ACN and Parliament Justify Withdrawal of Anti-counterfeit Bill

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On Thursday March 15th, the Anti-Counterfeit Network (ACN) in partnership with the Parliament committee on Tourism, Trade and Industry & Cooperatives held a half day workshop  to inform stakeholders reasons as to why the Anti-counterfeit Bill was withdrawn from Parliament and to recommend a way forward  in line with the Comprehensive Bill Review report from ACN.

Presenting ACN’s anti-counterfeit strategy, Mr.Kaweesa Richard highlighted that the strategy of combating counterfeits stood on five key pillars namely: legislation, regulation, enforcement, technologies and communication. Laying emphasis on communication, he noted that creating awareness of the dangers of counterfeit in the absence of the other four pillars builds public consciousness and in turn an instinct of self-preservation that builds vigilance of the public to avoid consumption and use of counterfeit products. He noted that communication reveals hidden health dangers that result into double and triple expenses of cheap counterfeit use.

It was noted that counterfeit goods not only affect consumers but also manufacturers, traders and the government. Representatives from the Uganda Manufacturer’s Association noted that because counterfeits are made with cheaper and often dangerous raw materials, the products reach the market at a much lower price than the genuine products which undermines and compromises fair market competition.

Additionally, substandard goods undermine the right to choice for consumers as the low prices often force the closure of genuine industries in the market.

Sharing the reasons for the withdrawal of the Bill, among the key reasons highlighted included:

  • The withdrawn Bill called for the domestication of the East African Legislative Assembly Anti-counterfeit Law, a legislation that does not exist.
  • The bill is premised on the misconception that Uganda had no existing law to fight counterfeiting and yet there have been precedent laws including the law on Intellectual Property Infringement, the Trademarks Act 2010, Penal Code Act, and the Copyright and Neighboring Rights Act 2016 among others.
  • The bill contravened established legislative drafting guidelines of simplicity, clarity and consistency with existing laws. The bill provides no clarity in the memorandum’s definition of counterfeiting which states that this applies to the manufacturing, producing, packaging, repackaging, labeling and marketing and yet Section 1 of the same bill restricts and limits counterfeiting to only production.
  • The bill is a copy and paste of provisions in other existing laws particularly the Trademark and counterfeit laws.
  • The bill creates a new line minister – Minister of Trade to handle issues of infringement and yet previous laws that were never repealed placed this mandate in the office of the Minister of Justice.
  • The bill gave conflicting mandate to the police which monopolizes power of search, seizure and arrest conflicting with the established role of inspectors and enforces that were appointed by URSB under TMA.
  • The bill creates challenges with the storage of seized goods demanding that they be stored in warehouses and yet provides no provision of funding for their establishment/construction.
  • The bill mandates that imported counterfeit goods be returned to the country of origin which would foster international counterfeiting.
  • The bill also states that guilt of counterfeiting can only be proven if willful and on commercial sale. This implies that ignorance of the law or once one claims to have had no knowledge that a good was counterfeit proves one innocent of the crime. This clause also implies that counterfeit donations are not illegal since they are not for commercial sale.

Making recommendations for future action, it was recommended that Parliament amend the existing Bill to carry clear definition of counterfeit, provide clarity on the regulatory bodies, their roles, and place heavier sanction and penalties in the Bill.

Additionally, it was noted that Uganda needs to gather concrete data on the impact of counterfeits in the country particularly on the health of citizens such as number of deaths resulting from the use or consumption of counterfeit products. In this regard, ACN committed to put to line the authorities for the counterfeit Hepatitis B vaccine that was administered to many Ugandans putting their lives at stake. This, ACN deemed a crime against humanity.

All Ugandans were called upon to desist from not only selling, but most importantly from buying counterfeited products. The fight against counterfeits is not optional, it’s mandatory for each and every citizen.

By Matilda Nakawungu

Food Rights Alliance