The National Consumer Tribunal is off to a busy start with 8 major hearings lined up for the next few months. All the hearings relate to disputes over challenged compliance notices issued by the National Consumer Commission.
The Commission made its first appearance before the National Consumer Tribunal on Friday 20 January 2012. The Commission issued compliance notices to all major cellular service providers in 2011 and MTN was the first respondent since the Consumer Protection Act came into force to face the Commission before the Tribunal. The Tribunal will make a decision on whether the compliance notice was issued against the correct party, regarding the correct agreement before any further steps are taken. The Commission is hoping for a large administrative penalty from this case but this seems unlikely.
The City of Joburg is next in line to face the Commission after it was issued with several compliance notices regarding complaints ranging from overcharging consumers for electricity, using estimates to charge for electricity and water, failing to physically read meters for long periods of time and to failing to resolve complaints or refund consumers. The City is seeking an order from the Tribunal directing the Commission to review the notices. The hearings are set down for 22 to 24 February 2012.
Other matters to be heard in February include cases against Multichoice and Telkom, while Top TV and Cell C appear before the Tribunal in March. The Vodacom challenge has yet to be allocated a date.
It has been publically reported that the chronically under-funded Commission has a mere R3 million to cover its operating expenses till the end of March 2012. This does not include the cost of legal services required for these upcoming hearings and it seems unlikely, without adequate funding and appropriately skilled staff, that the NCC can properly chew what it has bitten off.
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