The failing ANC Government has passed the fundamentally flawed Consumer Protection Bill in the Eastern Cape Legislature on Tuesday, even though it is at odds to the national Consumer Protector Act.
The Democratic Alliance recognises that the rights of South African consumers must be protected, the recent listeriosis outbreak is just one example of how the lives of ordinary South Africans can be put in danger through the reckless behaviour of companies.
It is for this reason that we have expressed serious misgivings around certain aspects of the Eastern Cape Consumer Protection Bill, which we feel requires urgent correction and improvement.
Perhaps the greatest concern with this Bill is that it contradicts an important principle which is entrenched in the national Consumer Protection Act.
The National Act in Section 88 (1) states very clearly that it is the Consumer Protector who appoints inspectors to carry out the critically important duties set out in the Act. This is critically important as it is the inspectors who must be instructed by, and report to, the Consumer Protector and it is this important principle which empowers the Consumer Protector to act.
The Eastern Cape Bill appears to give unprecedented powers to the Head of Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, with respect to the appointment of the inspectors. This is not aligned to the national Act, may give rise to a conflict of interest and, almost certainly, will undermine the authority of the Consumer Protector.
Furthermore, a Head of Department is not necessarily qualified to make such appointments, which may lead to unsuitable appointments.
Section 23 in the provincial bill, which deals with the establishment of a tribunal, also requires a more open and transparent process.
The Western Cape Act, for example, addresses this in Section 15, which makes provision for the names of nominees to be advertised in the provincial gazette and interviews are open to the public. There are also concerns over the lack of guidelines over qualification criteria and grounds for dismissal of tribunal members.
The Democratic Alliance believes that the House must enact legislation which genuinely protects consumers, is aligned to the national Act and all applicable legislation, and that the legislation we enact is fair and beyond reproach.
The above cannot be said of the Consumer Protection Bill in its current form.