Guest Column

In response to: Institutions showing signs of death - The National Consumer Commission

2018-03-16 08:47
Customers return products to an Enterprise Foods store in Germiston. (Picture: Gallo Images)

Customers return products to an Enterprise Foods store in Germiston. (Picture: Gallo Images)

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Trevor Hattingh

In his opinion piece of March 13, 2018, published on News24, titled "Institutions showing sign of death – Part 1: The National Consumer Commission", Mpumelelo Mkhabela pens a misguided narrative of the mandate of the NCC, and provides a cunning exaggeration of circumstances surrounding its work.

Although we understand that this is his opinion, and that he is entitled to it, we deemed it important to provide Mkhabela with rectification so that the public can know the facts and so that they can decide for themselves.

The NCC is required by law to perform certain mandatory duties which are: 1) promote a fair, accessible and sustainable marketplace for consumer products and services, and 2) establish national norms and standards relating to consumer protection. In respect of the latter duty, the NCC is required to provide for improved standards of consumer information, prohibit certain unfair marketing and business practices, promote responsible consumer behaviour, and lastly promote a consistent legislative and enforcement framework relating to consumer transactions and agreements.

South Africa’s consumer protection framework is such that it comprises of the NCC as the overall regulator of consumer-business interaction, nine provincial consumer affairs offices who are responsible for resolving consumer disputes in communities, and currently, two accredited ombuds institutions who provide mediation services respectively to the consumer goods and services industry, and the motor industry.

The CPA orders that the NCC facilitate the resolution of complaints in provinces, but that it not get involved in the actual dispute resolution process, except for if it conducts an investigation and arising from that take a matter to a court or the National Consumer Tribunal.

Investigations are a critical part of the NCC’s work. They require time, resources, integrity, and need to meet certain legal requirements to ensure that findings and recommendations are able to stand, should a case land up in court for prosecution.

The NCC exercises strict rules when it comes to its investigations. This has also been applied to the Ford Kuga investigation. Upon completion of the Ford Kuga investigation the NCC will be guided on how to proceed further, after considering the recommendations contained in its investigation report. 

Mkhabela nevertheless suggests that the NCC should by-pass its rules to take drastic action that will potentially open it up to a lawsuit. He forgets that if the NCC is found wanting for having acted inappropriately, that the taxpayer would have to foot the bill for the lawsuit.

It should be known by now that where it was confirmed that consumer rights have been violated, the NCC has prosecuted business. Proof to that end is contained in our annual reports, and these are readily available on our website. I invite Mkhabela to take some time and actually read them.

Mkhabela contends that the Minister of Health and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases have become everything: regulators, inspectors and consumer rights champions. He desolately overlooks the fact that the listeriosis outbreak is primarily a health matter, and that the NCC is a member of the multi-stakeholder task team that was tasked to trace the source of the deadly ST6 strain of listeriosis.

It must be noted that each of the regulators in the task team have a specific role to play, and that these roles are strictly informed by prescripts of law. When the Minister of Health informed the task team about the confirmed findings of the NICD, the NCC immediately ordered the recall of all affected products from the domestic and export markets. 

The NCC is currently monitoring the recall together with other task team members that have a role to play in this regard.

 What Mkhabela evidently didn’t know is that consumer protection is an integral part of a modern, efficient, effective and just market place. The phenomenon is part of the Department of Trade and Industry’s overall strategy to improve the competitiveness of business in South Africa. He must note that vociferous consumers drive competitiveness, and that competitiveness brings down prices.

Internationally, several jurisdictions have consumer protection as a function of their Departments of Trade, Commerce or Industry. One of the key objectives of any country is to grow its economy. Consumers are important drivers of an economy. Happy and satisfied consumers further stimulate an economy and add to its growth.

State institutions should never shy away from criticism, especially if it has worthy suggestions for progression. A response to such criticism should unequivocally be to the benefit of the people we serve.

This is the broadminded view held by the National Consumer Commission, a state institution established by an Act of Parliament known as the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), Act 68 of 2008, and who in terms of this Act is mandated to promote compliance with the CPA through advocacy and enforcement, in order to ensure fair business practices, and to uphold the social and economic welfare of consumers in the country.

- Trevor Hattingh is the spokesperson for the National Consumer Commission.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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