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Trade and Industry Provides Update on Consumer Protection Act

October 18, 2010

Department of Trade and Industry

The trade and industry department has provided an update on the implementation of the Consumer Protection Act to the portfolio committee on trade and industry in Parliament.

According to the department, the act stipulates two dates for giving effect to its implementation.

The early implementation date of 24 April 2010 allowed for the establishment of the commission. It also deals with the appointment of staff of the commission and the commissioner. The early date also referred to the development of regulations.

A general effective date of 24 October 2010 was also set down. On this date, all remaining provisions including implementation of consumer rights would come into effect. However, as reported earlier, the trade and industry minister has deferred this date. The legislation will now come into force on 1 April 2011.

Ms Zodwa Ntuli, deputy director general, declared that the act allowed the minister to defer the effective date of any provision by six additional months.

She provided background information on the policy reform process. An international legislative benchmarking study had been conducted. A key finding was that most jurisdictions have one comprehensive law on consumer protection.

Other findings were that consumers have limited access to redress and codes of conduct and ombudsman offices only exist in certain sectors.

A national consumer survey in South Africa was also carried out. Consumers were asked for advice on how access to redress could be improved.

Notably, a review of 70 pieces of South African legislation containing consumer protection provisions was undertaken. No comprehensive review of the Consumer Affairs Act had been undertaken for over 20 years.

The department came to the conclusion that no statute contained a clear statement on consumer rights.

The department indicated that regulations to give effect to the act are being finalised. They will be published at the end of October for public comment.

In the interim, the establishment of the national consumer commission remains on track.

A fully functional steering committee had been established. A business case for the commission had been completed and approved. The department wants the commission up and running this quarter.

The department also announced that the process to appoint the deputy commissioner and the commissioner has started. Consultation with the portfolio committee in this regard will happen within a week or two.

In terms of the state of readiness of the provinces to implement the legislation, the department had consulted with all provincial consumer protection authorities.

Consultation had covered areas such as the annual budget for consumer protection, staff complements, existence of a consumer court/tribunal, extent of legislation in effect, number of complaints and the manner in which complaints are dealt with.

She also pointed out that the act would be translated into all 11 official languages. It would be reviewed on a regular basis.