Weaknesses were found by the Audit Office in its 26th report at the level of the Directorate of Control for Food Quality. This issue was addressed by Elyes Ben Ameur, Director of Quality and Consumer Protection at the Ministry of Trade and Handicrafts whom we have asked about the policy of his directorate to resolve problems inherent to the quality of products.
The latest annual report of the Audit Office has identified several weaknesses and other shortcomings in a number of public organizations and institutions and sectoral activities, namely the economic control over food products.
Can you shed more light on these findings?
It is true that the 26th report of the Audit Office has highlighted several abuses and failures in several areas including the economic control over the quality of food products. However, the competent authorities of the Ministry of Trade are currently working to address them and fill the gaps.
A wide range of shortcomings was found: the absence of a document recording the policy, the system and objectives related to quality, non-compliance of the sampling equipment to the needs of business and the lack of safety and maintenance procedures protecting the equipment.
These weaknesses are confirmed. But these gaps are beyond our limitations. We have been living with these gaps for many years especially in human resources. We suffer of a lack of officials in charge of quality control especially in the regional level and the equipment needed for such operations.
Indeed, the overall number of economic control agents reached 67 on the Tunisian territory, 73% of whom are not qualified seeing the decline in the number of internal training sessions in the field of quality from 4 sessions in 2006 to two in 2008 and completely non-existent in 2009.
For now, we are negotiating the details of a twinning agreement to be signed soon with the European Union to improve the profitability of the control equipment and overcome existing gaps. An action which, in my opinion, is still necessary, especially with the weaknesses identified in the directorate of quality.
This is why, negotiations are going on with the EU for the implementation of the convention which costs about 2.5 MTD and is part of the exchange of expertise and know-how in control and protection.
It is important to note at this level that a team of fifty experts will be in Tunisia in 2012 to assist us in our mission. I think this is a crucial step to fill our gaps and promote quality control which has experienced shortcomings for years.
Speaking a bit of Ramadan, what were the preparations?
Preparations began a few months ago and the government has taken steps to prepare for the unexpected during this month.
From the first day of Ramadan, the teams were mobilized throughout the day to pay control visits to units of storage of various food products, wholesalers and, of course, businesses specialized in retail sale, while giving priority to seasonal products.
Control also extends to food products distribution channels, with visits to specialized businesses and analyses on the compliance of the means of transport with hygiene standards.
Moreover, our monitoring teams have been strengthened by 25 new controllers in Ramadan (August), which is a particularly busy time for controllers in order to thwart any overruns and preserve the health of Tunisians.
What is your program for this holy month?
We try to be very vigilant in our mission to achieve the desired objective, that of protection. Moreover, control services have helped to destroy 60 tons of products following stepped up control operations for multiple plants.
During the second half of Ramadan and the approach of Eid, interventions will be directed to ready-to-wear, dry fruits, cakes and toys as well as recreational areas and cafes.