‘Afriforum acting in public’s interest’

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Independent Newspapers

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Pretoria - AfriForum represents the public in seeking a reversal of a decision to exempt certain municipalities from the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), the High Court in Pretoria heard on Wednesday.

Pelser Quintus, SC, for the civil rights body, argued the organisation had locus standi, which meant it had demonstrated its right to bring the application to court.

Lawyers representing Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, who had previously published two notices exempting the municipalities, were arguing that AfriForum was not representing the South African public as a whole.

AfriForum argued it was acting in the public's interest.

“Out of a possible 280 municipalities in South Africa, only people in 47 of them will have the protection of an Act that was intended to be on a national basis,” Quintus argued.

“Everybody else except those who live in high capacity municipalities are affected by the two notices (by the minister). We submit that they are the people who are interested in this matter.”

Quintus said Davies wanted to ensure the private sector “could not have free hand” under the Act and wanted the Act to create a premium on standards throughout the country.

“(With municipalities) government was doing the opposite that it was preaching.”

Bedhesi Roshan, for the minister, said AfriForum could not bring its application because the organisation “did not exist” and was not a “juristic person”.

“There is no legal entity called AfriForum and they are not a non-profit organisation. There is no basis for this application,” he said.

The CPA gives rights to consumers who do not receive goods or services for which they have paid. Currently, it is applicable only to private businesses and high capacity municipalities.

Transitional provisions of the CPA allow the minister to delay the application of the Act to any municipality, except a high capacity one, for six months.

On March 14, 2011 the minister delayed the application of the CPA to all municipalities, except the high capacity ones, through a notice in the Government Gazette.

AfriForum launched its application to reverse the exemption of certain municipalities in September 2011.

The minister published an updated notice in the Government Gazette in October that year.

The provision had two sub-sections, allowing the minister to delay the implementation of the Act for administrative reasons, or after receiving a request by the local government minister to define the municipalities.

Quintus argued the updated notice, which extended the exemption, went against the provisions of the Act, since the minister used both provisions.

“This is not a situation when 'or' should be read as 'and',” he said.

He said Davies had also “failed to apply his mind” to the state of municipalities.

The minister had withheld protection from people in municipalities, in which the Act could be implemented, through his broad decision, Quintus argued. - Sapa


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