Saturday, 27 September 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I bought a dual SIM card cellphone for P1,250 from Cellular Electronics in Blue Jacket Street in Francistown on 30th July.  Two days later it stopped working so I took it back on 2nd August.  When I got there they told me that they didn’t offer any guarantees and they weren’t going to help me.

What can I do? 

Some stores just don’t understand their legal obligations.

Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that suppliers have failed to meet minimum standards if they sell something that “is not of merchantable quality”.  That means what they sell you must be “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”.  Cookers must cook, refrigerators must refrigerate and cellphones be capable of making phone calls.  Simple as that.

They must also do these things for a suitable period.  Of course you can’t expect a cooker to last a lifetime and certainly nobody expects a cellphone to go on for years and years but it must surely last longer than 2 days.  They have to deal with this situation, the law says so.

However, if there is an exception to this rule.

If there was a) a very large sign in the store that says there is no warranty on the goods they sell, b) your attention was drawn to this BEFORE you paid your money and c) you “specifically consented to it” (that’s from Section 17 (1) (f) of the Regulations) then there truly is no warranty.

But that didn’t happen, did it?

We phoned Cellular Electronics to investigate.  In one phone call they confirmed that they offer no guarantees.  In another call they said there is a 1 month warranty which is still not good enough.  They seem confused.  We’re not.  It’s very simple.

Don’t buy things from stores that ignore their legal obligations.

Friday, 19 September 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

I bought a Telefunken TV and home theatre for P1899.99 from Lewis Furniture in Jwaneng.  From the beginning I had problems.  

When they delivered it had no box and remote control and I had to fight with them until they brought a new one.

Some months later I noticed that the Home theatre wasn’t working properly and a terrible sound was coming from inside the player.

I took it back to Lewis and they told me to come back after two weeks.  When I went back they told me had found a CD stuck inside the player which wasn’t mine.  They also told me they couldn’t repair it and they didn’t have a replacement for me.  They said I should take back every part of the home theatre and that they would reduce my repayments accordingly.

When I saw the details it was clear that they were only reducing the repayments by the price of the home theatre but I was left the interest and extras that relating to the home theatre system.

What can I do? 

You can tell them that their response wasn’t good enough!  If they are taking back the home theatre because it wasn’t working and they couldn’t repair it and they couldn’t give you a replacement then you deserve a full refund.  A FULL refund.  They have failed to deliver a product of merchantable quality so there should be no nonsense.

Where did the CD they found come from?  If it wasn’t yours is it possible they in fact sold you something that was second-hand?  That would be a much more serious breach of the rules.

We spoke to Lewis and they have agreed to give you a replacement home theatre at no extra charge.

UPDATE #1: Lewis claim categorically that the player was new and that a CD wasn’t necessarily found in this consumer’s player.

UPDATE #2: We heard back from the consumer and Lewis have indeed delivered a very nice new home theatre system.  Apparently they weren’t too happy that we got involved though!

Which country is this?

Do we sometimes forget that we are an independent nation?

I know that in these days of globalisation no nation is entirely separated from the rest of the world but the world DOES still consist of nations with their own laws and Botswana is one of them.

I also know, we all have to understand, that in economic terms we are a fairly small nation.  We may produce lots of diamonds and have lots of cash in the national bank and we may be a big country geographically but our very small population means we’ll never be a consumer on the same scale as places like South Africa.  Our population doesn’t even match that of a province in South Africa.

Actually that’s not correct.  I always thought that was the case until, as I was writing this article, I actually went and checked.  The 2001 South African census showed the total population of SA as almost 45 million people.  Most provinces have a population between about 3 and 9 million people.  However the Northern Cape has a population of only 822,000, only a half of our population.  Remember that fact, I’ll come back to his later.

This week I saw a leaflet from HomeChoice.  This describes all sorts of bedroom furnishings, all of which are obviously very difficult to resist.

A couple of problems though.  Firstly, like most suppliers, the goods they offer are for purchase either for cash or on credit.  No surprises yet.  Also HomeChoice neglect to state the total credit price of each item, contrary to the requirements of the Control of Goods (Marking of Goods) Regulations.  But then that’s what most stores do.  Despite being told repeatedly they seem to have ignored it.

But, for once, that isn’t my concern.  The thing that struck me was that everything about this leaflet was South African.  All the prices shown were in Rand.  All the contact details given were South African.  The only concession made to those of us not lucky enough to be in South Africa was a telephone number which was, of course, South African.

