Sustaining accreditation in West Africa through multi-economy accreditation bodies: The Example of SOAC WAAS
To avoid conflicts of interest, guarantee independence and impartiality, accreditation bodies are non-competitive and non-profit; their activities are limited to inter-company training and accreditation of conformity assessment bodies. This very limited intervention framework is essential to maintain the credibility of accreditation throughout the world. However, such an approach can be costly for economies where conformity assessment is poorly developed. The establishment of multi-economy accreditation bodies becomes an advantageous alternative to offer sustainable accreditation services in developing countries. It is in this spirit that the West African Accreditation System (SOAC WAAS) was launched, which covers 8 West African economies. This approach is in line with sustainable development goal No. 16, which advocates in particular “the establishment of strong and effective institutions with transparent governance systems”.
SOAC was created in 2005 by a Regulation of the Council of Ministers of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA). The Regulations were revised in 2010, in particular to better meet international accreditation requirements. The concept of setting up multi-economy accreditation bodies was quite new and complex at that time. Conscious of the need to fill the absence of accreditation bodies in West Africa, UEMOA has opted for regional integration. Indeed, the operating costs proved to be heavy in the event of the establishment of national accreditation bodies in its Member States. In fact, the number of conformity assessment bodies in this region that would be ready to pass accreditation assessments was still low in the 2000s. The growth and then the consolidation of SOAC was possible thanks to the partnership between UEMOA, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); it is indeed within the framework of a series of projects for the establishment of the quality infrastructure of UEMOA and ECOWAS, executed by UNIDO and financed by the European Union, from 2001 to 2019, that SOAC was gradually launched.
In order to have an efficient institution open to all stakeholders, it was decided that SOAC WAAS should be a non-profit organization. UEMOA Member States were put in competition with specifications to be completed. These specifications included, among other requirements, the provision of premises and the signing of a headquarters agreement. From a financial point of view, partners such as the European Union and ECOWAS made it possible to prepare the launch of SOAC WAAS activities in the first years. UEMOA took over by signing a financing agreement for the benefit of SOAC WAAS thereafter. The selected host country, Côte d’Ivoire, has taken significant regulatory and financial steps to strengthen SOAC. A head of state decree granted SOAC public utility status in 2019; it was followed by the signing of a headquarters agreement in 2021. This agreement gives SOAC the status of a diplomatic mission. Financially, the status of diplomatic mission exempts SOAC’s activities from taxes, in particular value added tax; this contributes to the development of accreditation in SOAC member states.
Results and impact
- The accreditation needs of 8 West African States covered simultaneously;
- A solid legal status making SOAC the only organization authorized to accredit in its member states (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo);
- An institution that brings together, in a balanced way, various stakeholders from the 8 Member States interested in accreditation within three colleges (private sector college, public sector college, conformity assessment bodies’ college);
- A regional regulation (ECOWAS) which encourages Member States to opt for multi-economy organizations for better cost control;
- A diplomatic mission status authorizing in particular:
– 18% reduction in costs on charges to be borne by local conformity assessment bodies;
– international accreditation meetings organized under the aegis of SOAC facilitated by the exemption of visa fees
- An institution that improves its efficiency with the support of its technical and financial partners.