Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry
The National Assembly’s trade and industry portfolio committee have now been briefed by the department of trade and industry (DTI) on the Consumer Protection Bill, setting the scene for the committee to debate both the bill itself and issues raised in recent public hearings.
This also means that the bill will shortly go before the National Assembly with any amendments before Parliament closes, the bill having already been passed by the NCOP as a section 76 matter. Once the bill becomes law, the new National Consumer Commission will be empowered as a consequence.
Zodwa Ntuli, deputy director-general of the consumer and corporate regulation division of the DTI, told parliamentarians that the bill legislates for the repeal of such laws as the Consumer Affairs (Unfair Business Practices) Act, the Trade Practices Act, the Merchandise Marks Act, the Price Control Act, the Sales and Service Matters Act, certain portions of the Lotteries Act, and brings about harmonisation of laws relating to the protection of consumers, such as the Medical Schemes Act, Insurances Laws Act, Electronic Communications and Transactions Act and various health and agricultural laws.
In a legislative review, Ntuli said that in a review of over seventy pieces of legislation involved in consumer affairs, 23 were administered by the DTI, 8 by the department of health, 8 by the department of agriculture, 6 by the department of justice and the remaining number involved the departments of environmental affairs, water and communications. “The whole situation is totally fragmented”, Ntuli told the committee, “and the new bill will go a long way in resolving this”.
In promoting fairer business practices, Ntuli pointed out that the bill recognises industry codes of conduct, and therefore self-regulation, in the process. However, the bill provides the minister, on the advice of the new commission body, the powers to prescribe, approve or withdraw an industry code.
On the issue of concurrent jurisdiction, section 83 of the bill encourages coordination and harmonization across the various tiers of government and specifically states that the minister “may consult with the MEC to facilitate dispute settlements”. It also states that the new commission body and “the MEC of a province may work co-operatively to detect and suppress prohibited conduct.”
Ntuli concluded by saying that the bill was an attempt to decriminalize as much as possible any improper conduct and deal with such conduct through a system of administrative enforcement with compliance notices.