South Africa: First Private Members Bill Introduced

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Parliament's first ever Private Members Bill saw the light of day when the National Credit Amendment Bill was introduced today in the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry.

The Bill came after a ruling from the Constitutional Court last year and was introduced by Dr Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, albeit more than an hour later than planned, as Dr Oriani-Ambrosini was delayed.

Committee Chairperson Ms Joanmariae Fubbs emphasised the symbolism of the meeting and promised that the Committee would give serious deliberation to the Bill.

The National Credit Amendment Bill calls for a postponement in interest accrual for up to five years for small businesses that find themselves in financial difficulties. It further seeks to exclude credit agreements involving business-to-business transactions from the application of the National Credit Act.

In introducing the Bill, Dr Oriani-Ambrosini said that while some debtors were under review others were paying up to 100% interest on their initial debt. "It is hard times. People are suffering. The legislation does not give them a break. So instead of going the insolvency route, they try to take the hard route.

"I feel we need to give them a break. Let's stop accrual of interests." He elaborated by stating that this should not be the case in all instances. "Only when the debt councillor advises this to a magistrate and the magistrate agrees and gives a ruling to that effect." Dr Oriani-Ambrosini said this should be done when circumstances justify and allow for this to happen.

Deputy Director-General: Consumer and Corporate Regulation Division in the Department of Trade and Industry, Ms Zodwa Ntuli, said the Act is already being reviewed by the Department, as happens to all legislation after five years.

The Department further claimed that the National Credit Act already allows magistrates and debt councillors to use their discretion.

Parliamentary Legal Advisor Adv Charmaine van der Merwe cautioned the Committee that the amendments proposed by Dr Oriani-Ambrosini do differ from the Act, which does not provide for interest to be stopped for a period of time as proposed in the amendments.

Ms Fubbs indicated at the end of the meetings that although the Bill may have merit, the Committee now has to decide on a way forward. "Do we want to take this on in a piecemeal approach?" she said with reference to the two amendments proposed by Dr Oriani-Ambrosini and in light of the fact that the Department is busy with a complete review of the Act.

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