The three-day public hearings on the Consumer Protection Bill commenced in the South African Parliament yesterday.  Vanessa Clark and I made our way to the rather grand Good Hope Chamber and settled in for the morning with the stakeholders, lawyers, various remedy providers and the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry.

The day kicked off with a presentation by Zodwa Ntuli of the Department of Trade and Industry, which is responsible for the Bill.  Ntuli acknowledged the fragmentation in the current framework and emphasised the need for a holistic overview of the South African consumer protection regime.  She highlighted the policy objectives of the Bill and gave a concise summary of some of the key aspects such as definitions, purpose and application, exemptions and disclosure of information.

It’s staggering to think that some aspects of current consumer legislation date back to 1947, and the last time this was looked at was in 1989.  This new legislation will take into account best practice from around the world, and will mean that South Africans will be the best protected consumers in the world – on paper in any case.

The day continued with various stakeholders, including the Retailers Association, the Direct Marketing Association and Pick n Pay presenting their comments and concerns to the committee.  From the type of issues being raised, it sounds like this will be a very comprehensive and well-thought out piece of legislation, but I don’t envy the team who has to try to balance everyone’s views and still produce a meaningful product.

I’m going to write a series of posts to cover some of the highlights of the presentations, starting tomorrow with the main reasons why the Bill has been introduced, so watch this space.