Friday 26 October 2007

There ought to be a law against it

Every so often someone asks us whether we need new laws to protect the consumer. Do we need additional protection from abuse, from scams and against stores and suppliers who are trying to pull the wool over our eyes?

No. That's always our answer.

Yes, there will always be a need for new laws. As the world develops new things come along that previous law makers couldn't have imagined. Over the last decade banks have been forced to adjust to the new risks they face from money-launderers. Laws and regulations have been passed by all the civilised nations such as ours that force banks to take certain precautions to make sure the money they accept from a customer isn't actually the proceeds of crime.

More recently our government has been discussing new laws regarding cyber-crime. Yes, again this is needed because new threats are emerging that never existed before. Crooks can do things with a computer these days that were never dreamt of before.

But new laws to protect consumers? No way. We're already very well protected by the Consumer Protection Act and Regulations, by the Control of Goods Act and by the basics like the Penal Code which make theft and fraud punishable offences.

Yes, there are certain things we think should perhaps be adjusted slightly. The Consumer Protection Regulations give a long list of things that it declares are unfair business practices. However, at the end of the list it includes the following:

"any other method, act or practice that the Minister may, upon the recommendations of the Director, determine, by Order, to be an unfair business practice"

There are a few things I would dearly love to see the Minister declare as unfair business practices. First of all is the habit of many stores of forbidding you from taking a contract home with you before you sign it. Yes, you could argue that it's covered by the clause that forbids "causing a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the legal rights, obligations, or remedies of a party to a transaction" but I would love to see it more specific. I want to see a new regulation that says it's forbidden to "prevent a customer from having a reasonable period to review a proposed contract before signing it". I might even go further and state that there should be a compulsory cooling off period of at least 24 hours. Both you and the store have to wait at least 24 hours before you are both committed. I've tried hard but I can't think of anything that you might want to buy on credit that you absolutely have to have immediately and can't wait a day for.

Another regulation. All contracts must have either a termination clause or a clause outlining how long the contract will last. When you get a mortgage or a bond you know how long it's going to last. When you buy something on credit you know how many instalments you have to pay. When you buy a house you know that you can always sell it some time in the future. Even when you get married you know that you can always get divorced if it turns out you've made a hideous mistake. So why does one company I can think of include a clause in their contract that makes it a lifetime commitment? Without their gracious permission you can NEVER change your mind. It's outrageous and should be made illegal.

Finally one last regulation I'm appealing to the Director of the Consumer Protection Unit to recommend to the Minister.

Can we please make it illegal to mis-pronounce "Gaborone"? I can forgive tourists from English-speaking places who make an honest mistake. It does, after all, start with a G so you can see how they might think that it's a G like in "Ghastly", "Gaga" and "Go Away". To be fair, most tourists, after being politely corrected, will mend their ways and stop doing it.

The real criminals are the people who actually know how it's pronounced and just don't care. Whether residents or visitors from down south, there's really no excuse for such rudeness. They wouldn't do it in other places. If they went to the capital of France and insisted on saying "Paris" rather than "Paree" they would get that French withering look, contemptuous muttering and dreadful service they would so richly deserve. It would be the same elsewhere. Rome is really Roma, Florence is really Firenze, Munich is really M√ľnchen.

So why do they do it here? Ironically many of these people are also perfectly happy to say "Hauteng" rather than "Gauteng" so why can't they bring themselves to say "Haboroney"?

I think that even if we can't have it made illegal we should start to stand up for ourselves. Just because someone is a customer that doesn't mean you have to take abuse. Let's all start to use our natural courtesy and in the friendliest way possible, correct it every time we hear it.

Either that or just tell them to "Ho to Gell".

This week's stars!

  • Keabebwe Paka at Naledi Motors for outstanding service and for being friendly, helpful and pro active.
  • Also from Naledi Motors, their driver Moabi Naledi for good driving and courtesy.
  • Lemogang Mphato and Phodiso Kebadiretse from Aluminium 2000 for wonderful service, who both worked over lunch while remaining cheerful and kind.

We still have Wimpy vouchers to give away. Our friends at Wimpy have donated lots of P50 vouchers for us to give away to our readers. All you have to do is nominate someone who you think delivers excellent service and YOU get a Wimpy voucher. They get celebrated here in Mmegi, we'll write to their Managing Director praising them and they get to come to our next Consumer Watchdog Party to be celebrated by you-know-who.

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