Hakim Almasmari: You are responsible for monitoring and inspecting expired food commodities sold in the domestic markets. Now, thousands of Yemenis eat expired food commodities – some of which has been expired for 15 years. Why?
Abdul Basit Al-Kumaim: We thank you for your interest in this topic. You are the only newspaper that came to us about matters relating to commercial cheating which has been widely rampant in the markets. However, let me tell you that we are not completely to blame for allowing such commodities into the domestic markets. There are other parties that are in charge of letting food commodities into the market including, in the first place, Yemen Standardization Metrology & Quality Control Organization.
HM: What is your role?
AK: Our role is that of monitoring and controlling markets. We, through the support of the Trade and Industry Minister and Sana’a Minister, managed to seize about 360 tons of expired commodities in 2008. We destroyed about 168 tons of expired commodities and about 80 tons of dates last Ramadan. During 2009, we have recorded about 400 violations of commercial cheating, raised prices and not announcing or fixing the prices. We have recently seized about 150 tons of expired commodities in a trader’s warehouse. We would like to draw the attention to the fact that most warehouses used by traders are not suitable for storing food commodities. They are not compliant with the required standards and specifications. They are not well-ventilated and do not comply with the instructions of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Most commodities expire because of bad storage.
HM: Some say that traders who import expired commodities enjoy protection of influential people; is this right?
AK: We lack any evidence about this. We do notice that some traders go too far in matters relating to commercial cheating despite the fact that these traders are arrested and referred to prosecution. There are certain parties above us that can decide whether such allegations are true or not. Our task is to seize counterfeited or expired commodities and refer them to prosecution or to destroy and burn them immediately.
HM: Once a trader is convicted of dealing in expired commodities, is he detained?
AK: There are some shortcomings in laws connected with trade in matters relating to commercial cheating. There are no legal texts or articles that clearly state detaining a trader once it is proved that he is guilty. However, the law states that a trader convicted of commercial cheating should be fined and his expired commodity should be burnt.
HM: But who is held accountable for hundreds of people who die because of expired commodities?
AK: There are seven different parties that are charged with monitoring and controlling the markets. They are legally entitled to act and we have also 13 laws in this field. Recently, the consumer’s protection law has been passed and this law will play an important role and facilitate the cooperation between these parties. We are called for a meeting with the Minister of Trade and Industry, who directed all these parties to act jointly and work to arrest the violators and seize the counterfeited and expired commodities.
HM: Ramadan is approaching quickly and traders do seize the opportunity in this month to sell their expired commodities; have you toughened your monitoring producers?
AK: Yes. The minister has asked to prepare a plan for Ramadan detailing the methods of monitoring and control operations. Operation rooms are open and there is a central office at the ministry headquarters to receive the complaints. We wish citizens would inform us about any expired commodities or price increases, counterfeited commodities or those with changed expiry date. The control activities will be intensified in Ramadan because people demand more food commodities.
HM: What have you achieved during the last months?
AK: We have achieved a lot. We have detected several warehouses which are not suitable for storage purposes and we have destroyed and burnt the expired commodities in them. The operation was videotaped.
HM: Have you certain names for traders dealing in expired food commodities?
AK: Since 2006, we have been informing and publishing the names of traders involved in such activities. I call on the concerned authorities to libel all those involved in commercial cheating.
HM: Can you name some?
AK: The law obligates us not to publish the names in order not to affect a certain trader or importer.
HM: How can the businessman be taught a lesson if the media does not know them and no pressure takes place on them?
AK: We inform the concerned authorities and prosecutions and they have their own measures in such cases. Our task is to monitor and seize the expired or counterfeited commodities.
HM: In your experience, what is the size of expired food in Yemen?
AK: Without exaggerating the matter, I think the percentage of expired food in the Yemeni market is 60 percent. This includes expired and counterfeited commodities, or commodities with rigged expiry dates, etc. We have proof for that.
HM: Under the current global downturn, was there a drop in demand for licenses begot from your ministry?
AK: Concerning the issuance of licenses e.g. launching companies, registering agencies, brands, etc. are all on the rise. The global crisis did affect some old traders, but new traders have joined and it is unclear how their future will be.
HM: Some say that you hamper them from doing business as it is difficult to get licenses?
AK: We are working in accordance with President Saleh’s directives as to providing facilities to investors as well as the instructions of the Trade Minister who recently ordered that all applications should be processed through the ministry only in order to make things easy.
HM: Are limited income people granted any facilities?
AK: All people are treated equally. The law allows any person, whether young or adult, a limited income or high income person to invest or make business. We are not the only party that issues licenses as there are licenses from other state institutions. Everything starts with registering in the commercial registry office.
HM: Compared to the deteriorating situation, the charges of licenses are very high. Are there any future plans to reduce them?
AK: Acquiring the commercial registry is the cheapest from all other licenses required for practicing a certain profession. The whole process for getting the registry is very easy and it is valid for five years.
HM: Common people say that we are like fish where the strong eats the weak; how can we change this idea?
AK: Adopting the international regulations e.g. those of the World Trade Organization would help encourage competitiveness, prevent monopoly and free trade.