Programme Director, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentleman, Good evening to you all, I am truly honoured and delighted to address you on this very auspicious occasion, namely the opening of the PE Office of the NRCS. More so Programme Director, because we are launching in a very critical month, the month of March, which has been declared Human Rights Month in pursuance of the activities that entrench a human rights culture.
As it maybe recalled it was this month almost four decades ago in 1961, March 21 where 69 scores of people were killed. This act of barbarity and savagery was condemned world-wide. Subsequently, the Sharpville massacre became a rallying cry against the flagrant and gross abrogation of human rights in South Africa and the declaration of the system of apartheid: a crime against humanity by the United Nations General Assembly. History tells us that human life, trade and commerce have since ancient times been as precarious and at risk as they are today.
Need I not stress that this is what we advocate – the rights of people to health and safety.
Since the promulgation of the NRCS Act which led to the birth of this organization, a lot has been accomplished in the context of promotion and protection of human rights.
And so this is not a coincidence – that we are launching this office now - we couldn’t have launched at a better time. We therefore join millions of our people across the country who says unequivocally that consumer rights are human rights.
Let me also stress that we are not just joining in the commemorations and celebrations but mention the fact that we are unashamedly the pioneers of some of the internationally recognized consumer rights as our mandate dictates that we protect human health, safety and the environment and ensure fair trade.
Some of these rights includes the following:
The Right to Safe Products and Services – which spells out clearly that consumers should be protected against products, services and production processes that are dangerous to health or life. You will know that by powers vested in us, if a product is proved not to comply with the compulsory specifications, NRCS can issue sanctions to the offending organizations thereby preventing the sale of dangerous and unhealthy products – a responsibility we take very seriously because we saying that issues of consumer rights cannot be relegated to the periphery.
•The Right to Consumer Education - consumers needs to acquire knowledge and skills needed to make informed and confident choices about goods and services whilst being aware of basic consumer rights and responsibilities and how to act on them. And so it is our responsibility to whenever we act against these violations – to inform consumers. A task we also take seriously.
•The Right to a Healthy Environment – consumers should live and work in an environment that is not threatening to the well being of present and future generations. This as indicated is part of our mandate – we protect human health, safety and the environment while ensuring fair trade and I must say, we respond to the above without equivocation.
That said, let me speak a bit about this organization and how it came into being.
NRCS is the former Regulatory Division of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and in a nutshell, our mandate is to administer compulsory specifications in the interests of public health, safety and the environment as per our mandate as well as the requirements under the legal metrology Act which ensures fair trade and consumer rights as far as measurements made during transactions ie ensuring that business gives and consumers receive fair measure.
Some of you might have noticed that even though we have been in existence for seven months now, our organisation was however, officially launched by the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mandisi Mpahlwa only last month. This brings us to the reason you are all gathered here tonight – to launch our extended branch – if I may, the NRCS Port Elizabeth Regional Office.
It is therefore important, ladies and gentleman, to mention that we also have other regional offices in other part of the country which we will soon launch as well – in Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Durban and this as an ongoing commitment to pursue systematically, decisively and resolutely, the protection of our consumers.
The establishment of the NRCS came about after significant legislative reform, which resulted from the SQAM (Standards, Quality Assurance, Accreditation and Metrology) review which recommended that the regulatory function of the SABS be separated into a independent Agency for good governance reasons eg conflict of interest, This process was completed in 2008 and resulted in the promulgation of the NRCS Act on 4th July 2008 by the former President of the Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki.
This, as a culmination of a 10-year process intended at aligning South Africa as a country with the world best regulatory practice and meet requirements of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on TECHNICAL BARRIERS TO TRADE (WTO TBT Agreement) and the agreement on THE APPLICATION OF SANITARY AND PHYTOSANITARY MEASURES (WTO SPS Agreement).
Also in part, our organization was established to support Government in its effort to protect the rights of all South African citizens in relation to issues of health, safety and the protection of the environment as entrenched in the Constitution of our country by administering and enforcing regulations known as the compulsory specifications.
And the objectives, as stated in the Act, are to make recommendations to the Minister of Trade and Industry regarding compulsory specifications; administer and maintain compulsory specifications, undertake market surveillance through inspection in order to monitor compliance with compulsory specifications and to enforce compliance with compulsory specifications, among others.
We also work with other governments departments such as Department of Labour, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Department of Transport, Mineral and Energy, among others. We are also in support of Government’s initiatives in energy conservation by investigating and developing compulsory specifications intended to promote the sale of energy efficient products such as compact fluorescent luminaires (cfl’s) and other lighting components.
NRCS enables Government to meet its obligations to the World Trade Organization, meet the requirements of good governance and opens the conformity assessment market to free and fair national and international competition.
It is of critical importance therefore, to mention that we are now well placed to execute our mandate more effectively. Certain provisions of the NRCS Act make it possible for us to act quickly and more effectively than it was in the past under the Standards Act 1993 where directives would only come from the Minister of Trade and Industry to issue sanctions at appropriate levels in acting against the abuse of regulations. This obviously led to administrative delays.
Now when a product does not comply with a specific compulsory specification, the NRCS will take action to ensure its recall, allow the product to be returned to the country of origin, or to direct in writing that it be confiscated and destroyed.
It is our commitment to ensure that products and services covered by compulsory specifications be imported, sold or offered for sale if they comply fully with all requirements of the compulsory specifications.
If a product is proved not to comply the Board of the NRCS can take action to ensure its recall, or dealt with in such manner as it deems fit. NRCS has already exercised its powers in respect of non-compliant electrical products.
This is of course will be made possible by market surveillance that we conduct through inspections of products from manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retails to ensure that consumers receive safe products and fair measure, and that all legal requirements are met.
While I conclude, I would like to say that, we cannot over emphasis the need to protect the rights of consumers and therefore, urge all of you including our stakeholders, as defenders and advocates of human rights to join hands with us. Together we should mount extraordinary efforts to holistically, coherently and comprehensively protect their rights.
I hereby declare this office officially launched
I thank you