Friday 29 August 2008

An appeal

This week we are announcing the launch of a new series of charitable appeals. The Consumer Watchdog team have been very distressed to hear recently of several very sad cases that urgently need public support. We hope you will be as generous as we know you all can be and help these very unfortunate cases.

The cash-starved store

We were contacted last week by a rather unhappy customer who went to a well-known furniture store at the Station in Gaborone to buy a bed. She paid them a deposit and was keenly awaiting delivery when they informed her that the bed wasn’t in stock. Frustrated by this she told the store that she was changing her mind and wanted a refund of the deposit. So far so good. Of course she was perfectly entitled to do that. By failing to deliver her bed she was able to cancel the agreement and demand a full refund. Section 15 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations states that when a deal is cancelled the supplier is obliged to return any deposits that have been paid.

So you’re probably thinking that the store refused to do so? Or perhaps they insisted that the customer was committed to the deal and had to accept the bed whenever they got around to supplying it? Perhaps they were going to commit her to some awful credit agreement that would bankrupt her?

No, you’re being unfair to the store. They were perfectly prepared to cancel the whole deal. They were perfectly prepared to refund the customer’s deposit. The problem was that they couldn’t because they didn’t have any cash. The store told her that she would have to wait for other customers to come and buy things for cash before they could give her the deposit back.

So perhaps you’re thinking that they could have written her a cheque? No, they weren’t permitted to do that. A direct transfer to her bank account? No, likewise.

So our first appeal this week is for the furniture store. Please go down to the station and take lots of cash and buy some furniture. That’s the only way our reader is getting her deposit back.

The illiterate stores

Illiteracy is a scourge in any nation. The inability of people to read and write affects their ability to get a job, to function in the modern age and to understand what is going on in the world. Those of you reading this article are very lucky to have the ability to read it. Think how difficult life would be if you couldn’t read.

Just out of interest I wonder how many organisations have considered the fact that many of the contracts they require their customers to sign might actually be legally invalid? Section 17 (1) (g) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that a supplier has committed an “unfair business practice” if they take advantage of a consumer’s “inability reasonably to protect his interests by
reason of … inability to understand the language of an agreement presented by the other party to the transaction who knows or reasonably should know of the consumer's inability”

In other words if a store encounters a customer who obviously only speaks Setswana and they get them to sign a contract that is in English (and they ALL are) they have been very bad children and deserve a smacked bottom. Wouldn’t THAT be fun to watch.

Actually our appeal is not for the unfortunate victims of this misbehaviour. Our appeal is for the poor stores that can’t read. So many of them seem to be functionally illiterate. They can’t read the law, they can’t read the letters of complaint from their customers and they most certainly can’t read the letters from Consumer Watchdog, even when they are written in very simple terms and in very big letters in Mmegi.

So let’s all get together and teach stores how to read. Let’s start sending them letters explaining their obligations and let’s start introducing them to the law.

An appeal for enforcement

Finally it’s that same old appeal that we issue over and over again. We need enforcement. Despite what you might think there are authorities out there that have not just the legal right but the legal responsibility for enforcing the law. No, not just the Police although they do seem to have forgotten much of what they can do. I wonder how many police officers of the rank of sergeant or above realise that they are “authorised officers” empowered by the Food Control Act to enter any premises where food is sold and examine the quality of the food? They can also seize any foods they suspect of not meeting the requirements of the Act.

Then there is the Consumer Protection Unit. The Consumer Protection Act created this Unit and also gave them certain responsibilities. No, not rights, powers and opportunities. No, it gave them responsibilities. Obligations. Duties.

The Act lists several of these duties but my favourite is the last one. The Act says that they must “do all such other things as may be necessary to protect consumers from purchasing or otherwise acquiring substandard goods or services or from being otherwise exploited.”

Clearly they need help. Our final appeal is for the public to help them do this. If you contact them please visit our web site first where you’ll see a Shopper’s Guide to the Consumer Protection Regulations. That way you can explain to them what they should do for you.

This week’s stars!
  • Raymond from FNB for helping a customer when she lost her cards.
  • Agatha from Bank Gaborone for taking responsibility for a problem and helping to get it fixed.

No comments: