Friday 22 June 2007

Is the law an ass?

A character in Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is famous for saying that “The law is an ass, an idiot” but is that true here in Botswana?

I’m not so sure. Maybe I’m just a sad individual but I’ve been reading the laws of Botswana. I confess that I’ve skipped the delights offered by the Seeds Certification Act, the Hypothecation Act and the Collective Investment Undertakings Act because they are, well, astonishingly dull.

But there are some really entertaining laws. Laws that are useful, practical and that empower us all.

My personal favourite is the Consumer Protection Act and the Regulations that followed them. They give us all a right to have a deposit refunded, goods that are “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased” and a right to demand that “new” goods are exactly that.

We also have a right to products that do what they are meant to do. This isn’t just for things like microwave ovens and DVD players, it also covers those bizarre health supplements on sale in all sorts of places. Whether it’s oriental herbs that can promise unrivalled sexual performance, colloidal silver (whose only known property is to permanently turn your skin blue if taken to excess) or rubbish that claims to cleanse your blood the charlatans that sell this quackery can be prosecuted for promising results that “have no safe scientific, medical or performance basis”.

Every time you see these things on sale, or any time you see a homeopath or a reflexologist offering their pseudoscientific services you really should DEMAND to see what evidence they have that they can actually achieve any results at all. Not just anecdotes like “My Aunt Agatha got better” or “everyone KNOWS it works”, you should demand evidence that “can be readily substantiated” which is what the Regulations demand. Unfortunately you’ll find with almost all of these charlatans that the only thing they can help you do is lose weight. From your wallet or purse.

In a similar vein there is the Witchcraft Act. I’m not going to describe it, it’s so simple and easy to understand I’m going to quote Section 7 of the Act.

“Any person who for purposes of gain, pretends to exercise or use any kind of supernatural power, witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration, or undertakes to tell fortunes, or pretends from his skill or knowledge in any occult science to discover where or in what manner anything supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found shall be guilty of an offence and liable to the punishments provided by section 3.”

Those punishments can be anything up to 5 years in prison. So why don’t we start showing these crooks a real miracle? Free food and drink courtesy of the Prisons Department.

Then there’s the Food Control Act. Did you realise that an “authorised officer” can enter any premises where food is prepared or sold, take samples, examine documents and even seize food that he or she believes may have contravened the hygiene rules of the Food Control Act. What exactly is an “authorised officer”? It can be anyone named by the Government but also any registered medical practitioner, a customs and excise officer or even just “a police officer of or above the rank of sergeant”.

So why aren’t we seeing this happening all the time? Why don’t we see just a few store owners behind bars? The act allows them to be sent away for up to 6 months and if it’s a “continuing offence” an extra two months for every single day they offend.

Those of who live in Gaborone will have seen every so often the enormous plume of smoke emanating from behind Riverwalk Shopping Centre. I’m not sure who it is that burns all that rubbish but I wonder if they know about the Atmospheric Pollution (Prevention) Act? I wonder if they are aware that an Air Pollution Control Officer can inspect their premises without warning at any time? I wonder if they realise that they aren’t allowed to throw huge amounts of muck into the atmosphere without a registration certificate?

Finally did you know that the Prohibition of Pretentious Terminology Act makes it an offence punishable by public ridicule to use a long word or phrase when a shorter one with exactly the same meaning exists? Perhaps we’ll now see an end to words like “utilise” and “re-engineer” and phrases like “upscaling present operational threshold through taking advantage of the latest concepts”?

OK, I confess I invented that last law. But I’m allowed to dream aren’t I?

Incidentally, if anything I’ve written makes you a little hot under the collar and you feel like suing me or Mmegi for defamation you should remember Section 195 of the Penal code which states that defamation cannot have occurred if what was published:

“is true and it was for the public benefit that it should be published”

I think the law is great. We just need a bit of enforcement, that’s all.

This week’s stars!

  • Serame, Tlhomano and Dixon from the Department of Road Transport & Safety in Gaborone for incredibly friendly and efficient service.
  • Waynie at BTC for friendly help when a technical fault was reported.
  • Nancy Ramphomane, the Minister of Finance’s secretary. Since being celebrated at our recent party three people have contacted us to say they agree she is “wonderful”. Take a look at our web site to see Nancy being celebrated.

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