Coordination needed between electro-technical regulation bodies

May 12th, 2019, Published in Articles: EngineerIT, Featured: EngineerIT

When the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) recently held a hearing on their proposed conformity assessment framework, the National Regulator for Compulsory Specification (NRCS) presented its views and expressed grave concerns over the duplication that exists in government in terms of conformity assessments procedures for the electro-technical sector, basically having three agencies trying to do the same thing without consulting each other.

Edward Mamadise, CEO of the NRCS.

NRCS CEO, Edward Mamadise, believes that lack of coordination between the Department of Communication (DOC) and the Department of Trade and Industry (the DTI), as well as between ICASA and the NRCS, has already resulted in duplicate regulation of the electro-technical sector. The problem is further complicated by the involvement of the SABS as the regulation and accreditation body, activities which fall outside the SABS legislative mandate. “If regulation for these products is not synchronised and standardised, ambiguity and lack of clarity on the requirements to comply will make the process cumbersome and unnecessarily more costly”, Mamadise said. “This may result in a climate of non-compliance.”

In October 2001, ICASA and the SABS Regulatory Division (which became the NRCS in 2008) signed an agreement to minimise duplication in approval and surveillance activities on products that fall into both mandates. It was therefor decided that administration of type approval and surveillance of all telecommunication devices only be done by ICASA. Technology moved on and many devices which are not specific telecommunications devices today include communication modules which have to comply with ICASA EMC and EMI regulations and meet the SABS and/or International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards.

In 2016, ICASA reviewed the process of issuing EMC/EMI certificates of compliance (CoC) and re-mandated SABS to issue CoCs on electronic equipment (non-telecommunication devices) that fall under their EMC/EMI mandate. The problem is that most of the identified products also fall under the mandate of the NRCS in terms of safety and energy efficiency. So effectively there are two regulators with different mandates over these products, the NRCS for safety and energy efficiency and ICASA for EMC/EMI and its type approval outsourced to the SABS.

As set out in the ICASA proposed conformity assessment framework, the regulator intends to further review its conformance assessment framework for all regulated equipment and to apply a risk approach and surveillance activities. This will further create duplication and confusion in the market when it comes to proving compliance for approval and surveillance purposes. Mamadise said that over the years many NRCS attempts to set up a formalised cooperation have yielded no positive results.

At the hearing, ICASA admitted that a few years ago an attempt was made to set up discussions with the NRCS to develop an MoU that would synergise conformity issues, but nothing had come of this. At the start of May 2019, Mamadise said that the NRCS had requested the DTI and DOC to mediate and re-establish the process. He added that he had approached the CEO of ICASA, Mr Ngwepe, to meet with him to expedite the process. He said, “we will meet soon”!

The NRCS believes that two type approvals processes can exist since the mandate is different, but that the processes should be synergised between the two agencies to avoid duplication and cost. Currently, the two risk models are not the same as the two agencies regulate different aspects of the same product. What ICASA may classify as a low risk, the NRCS may regard as a high risk. Such products may be subject to rigorous approval processes by NRCS while ICASA allows supplier’s declaration of conformity documentation as proof of compliance.

The NRCS also stated at the hearing that the ICASA proposal lacks content on the sanctioning mechanisms for non-compliance. While ICASA proposes to conduct market surveillance, it is not clear how the it will deal with non-compliance in the market. In many countries where self-declaration is applied, there is strong legislative support in terms of recalls and heavy penalties. This may further create confusion in the market, taking into account the overlaps of the respective mandates of the NRCS and ICASA.

In South Africa, the revenue services at ports of entry examine the documentation accompanying shipments and will alert the NRCS if shipments arrive which do not conform to the relevant compulsory specifications based on NRCS risk profiling of the containers. This is far from satisfactory as many products slip through due to “incomplete” declarations. It is also up to the industry and public to alert the NRCS or ICASA when such products, which may be unsafe or create untold EMC/EMI problems, appear on the shelves. This also means that both organisations would need a large enforcement contingency which currently is not the case. Both organisations are under resourced in terms of the tasks they have to carry out.

Setting up a closer relationship between NRCS and ICASA would be a major step forward and should be expedited before any new regulations are promulgated.

 

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