Despite progressive laws and bodies put in place to protect buyers, a lot more could be done to ensure they are protected.
We all pay for goods and services and we should be protected when we buy and use these goods and services. With our progressive Constitution and other legislation, such as the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), South African consumers should be protected. Are we?
The short answer? Not so much. However, it is not only government that should protect consumers, but the private sector too. Consumers should also protect themselves by ensuring they know enough about their legal rights and responsibilities.
Government has the biggest responsibility because it enforces the laws that protect us, but why does it not feel like government is doing its job? While most consumers are happy with the various ombudsman offices, there are other bodies that could work a lot harder for us.
Take the National Consumer Commission, for example. The commission seems to only move complaints from one side to another and only cherry pick cases that would get it media exposure, such as the recent furore about the price of garlic and ginger.
People will not go hungry because they cannot afford garlic and ginger. Economists have also warned then that government should not interfere in pricing of goods, but the commission went ahead and made a big noise.
Nobody said anything that the price of sugar beans, a staple for poor people, increased by 33% in the past few months. Maybe sugar beans are not sexy enough? But poor people could go hungry because they cannot afford sugar beans.
The matter was even tackled by the Competition Commission that agreed with Pick n Pay this week to cap its profit on garlic and ginger. Still no news about sugar beans though.
Also Read: Pick n Pay caps profit on ginger and garlic
We also still have to see anything happen about timeshare after the commission held public hearings countrywide in 2017 and the report, released in December 2018, suggested some legislative reforms, such as new regulations for the CPA to specify the purchase of points and membership application agreements as fixed term agreements.
A modern, industry focused, comprehensive piece of legislation that centralises regulation of the timeshare industry in South Africa was also recommended, as well as a new regulator to enforce compliance with existing and future legislation. We are still waiting.
New regulations do not need to be passed by parliament and can be made by the minister and published in the Government Gazette (that has not been printed since early January).
Provincial consumer offices are trying to help people at ground level, but leading consumer protection must come from the top. If I look at how the commission celebrated World Consumer Rights Day, I want to cry. A few webinars where different bodies said what they do and how they do it.
I do not think consumers are better off after this “celebration”.
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