It's a year to the day since South Africa's impressive new consumer law took effect. Looking back, we've seen unprecedented victories for consumers on several fronts.
From protection from shoddy workmanship and defective and dangerous goods to the right to cancel fixed-term contracts and enjoy full disclosure, things have never been so good. But they could be far better and change could be faster if the body responsible for enforcing the legislation, the National Consumer Commission (NCC), was given the resources it deserves. Commissioner MAMODUPI MOHLALA reveals the highs and lows of the NCC's inaugural year
What have been the biggest successes of the NCC?
Resolving consumer complaints and putting money back in consumers' pockets; taking on big industry players; and making consumers more aware of their rights.
What have been the NCC's greatest challenges?
Lack of resources; lack of industry preparedness in terms of compliance with the Consumer Protection Act.
The NCC's budget is under R50-million. Surely this isn't enough to do justice to consumer rights?
The new financial year budget is R41.5-million; a far cry from the R132-million envisaged to be able to carry out our mandate.
Is it true that the NCC has just five telephone operators handling some 28000 calls a month?
Yes: because we have so few staff, the agents are only able to deal with 8000 of the 28000 calls monthly.
Has the commission honoured its commitment to a six-week turnaround for ordinary complaints and six months for complex matters?
At least 75% of the time the NCC complies with this turnaround time. Sometimes business requires more time to respond to complaints; there are issues of product testing; and issues with consumers needing to provide more information and availability to attend hearings.
Wouldn't a more user-friendly website with consumer tips, advice, ombud's details, and detailed FAQs help reduce the load on your staff?
Yes, to a certain extent, bearing in mind that some don't have access to the internet, especially disadvantaged communities.
Why does the Department of Trade and Industry run the NCC's website, and not the NCC?
The website has not been handed over to the NCC.
Are conciliation meetings between consumers and suppliers successful?
Yes: at the end of conciliation both parties have a clear understanding of the issues and why a certain decision is taken.
How many compliance notices has the commission issued in the last year?
More than 300, as well as 400 consent agreements.
What percentage of compliance notices end in agreement?
About 70% are objected to; 15% comply; the balance don't respond at all.
Which industries have been the worst offenders this year?
The motor, retail, and cellphone industries. And the City of Johannesburg.
What are the most commonly violated rights?
Returns and refunds; cancellation of contracts.
Which matters have been heard before the consumer tribunal so far?
MTN, City of Johannesburg and MultiChoice.
Which matters are due to be heard in the next few months?
BMW, Vodacom, Cell C, Eskom and Dynabidz [an online entertainment shopping site].
You've taken on some major companies in the last year. What's your standing with business like?
We are an enforcement entity but there is mutual respect from both sides.
Did the commission's attack on the City of Johannesburg ruffle feathers in government circles?
We are simply executing our mandate of dealing with consumer complaints.
Do you think the NCC will be vindicated when the tribunal rules on [Johannesburg's] billing crisis?
What's happening with the "Do not contact" registry for consumers?
Based on objections to the NCC's recommendation that the Direct Marketing Association manage the register on its behalf, the commission decided to operate the register itself. However, due to budget constraints, the NCC has been unable to do so. A request has been sent to the Department of Trade and Industry to assist with funding, but there's been no response.
What is the NCC's take on the e-tolling controversy?
The NCC is conducting an investigation into the terms and conditions for e-tags.
- Contact the NCC on (012) 9404450. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Or go to www.nccsa.org.za
At the National Consumer Commission which, despite a lack of resources and support, has given consumers a much-needed voice. It has also put powerful corporate and government players on notice this year. Let's give credit where credit's due.
At the Department of Trade and Industry for allowing the continued underfunding of the National Consumer Commission. The government needs to remember that consumer rights are constitutional rights and it has a duty to protect them.