By Uditha Jayasinghe
The standoff between the Ministry of Internal and Cooperatives Trade and the Sri Lanka Standard Institution (SLSI) ended yesterday after the latter approving the quality of Lucky cement consignment.
Taking time to explain what caused the tense situation SLSI Chairman Kanchana Ratwatte recalled that Lucky Cement had first received their SLS certification in 2008. They had the approval suspended in August 2010 and after it was regained the SLSI had commenced sample testing from January 2011.
“However in our sample testing from January to July we saw a quality fluctuation that resulted in the suspension of the SLS approval on 20 July. While this suspension was in force ‘Lucky cement’ sent a consignment of 14, 000 bags of cement on 27 July, which was imported by the Cooperatives Council under the Internal Trade Ministry,” he remarked acknowledging that it was unethical for Lucky Cement to send a stock of cement when it was clear that it could not be sold within the country.
At this point the situation got slightly complicated. To get the SLS approval again ‘Lucky cement’ had to obtain samples under the supervision of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) officials and send them to a laboratory recognised by the SLSI. This they did by taking samples on 23 and 25 July and sending them to the Curtin Lab in the UK. Subsequently the lab sent their report to SLSI on 25 August and on 30 August ‘Lucky cement’ regained the SLS certification for the second time in 11 months.
“However, there was the problem of the 14,000 bags that were sent after the suspension. So we decided to do the testing here. Samples were obtained on 9 August and it takes 28 days for the experiment to be complete. Today when we got the results of this we gave the go ahead for that consignment to be released to the market.”
Nonetheless there remain several points of concern. One is the fact that the cement was released from customs before SLSI approval was given. There were even reports that the cement had been released to the market without certification and that the cooperatives council used high handed tactics completely disregarding the ban posed by the SLSI.
Criticism has also been directed at SLSI for not taking action against ‘Lucky cement’ which has violated SLSI standards twice in the space of 11 months. The consignment of ‘Lucky cement’ is alleged to be marked at Rs.785 even though the official selling price cannot exceed Rs.750 sparking discontent among consumers. But no decision has been taken to suspend the company as yet.
In a related development the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) recently raided a shop that was selling substandard cement in bags marked with the SLS logo. The CAA took over a 1000 bags into custody but the SLSI was not notified.
“These are issues that do not concern us,” explained Ratwatte, “our duty is to ensure that the standard of cement released to the market meets a specific standard and we have done that” he said.