Friday 2 September 2005

Consumer Watchdog has plans!

We’ve spent the last couple of columns showing off a bit about some of our successes. Some of our earlier columns covered issues that we feel are important to us, the consumers of Botswana. These included the need for decent Consumer Protection legislation and Data Protection laws that will limit the ways in which companies can use the information they hold on us.

However we think the time has come for us to listen to our readers. What do YOU want us to investigate? What do YOU think we need to protect us from unscrupulous traders?

We’d really like to get contributions from you, the readers of Mmegi, on what you think matters. Rather than just have us go on about what we think should happen we feel that there really should be a debate about what’s needed. Please drop us a line on what you think should happen and whether there are other issues you think we should cover.

In the meantime here are some of the issues we think we should concentrate on in the near future. DO let us know if you think we’re onto something.


We don’t think consumers are safe. We’ve heard of shops that are left open during renovation work and which end up injuring customers, supermarkets selling food that’s well past it’s sell-by date and some horrific stories of poor hygiene in many food outlets. All of these suggest to us that we actually operate in a pretty dangerous environment and that we need greater protection.

It’s not just consumers that are at risk. It’s the staff in the supermarkets as well. So what’s the solution? Well, read our future columns but there’s no surprises coming! We want the City Councils to be given REAL powers to intervene when there’s an obvious threat to our safety. We want consumers to be able to complain to authorities that actually use the powers they have to punish those who put us at risk. If they don’t have the powers then they should get them!

SMS “abuse”

We had an email from a reader this week who complained about the widespread use of SMS messages for marketing purposes. We’ve probably all seen the advertisements in the papers where you send an SMS from your phone to enter a competition, vote in a survey or to get cinema show times. Our reader also reports that some stores are selling discounted scratch cards but when you call to register them to your phone you are forced to listen to a lengthy advertisement which of course costs you money and wastes you time.

Some good news

Much as we’re very proud of what we do and what we achieve readers must remember that we’re only Consumer Watchdog – we have no real teeth. We have no legal powers and can only try and influence suppliers and stores through the promise of public accountability, in other words the embarrassment of being criticised in the press!

As we mentioned last week we do hear that mentioning Consumer Watchdog can have quite an effect on suppliers. It seems that when they are being unreasonable the thought of public exposure in Mmegi or on the radio suddenly makes them see sense! This is really encouraging as it suggests that suppliers really are beginning to get the message that they need to concentrate hard on us, their customers.

But please remember that we do have very little practical power.

However, the very good news is that we do now have a significant new weapon in our armoury! With the blessing of the Law Society of Botswana our good friends at Minchin & Kelly (Botswana), the highly respected Gaborone law firm have been the first to offer to donate some of their time to help out. They’re going to be a much better position to help with any issues reported to us that require a detailed understanding of the law. They’ve also volunteered to contribute towards our campaign to educate and inform the consumer so you’ll see their advice here in this column in the future.

Many thanks to them and to the Law Society for approving this.

But a plea for more support!

This is a plea to those in power, to community leaders, heads of businesses and above all to our politicians and law-makers. If you think we’re doing a good job and that we have some good ideas please get in contact with us. We really want to help you as leaders to achieve what the public want. All our materials and our ideas are at your disposal. Give us a call and let us know how we can help!

This week’s stars!

  • We heard recently from a reader in Francistown who had problems when he went for a working lunch at Diggers. The orders were taken well enough but they took more than 30 minutes to arrive. Some of the guests received their food so late that they had to take it away. Well, a few weeks later our reader got a call from Diggers management who apologised profusely, explained that they had fired the offending chef and, best of all, offered the entire group of 10 people a complimentary lunch! So congratulations to Diggers for taking action when it was needed and winning back a frustrated customer.
  • We also want to praise Payless in the Mall in Gaborone for having an excellent system for keeping belongings that customers accidentally leave behind. Our reader was delighted to get her parcel back.
  • Another reader contacted us to say that Spar at Kgale View in Gaborone should be commended for efficiently serving a variety of warm, clean and hygienic foods with a smile. She says “Keep it up Spar! Your bread is also delicious!”

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