Most municipalities off the hook

Rob Davies, the Minister of Trade and Industry, published a notice on 14th March 2011 in terms of which the application of the Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”), is deferred in respect of all municipalities which are not “high capacity” municipalities.

The CPA comes into full effect on 31st March 2011, so all high capacity municipalities need to fully comply with the Act from then. Of course municipalities are major suppliers of goods (licences, permits, water, electricity, municipal housing, etc.) and services (refuse and sewerage removal, disaster management, traffic control etc.) to individuals and small businesses, who are also regarded as protected consumers in terms of the Act.

Who are these high capacity municipalities? Examples include the City of Cape Town and City of Johannesburg, Tshwane, Polokwane, eThekwini, Drakenstein, Stellenbosch, George, Hibiscus Coast and Randfontein.

Who are the low and medium capacity municipalities, who now do not need to comply with the requirements of the CPA? There are around 235 of these municipalities, most of them in rural areas. The consumers who make use of their services and goods are of the more unsophisticated, impoverished and vulnerable consumers in South Africa. It is ironic that the CPA specifically states that its purpose is to protect consumers who:

*are low-income persons,

*live in remote or isolated areas, or

* have limited fluency in the language used for advertising, warnings, instructions and contracts.

I am not surprised, in the light of the difficulties local government is experiencing with service delivery, that the implementation date for medium and low capacity municipalities has been deferred, but the fact that the deferral is for an indefinite period is certainly not good news for consumers of those municipalities’ goods and services.

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