The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) was on the "cusp" of the debate over regulation versus nonregulation, said attorney Evert van Eeden, the author of ‘A Guide to the Consumer Protection Act'.
While many believed that any regulation of the economy was overregulation, Van Eeden said that an economy could not function without regulation.
South Africa had to strive for a synergy of these issues, and the new Act would be the main playing field for this tension to be resolved, he said at a seminar on complying with the CPA at the Killarney Country Club on Tuesday.
The CPA, No 68 of 2008, was signed into law on April 24, 2009. Provisions relating to the interpretation and application of the Act, the establishment of the National Consumer Commission (NCC) and the rules of the National Consumer Tribunal (NCT), came into force on April 24, 2010, while the remainder of the Act, particularly provisions dealing with substantive and regulatory provisions, would come into effect on October 24, 2010.
The main aim of the CPA was to provide a fair, accessible and sustainable marketplace for consumer products and services and would have wideranging implications for businesses and consumers.
Van Eeden explained that the purpose of the Act was to establish a "legal framework for the achievement and maintenance of a consumer market that is fair and responsible for the benefit of consumers".
Regarding consumers themselves, the Act would decrease the disadvantages experienced by low-income consumers, protect consumers from unconscionable - aggressive or unethical behaviour - and deceptive behaviour, improve consumer awareness and promote consumer confidence, advocacy and activism. Further, the CPA aimed to establish a system of consensual resolution of disputes arising from consumer transactions, as well as a method of redress for consumers.
The CPA established the NCC, which, Van Eeden said, had similar powers to the Competition Commission. These were broad powers, he explained, including: investigation, summons and interrogation, searches, consent orders, issuing compliance notices, coming up with codes of practice, industry codes and industry codes of practice for product liability. The NCC could investigate complaints and refer them to an alternative dispute resolution agent or a consumer court or tribunal.
The NCT was established under the National Credit Act, No 34 of 2005, but its powers and responsibilities had been extended under the CPA. The NCT could conduct hearings, give orders and rulings, provide interim relief, assign administrative fines and review and appeal decisions.