The Consumer Protection Bill, due to go before Parliament next year for deliberations, is expected to introduce a range of reforms to tackle problematic practices. According to a report in ITWeb:
Janet MacKenzie, a Cliffe Dekker director, says the Bill is wide-ranging in its aims and follows from United Nations guidelines for consumer protection that were broadened in 1999 and require governments to develop and maintain strict consumer protection policy and protection from contractual abuses, such as one-sided contracts and unconscionable conditions of credit.
MacKenzie says the Bill “draws on a number of pieces of existing legislation, forming a consumer matrix that will ultimately be policed by a national consumer regulator.???
She says should the Bill be enacted, SA’s common law will be replaced by the codified principles detailed in it.
“Established ways of conducting everyday commercial transactions will be altered and, in a number of respects, the proposed changes will remove the protections afforded to suppliers when dealing with unscrupulous customers,??? MacKenzie says.
The ITWeb article was written from the perspective of the cellular industry. One of the concerns raised by Virgin Mobile, one of the parties who made representations to the Department of Trade and Industry, is that while South Africa is becoming a fairly regulated country, the country appears to lack the resources to adequately enforce these legislative measures. This, of course, undermines the efficacy of the new legal framework. As was mentioned in the ITWeb article, the new Bill is based on the United Nations’ Guidelines for Consumer Protection which may be found here. According to a DTI introduction to the Bill:
the dti initiated a review of the consumer legislative framework that culminated in the publication of a draft green paper on consumer policy framework in 2004. The policy seeks to provide a broad framework for consumer protection in South Africa. In particular, to promote consistency, coherence and efficiency in the implementation of consumer laws. In order to achieve these policy objectives the dti has formulated the Bill.
The objectives of the Policy and the Bill are to:Promote:
- A fair, accessible and sustainable marketplace for consumer products and services
- Responsible consumer behaviour
- A consistent enforcement framework relating to consumer transactions and agreements
- certain unfair marketing and business practices
- Improved standards of consumer information
- Harmonisation of laws relating to consumer transactions and agreements; and the
- Establishment of the National Consumer Commission
For my part I welcome measures to improve consumers’ positions with respect to vendors but there has to be a balancing of interests if the legislation is going to have the required effect. It will take a little while before we will see the final version of the Bill. Parliament must still debate the Bill and it must be finalised for signature by the President.