Part of the leaflet was an order form.  This requires you to give HomeChoice various pieces of information like your name and address but also your bank, employment and income details.

What interested me most of all was a very small comment on the leaflet that said “HomeChoice complies with the National Credit Act”.  This of course is the South African National Credit Act.  I’m not sure that what they claim is perfectly correct.  I’ve got a copy of the NCA and the subsequent National Credit Regulations and Section 21 (3) of the Regulations states that “If an advertisement… discloses a monthly instalment… the advertisement must also disclose… (the) total amount of all instalments”.  Unfortunately HomeChoice don’t do this.

But there’s a bigger issue.  The NCA is South African.  It’s not a Botswana law.  We are in Botswana.  I understand that HomeChoice doesn’t actually have stores in Botswana and is mail order only.  But the people we’ve spoken to paid HomeChoice in Pula.  In Botswana.  So HomeChoice is operating in Botswana.  Our laws apply.  Yes, the NCA applies as well because, as a South African company, HomeChoice had to register as a credit provider before they could sell on credit to South Africans and that registration and the Regulations apply even when they sell to us as well.

More importantly this is Botswana.  Let me put this plainly.


Our laws apply as well.  Nowhere in the leaflet does it say that you renounce the protection of our laws.  There IS a reference on the leaflet to the Terms and Conditions which are available online on the HomeChoice web site.  Right at the very end they say “This agreement shall be governed in all respects by South African law”.  Fine, that’s terrific but HomeChoice shouldn’t forget that we are in Botswana.  The agreement can be a South African one but their conduct must accord to OUR standards and laws.

Another thing.  The leaflet gives prices in SA Rand.  What about the VAT?  The leaflet says “Prices include VAT for sales in RSA”.  So does this mean that the prices do NOT include VAT if sold outside SA?  Does that mean that HomeChoice will knock off the 14% VAT before they sell us the products?  What exactly ARE the prices they are offering in Botswana?

Yet another thing.  As well as all the other fantastic offers the leaflet also says that any purchaser is covered by their Customer Care Plan which offers you “delivery protection”.  This protects you against “incorrect delivery”.  We don’t need that.  The Consumer Protection Regulations as well as simple contract law give you that anyway.

Enough.  I can find lots of other things in the HomeChoice leaflet that concern me but I’ve run out of space.

Back to the original point.  We are NOT insignificant.  We are bigger than the smallest South African province.  More importantly we are an independent nation.  If South African companies want to come to Botswana and sell us things then they should behave the way WE require them to.  All we are asking is to be treated the same way occupants of a small South African province are treated.  Is that too much to ask?

Don’t forget that Consumer Watchdog is back on air.  Every Thursday morning between 7:15am and 8:00am listen to DumaFM to the all new, improved Consumer Watchdog show.  And some SERIOUSLY good music.

Finally, an appeal.  Can you think of a song we should play on the show that’s relevant to consumer rights?  We started last week with R.E.S.P.E.C.T. by the wonderful Aretha Franklin.  What do YOU think we should play?

This week’s stars!
  • Mpho at Chutneys Restaurant in Gaborone for always being friendly.
  • Mavis from FNB Kgale Hill Branch for preventing a problem happening rather than fixing it afterwards.
  • The entire team from Mochudi Engen filling station from a regular customer for consistently great service.
  • Shadrack from New Capitol Cinemas for a very good response to a problem.
  • Mr Sola at the main Post Office in Gaborone for caring for his customers.

Friday, 12 September 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

In July I borrowed P5,000 from a loan shark. In late August I came into some money and wanted to repay the loan. I contacted them and asked how much it would cost to settle the loan and was horrified to hear that they said I now owed them over P8,000. 

How can this be? What can I do? 

I’m sorry but there’s not very much you can do.

Most small scale loan sharks charge 30% interest each month. 30% doesn’t sound very much but that’s almost a third of the amount you borrowed every month, on top of the loan.

You borrowed P5,000 at the beginning of July so in July they would have charged you 30% of P5,000 which is P1,500. In August they would have either charged you another P1,500 in interest or if you failed to pay in July they will have charged you 30% of the total outstanding amount which would have come to another P1,950. Add P5,000 + P1,500 + P1,950 and you get P8,450. Whatever repayments you’ve made you are going to have to pay them an additional P3,000 on top of your loan.

