Friday 21 December 2007

Dear Father Christmas

I’ve tried to be very good this year so I think I deserve a present. In fact the whole Consumer Watchdog team have been good boys and girls. We’ve all worked very hard to help the consumers that call us to sort out their problems, we’ve stuck up for customers who have been abused and we’ve not defamed anyone at all. Not one, all year. In fact we’ve never defamed anyone so surely that deserves a little something?

Our biggest success financially this year was helping to get getting a customer P10,000 compensation for a car he bought that turned out not to be exactly what he’d been told. However we’ve also got people free meals in compensation for disasters, refunds of bank charges, replacements for goods that were faulty or generally not fit for their purpose and even free ice cream.

To be fair, a lot of this was actually quite easy. When we called companies to explain that we’d had a complaint about them the vast majority were eager to help sort it out. I know in most cases this was because the managers are actually quite decent people but I also know that a few were just terrified they would end up being named in Mmegi. Whatever the reason these guys fixed the problems very quickly. A smaller number proved a little more difficult though. It took a number of increasingly forthright calls, emails, faxes and letters from us before they realised that we simply weren’t going to shut up. Only then did they see reason and do the right thing.

I confess that a few got away with it and are still up to the dirty tricks to this day. There’s the company who encourage customers to join their scheme without letting them see a contract until the moment they sign it. That’s the contract that contains the “irrevocability clause” that means that once they’ve signed the contract they can never leave. Never. Not ever.

However I don’t feel too bad about that lot. In our meeting with them after they threatened to sue us for defamation because we had warned the public about their nasty little habits one of their senior managers repeatedly said quietly to one of our white, male team that horrendous phrase:

“You know, these people…”

Our tip for the year. Whenever a melanin-deprived, pre-1994 bigot uses that phrase they actually disclose what they really are. They are the sort of people who deserve to be taken to the border and thrown over it.

Back to the good news. Several people who had taken loans from Blue Employee Benefits contacted us because they felt confused and concerned by the terms of the loans they had taken out. We contacted Blue and almost within moments one of their most senior managers was in our office apologising profusely and promising to fix each problem. Proof if we needed it that the majority of South African companies that come to Botswana to make money do so in an honest, fair and open way. They also respond very well when, every so often, something goes slightly wrong.

So anyway what do I want for Christmas?

Well a new Apple MacBook, a top of the range Jaguar and a really authentic Greek restaurant in Gaborone would be nice but they’re just not going to happen so I’ll be more realistic.

Well, first we’d like to see stores that sell things on credit obeying the law. That’s not too much to ask, is it? The law states very clearly that if a store offers something for sale on credit then the total amount payable must be stated clearly and in “characters of similar size” to the cash price. How many of them actually do this?

Then we’d like the stores to whom we wrote two months ago explaining the law on this matter to respond to us saying they will now actually stop breaking the law. In fact, let’s not forget that one did! Ellerines wrote back saying that they were terribly sorry and promised to correct the situation at the first opportunity. Perhaps we should send Ellerines’ response to the other stores and suggest they just copy it and just change the headed paper? Alternatively the other stores could just write to us and say:

“Look we didn’t know. We promise to obey the law in future and stop insulting the consumers of Botswana. We’re going to fix it. Love and kisses. P.S. We’re sending you a free Apple MacBook and a Jaguar.”

I can dream, OK?

Finally we’d really like to see the Consumer Protection Unit prosecute the stores that ignore their legal obligations. They have been given enormous powers by the Consumer Protection Act and we’d like to see some of them actually being used.

Not only would we like to see prosecutions but we’d like to see a store manager or director experience the wonderful hospitality of the Prisons Service. Apparently the food isn’t so hot and the facilities leave a little to be desired but apparently they’ll make some very close friends while inside.

All it would take is one. One store manager who is prosecuted for offending our laws and the message will go out to the whole lot of them. The message that we are a sovereign nation with our own, sensible laws and a willingness to enforce them.

Wouldn’t that be a perfect Christmas present to all of us?

This week’s stars!

  • Ken at Barloworld for being “charming”!
  • M Israel, a security guard at Parliament for outstanding courtesy and friendliness.
  • Gaone at the Gaborone Station Post Office. According to our reader “the other day, when she realised that the queue was too long, she asked for those who only needed to buy a postal stamp and quickly dealt with them. Soon, the post office was EMPTY!!!
  • Bervely at Nandos at Game City for always being friendly and delivering great service.
  • All our Mmegi readers for sticking with us every year, for supporting us and providing us with the material!

Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year to all of us!

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