|Launch of the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) and the KZN office
Key Note Address
By the NRCS Chairperson, Ms S. Maziya
Ladies and Gentlemen
The South African Government has realised the importance of consumer rights in creating a more just society and an effective and efficient economy. To respond to these challenges, government has passed laws that protect consumers from scrupulous industry while ensuring certainty to the industry about compliance requirements and regulatory administrative system.
The establishment of NRCS is yet another milestone and a concrete achievement emanating from the strategy developed and implemented by the Department of Trade and Industry during the past few years to modernize the South African Technical Infrastructure.
This strategy was developed because government recognized that the quality of technical infrastructure resources was becoming increasingly important in shaping the global economic and the trading opportunities for South Africa. South Africa as a country understood that we had to act quickly to anticipate future developments rather than to eventually become overwhelmed by them.
It is based on the understanding that the technical infrastructure underpins trade and business as well as the protection of consumers in relation to health, safety and the environment. So, standards developed by the South African Bureau of Standards, metrology provided by the National Metrology Institute of South Africa and accreditation of conformity assessment services such as product certification, testing laboratories, inspection and calibration services of the South African Accreditation System support the compatibility amongst products and systems. These standards also reduce costs through the use of common parts, specifications and methods. In summary, standards may not hog the headlights but they are critical to the growth of our economy.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is more so since our economy has become increasingly integrated into the value chains that produce goods assembled from components sourced worldwide. These components must be perfectly synchronized and needless to say they must work perfectly or the business will be in danger of failing. In addition, product life cycles are becoming shorter and the pace of technological development is accelerating. Consumers are also demanding ever-higher levels of safety, performance, reliability and sustainability.
So, to respond to these demands, the South African government has passed laws that give both consumers and industry a legal framework to operate in, and these are as follows:
· The National Credit Act: helps protect consumer against abuse by finance companies.
· The Consumer Protection Act: gives consumers a strong legal foundation for being treated more fairly by all suppliers of goods and services.
The passing of the NRCS Act led to the establishment of the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications as an independent agency on 1 September 2008. This, as a result of the split from the South Afrcan Bureau of Standards (SABS).
I think it is worth noting that this clear delineation between the standards, conformity assessment and regulatory function is seen as an alignment with the best international practice.
In practice, the day to day work of the Regulator constitutes approvals, inspections and market surveillance as well as sanctions at appropriate levels to deter abuse of regulations. When a product does not comply with a specific compulsory specification, the NRCS will recall such a product, allow the product to be returned to the country of origin by the importer or be confiscated and destroyed. Examples are the directives issued for flexible cords and recently for Chinese vehicle imports known as X Space and Hafei Loda which failed to comply with Rear Fog Lamps specification therefore, posing serious safety risks to consumers.
I think it is also important to note that the NRCS administers compulsory product specifications for other government departments. For instance, it is envisaged that when the energy efficient in lighting and buildings standards is declared national standard, NRCS will be responsible for adopting them as compulsory standards and for administration. These few tasks alone, considering its potential impact on the economy, is the reason why NRCS is regarded as a national asset which should be used extensively.
The Regulator furthermore requires the use of accredited testing and certification facilities to demonstrate compliance to the conformity assessment requirements as prescribed by the NRCS. Not only does this ensure confidence in the service providers but it also levels the playing field for all competent conformity assessment service providers. This in turn addresses a concern or perhaps perception that in terms of the previous Standards Act, the SABS monopolised the market.
We are also fully aware that compulsory specifications could easily become unnecessary technical barriers to trade. However, the effective institutional framework provided by the NRCS adheres to the World Trade Organisation Technical Barrier to Trade requirements in that it follows a transparent and non-discriminatory process. It also allows for consultation with all stakeholders thus making the system transparent.
It is our view, Ladies and Gentleman, that the NRCS is a sterling example of how regulators could optimise the use of the Technical Infrastructure and its related institutions. For instance, the Act prescribes that whenever possible, a compulsory specification should be based on a national standard and therefore, drawing from the specialised standardisation expertise of the South African Bureau of Standards and other expertise from the Industry.
Based on recent developments, we are aware that the inspection functions of the NRCS are increasingly demonstrating their competence by obtaining accreditation within their sphere of operation and this need to be acknowledged.
Ladies and gentlemen, all these initiatives are meaningless if the key stakeholder is missing. The consumer is the backbone of every economy and needs to be made aware of the relevant rights and obligations. The NRCS intends to embark on consumer education programs and to form partnerships with various consumer advocacy groups with the intension to increase consumer awareness and education.
Ladies and gentlemen in conclusion, I like to thank the employees and management of the NRCS who kept the ball rolling during this transitional period and also to thank you as the stakeholder for your understanding especially during this move which could have impacted negatively on your day to day business operations.
I therefore ask you to please join me in celebrating the official launch of the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications and its new premises.