to that company’s product/services, e.g. PSQCA standards, the relevant food and drug laws, International Labeling guidelines, etc.

But unfortunately, in many South East Asian and developing countries, where you do not have strong governments and have weak consumer protection organizations, standards and quality of products are being compromised and ignored by both manufacturers and governments.

According to information, out of the numerous companies that have been ISO 9001 certified, very few have valid certification and many companies have lost their licence due to the failure to have annual audit and inspection or failure to meet the requirements of the standards.

Thus, due to the absence of proper checks, they are misusing the logo, by placing the ISO mark on the product, implying that the product is quality assured and implying that they are certified.

As standards have become symbols for quality and reliability, the government must ensure quality assurance certifications are not misused to market sub-standard and counterfeit products and that the manufacturers maintain the quality and standards on which basis the certificate was issued.

As such, the government must strictly enforce the PSQCA laws and standards – The companies which manufacture products that are on PSQCA’s mandatory list, but are not registered with them, should not be allowed to advertise their products on the print and electronic media.

At the same time, the names of those manufacturers and products that do not conform to PSQCA standards should be published in the leading newspapers and circulated to the chambers of commerce and consumer protection bodies.

At the same time, the government must introduce effective Consumer Protection Laws and Consumer Courts in all provinces of Pakistan and educate and support consumer protection organizations and work with them to monitor the quality of products.

Today, Sindh is the only province in Pakistan that does not have Consumer Courts, despite the fact that the Consumer Protection Law was approved and signed by the Sindh Assembly. This is because of lack of political will of the government to protect consumers.