Friday 15 August 2008

Dear Store Owners

As you may have seen in Mmegi last week we wrote an open letter to the President regarding store credit. No, not the President of the local tyre factory, the President of the Student Bar or the President of the local chapter of the Association of Crooked Store Credit Providers.

No, the President of Botswana.

Those of you who spend your illicit profits from store credit on alcohol will know that The President has recently announced a 70% levy on the price of booze. This is meant to curb excessive consumption, to price certain communities out of bad behaviour and maybe even to make our roads a little safer.

Whether you agree with the approach he has adopted or not at least he’s doing something. Even though this is going to affect me personally I do have to acknowledge that action is better than words. It reminds me of the when I was learning to drive. My instructor taught me that it is almost always better at a junction to take a decision and stick with it than to do nothing. The worst thing you can do is to be indecisive and end up causing traffic jams.

The thing that struck us about this new levy is the piece of law that is being used to introduce and enforce it. It’s that often overlooked piece of legislation called the Control of Goods Act. There’s a section of this Act that allows the relevant Minister to apply a levy to alcohol, broom handles and silly hats if he feels the need.

In our open letter to the President we praised him for using this law to do something. This law has been under-used and it’s nice to see it being taken out of the cupboard for a change.

However, what we pointed out to His Excellency is that there are other parts of this law that he should consider using in the future. Specifically there are the Regulations that were passed shortly after the law. The Control of Goods (Marking of Goods) Regulations were first enacted more than thirty years ago and cover (you might need to sit down for a moment and take a few deep breaths) store credit schemes.

Specifically these Regulations state that when something is “offered for sale” on credit the seller must disclose, amongst other things, “the total amount to be paid by way of deposit and instalments”.

Let’s go through this in simple terms that don’t need a lawyer to explain them. The Regulations say that these details must be disclosed when a product is “offered for sale”. Not during the heavy-selling process when you refuse to take cash, not during the form-filling, not after it has been sold when things have gone wrong. No, when it is offered for sale. That means when you advertise it. That means when you place a poster in your window to tempt passers by to come in and leave their money behind. That’s when the law demands that you disclose “the total amount to be paid by way of deposit and instalments”.

Now we know that you all know about this. We know this because we wrote to you all about your failure to abide by the law in October of last year. We wrote to you again two weeks later. We wrote about this in Mmegi at the same time. We’ve spoken to some of you about it since. Every single store that sells on credit knows about this and has no excuse for not taking action.

So how many of you did something about it? How many stores thought that the law was worth respecting?


Ellerines contacted us very soon after our first letter and told us that they were appalled to discover that they hadn’t been abiding by the law and promised to fix it as soon as possible. Next time you pass by a branch of Ellerines check out the posters in their windows. As well as the cash price they disclose the full credit price as well. Beares did the same thing. Both Ellerines and Beares have shown that they respect the laws of Botswana and that they respect their customers.

The rest of you have failed to do so. Clearly this can’t be because you don’t respect the laws of Botswana, can it? It can’t be because you don’t respect your customers, can it? It can’t be because you think the people of Botswana are just cattle waiting to be processed, can it?

It can’t be because you don’t want your customers to realise the truly excruciating levels of interest you charge, can it? It can’t be because you don’t want your customers to know about the ridiculous compulsory insurance schemes you make your victims sign up for, can it? You know, the insurance schemes that sometimes cost nearly as much as the product itself? The insurance schemes that actually don’t insure the customer but in fact insure you, the store?

No, we can’t believe that you would be so cynical. That’s our job.

What we think you need to do is quite simple. Obey the law. The risk you run if you fail to do so is significant. Already the alcohol industry has been the focus of the President’s attention. Do you want to be next?

With very little respect and virtually no regards.

The Consumer Watchdog team

This week’s stars!
  • Brian from Apache Spur at Riverwalk in Gaborone for being terrific at his job.
  • Minkie from First Card at FNB for being really helpful with a problem and going out of her way to try and sort it.

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