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Public comment on a consumer protection code to precede new law

June 1, 2009

Select Committee on Economic and Foreign Affairs

Prior to the enactment of the Consumer Protection Bill, the department of trade and industry (DTI) will have to publish a business code regarding consumer practice and call for public hearings on the subject.

Much of the bill, which has been with Parliament for nearly nine months, has been considerably amended as result of public hearings since the draft was originally published last year in the government gazette. The DTI, when tabling the bill in Parliament originally, said that they expected a lengthy debate and that such process would be “healthy”.

The latest provisions now include a call for a code to be published and comment on this to be called for before the enactment of any new legislation on the subject, the bill now being at a “D” version stage. The bill still has as its main objective the promotion of a fairer, more efficient and transparent market place for consumers and business alike.

The legislation is now with the nine provincial legislatures for mandating purposes. A meeting of the economic select committee has been scheduled for 11 November to finally consider the bill and take a vote on its possible adoption.

The main objectives of the bill include a predictable framework to foster consumer confidence and provide consumer redress facilities and harmonise legislation with international best practice and much of current SA legislation on the subject. What will constitute aberrant business practices is to be decided upon by a national consumer commission, plus a tribunal set up in terms of the new bill.

The DTI, when introducing the bill originally some months ago to a joint NA/NCOP briefing, said, “In many instances common law protection is totally insufficient and consumers are often even made to contract out of their common law rights before a purchase can be made”.

The alignment of the bill with common law rights has been a topic of debate throughout its passage, the main hurdle being the number of existing laws affecting consumers. The suggested wording on the subject came under severe criticism during public hearings and subsequently again in submissions to the NCOP. Consequently, tje DTI have now presented in the final and fourth version of the bill, wording which equates to the principle that the bill should provide rights to consumers, but such statutory rights as provided for will not detract from consumer’s rights in terms of common law.

Rationalisation of all the laws affecting consumers is now urgent, the DTI maintained, and made a call that Parliament deals with the legislation before it closes.

The DTI noted during earlier parliamentary committee debate that over seventy pieces of legislation affecting the consumer were involved. Twenty three of these laws were administered by the DTI themselves, they said, eight by the department of health, eight by the department of agriculture, six by the department of justice, five by the department of transport and some even handled indirectly by environmental affairs and tourism, water affairs and communications.

It has also been finally decided by the DTI, in response to public concern, to include a provision demanding the inclusion of a declaration on the label of any product that may contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This is despite a concern expressed by the department of agriculture on its ability to monitor such facts from a technical aspect. It has also now been decided that banks will be allowed to insist on being given pin numbers in the case of transactions with their clients.