Watchdog frets over Consumer Protection Bill

AN independent consumer watchdog has criticised some clauses of the Consumer Protection Bill, which allow government to regulate and even ban independent groups representing consumers, saying they impinged on advocacy rights.

By NQOBANI NDLOVU

The Bill, coming at a time when consumers are facing incessant price hikes of goods and services is aimed at, among others, establishing a Consumer Protection Commission.

It seeks to regulate the operations of independent consumer advocacy groups and repeal the Consumer Contracts Act [Chapter 8:03], as well as provide for matters related to dealing with consumer protection.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, presenting the Bill on Tuesday on behalf of Industry and Commerce minister, Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu, said clauses 8 and 9 provide for the accreditation and suspension or cancellation of the consumer protection advocacy groups.

“The clauses further provide for the instances in which accreditation may be cancelled and punitive measures for non-compliance with accreditation criteria is also enunciated,” Ziyambi said while presenting the Bill in the Senate.

Independent consumer watchdog, the National Consumer Rights Association (Nacora), despite hailing the Bill as a step in the right direction, said clauses which called for de-registration were an affront to civic society rights.

“. . . . it contains provisions that are totally repugnant to a free society based on democracy and openness. It stands true to what has come to characterise the colonial and post-colonial governments in that it gives rights with one hand and takes all those rights with the other. The idea that a civil society organisation that promotes consumer rights can be banned is in bad taste,” Nacora advocacy and campaign manager Effie Ncube told Southern Eye yesterday.

“This legislated attitude continues an assault on civil society and human rights. Legislated repression is unacceptable. Therefore, as Nacora, while cautiously optimistic that we are set for the right direction in consumer rights, we unreservedly condemn the undemocratic provisions of this Bill. It represents an attack on the values of a democratic society.”

Ziyambi said functions of the Consumer Protection Commission under clauses 4 and 5 included the protection of consumers from unjust, unreasonable, improper and unacceptable, deceptive, unfair and fraudulent conduct and trading practices.

He said the commission shall also promote fair business practices by co-ordinating and networking consumer activities with consumers against consumer organisations in order to protect consumers interests.

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