When we got in touch you told us that they didn’t give you a copy of your loan agreement so we couldn’t check what the repayment should be. This is a very serious failure by the loan shark but also by you. It’s astonishingly reckless to borrow that sort of money and not understand what you were meant to repay.

The lesson is to avoid loan sharks if you can possibly afford to. Your bank will always give you better advice than a loan shark. If you must go elsewhere then at least go to one of the legitimate micro-lenders, the ones who can afford high-quality advertisements in national newspapers. Small loan sharks are to be avoided like sharks!

The gloves are off

Honestly, I DO try to be nice.  We all do.  The entire Consumer Watchdog team are good, generous, well-meaning people.  We are kind to children, the elderly and small harmless animals.  We run Consumer Watchdog entirely for free, charge nobody for the time we spend investigating scandals and take nothing from it other than a sense of satisfaction when we fix something.

We are fairly tolerant when we hear of the mistakes, cock-ups and accidents that happen sometimes.  We always give stores and suppliers an opportunity to fix things when we alert them to problems we’ve heard about.  Luckily the majority of stores do this.  Need an example?

Last year we reported widely on the Control of Goods (Marking of Goods) Regulations that demand that a store states the full credit price of an item when it’s advertised.  Alongside the cash price they are required to give the full credit price as well.

We wrote to all the stores who sell on credit and almost instantly we got a call from Ellerines.  Their manager was superb, truly superb.  He genuinely seemed upset that they weren’t sticking to the law.  He promised to fix is as soon as possible and he did.  Ellerines and their partner company Beares now advertise the full credit price in all their advertisements.

Good for you Ellerines.  Good for you Beares.  We couldn’t have asked for more.

But what about the others?  What about all the other furniture stores?  Have they come back to us and done the same?  Have they even done it without telling us because they were embarrassed to be caught out?


Every other store has ignored us.  Well that’s no surprise is it?  Who are we after all?  We’re just a voluntary group with a newspaper column or two.  We have no legal power or authority.  It really doesn’t matter if they ignore us.

However it DOES matter if they ignore the law.  It matters even more if they ignore the people and their rights.  It demonstrates what they think about us.  It shows very clearly that they don’t consider us worthy of respect.  They disrespect us and they don’t care that we know it.

So what can we do about it?

In the past we were restrained, ever so reasonable and incredibly courteous.  Not any more.  Every so often there comes a time when the gloves have to come off.  No more Mr Nice Guy.  

We’ll be writing one more time to the stores that haven’t changed their advertising.  We’ll explain, in simple terms, what the law demands of them.  We’ll explain what they need to do to abide by the law.  We’ll explain, just one more time, that the public deserves their respect.  If, after this last reminder, they fail to do the right thing we will name them.

On Wednesday 1st October we will post on our web site the names and contact details of every chain of stores that has either not responded or has responded but has failed to come up with a solution to their disrespect.  We’ll post copies of the letters we’ve sent, the dates they were delivered and every response we’ve received.  Then you, the readers of Mmegi, will know everything we know.  You can then make a decision, next time you are shopping for furniture, which store has earned your respect, your consideration and your money.

This is just the beginning.  The time has come for more openness.  We’ll also be starting to report in the details of problems we see.  The starting point is contracts.  Contracts are obviously an essential part of business.  They explain who has to do what, how they have to do it and when.  Business can’t exist without them.  We have a series of contracts with our customers that explain what we have to do, what they have to do and how we’re all going to get along.  This is how business works.

So why do so many stores use contracts to deceive their customers?  Why do they go out of their way to use terminology that confuses, confounds and deceives their customers rather than making things clear?  Is it perhaps because they actually don’t want us to understand them?  Could be.

Why would a company include a section in their contract that talks about the consumer making an “irrevocable offer” to join their scheme when what they actually mean is “lifetime contract”?  Why would another company include a section that says you agree that you have inspected the goods you’ve bought when in fact they haven’t even been shipped yet?  Why would yet another company have a bit in their contract that says that when you sign it you confirm you understood every word and that you promise never to say you didn’t?

I’ll tell you why.  Because they want to deceive you.  They want your money and they don’t really care how they get it from you.  They want you caught in a contract so they can drag every last thebe out of you.

Like I said, no more My Nice Guy.  Obviously we’ll continue to praise the many companies, in fact the majority of companies, that DO care, that WILL treat you fairly, the ones that DO respect the law and their customer.  These guys will bask in the radiance of our benign gaze.  The others?  They can go to Hell.


Good News.  Or Bad News.  You decide.  Consumer Watchdog is back on air.  Every Thursday morning between 7:15am and 8:00am listen to DumaFM to the all new, improved, No more Mr Nice Guy, Consumer Watchdog program.  


This week’s stars!
  • Khumo from Air Botswana for being terrific, helpful, friendly and a great ambassador for our national airline.
  • Kgomotso Molefe from BURS for excellent service while helping a customer.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

In June I went to Chobe Design and ordered a love nest in black.  I was advised that this would take around 2 weeks to make and I paid them a deposit of P1,200.

A couple of weeks later they called me to say it was ready and I went over to collect it.  When I got there I found that it had been made in beige, not black.  I told them that this was not acceptable and asked for my deposit to be refunded but they refused.

What can I do? 

Firstly you can stick up for your rights.  It’s very simple.  You ordered a beige item from them and they offered you a black one.  It’s not as if they were very slightly different shades of the same colour, beige and black are completely different.  You have every right to reject the item offered, cancel the deal and demand your deposit back.

Chobe Design failed to honour their obligations under Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations because the item did “not match any sample or description” they gave you, under Section 13 (1) (d) (ii) when they claimed that the product would be of a “particular style”, under Section 15 (1) (a) because they did not render their service “with reasonable care and skill” and under Section 15 (1) (e) because they didn’t refund your deposit.

We contacted Chobe Design to see what they had to say for themselves.  The first manager we spoke to said he knew nothing of the case and couldn’t help.  The second manager said he would see the customer to see what could be done.  We took the opportunity to explain to him some of the details of the Consumer Protection Regulations and that this story would be featured in The Voice.

She got her deposit back!

Awards warning

There was a very funny story in the Los Angeles Times a couple of weeks ago.  This exposed some of the fakery and “lack of foundation” behind many industry award schemes.

Every year Wine Spectator magazine awards prizes to restaurants around the world for the quality of the wine they serve.  This year they gave an “Award of Excellence” to a very fancy restaurant in Milan in Italy called Osteria L’Intrepido.  

So far so good?

No.  There’s a slight problem and the people at Wine Spectator magazine are very embarrassed.  The reason?

This very high class restaurant with the fantastic wine selection simply doesn’t exist.  What’s more the special “reserve wine list” this fake restaurant offered actually consisted mostly of the worst wines Wine Spectator magazine had ever reviewed.

In fact the whole fake had been set up by a wine writer called Robin Goldstein.  He had become suspicious about how the magazine selected the award-winning restaurants so decided to conduct a small experiment.

He set up a web site for the fake restaurant, managed to get a Milanese telephone number and then contacted the magazine to see what he had to do to get his restaurant reviewed.  Actually it wasn’t that difficult.  They didn’t need to check out his credentials, they didn’t need to taste his delicious (and extremely fictitious menu) or even taste his wine.  They apparently didn’t even need to read his wine list and notice that it contained the stuff they had previously said was so terrible.  No, all he had to do to get his restaurant an award from them was to give them cash.  Specifically US$250 which is around P1,600.

So let’s get this clear.  All he had to do to get an award from a prestigious wine magazine was to pay for it.  

Of course when he revealed his deception to the wine world the magazine was very cross.  They removed the award from their web site and tried a bit of damage limitation.  They claimed to have phoned the restaurant many times but in fact the only message that was ever left on the answering machine attached to the number in Milan was an invitation from the magazine to buy some advertising space, after the non-existent restaurant had already been given the award.

When the LA Times did the maths they realised what a hugely profitable scam this was.  Around 4,500 restaurants apply for the awards every year and the vast majority “win”.  That’s over US$1 million in income for the magazine for presumably almost no research at all.

So what’s my point?  What does this have to do with us in Botswana?

Well, you only have to look around and you see exactly the same thing happening here.  I know of at least three “awards” that our local companies get that work in exactly the same way.  All you have to do is buy a subscription to a dubious magazine, or buy a large booking at a function or simply give them a huge chunk of used bank notes and you get a prize.  

This isn’t “winning an award”, it’s “buying an award”.   This isn’t anything like an award.  Cast your mind back to school and ask whether the kids that got the prizes at the end of the year had to pay for them?  Did their parents have to give the head-teacher a donation first?  

Think about the recent Olympics.  Did the gold-medal winners have to “induce” the judges to give them top marks?

Of course not.  Real awards are won solely on merit.  Real awards are won by people who have achieved marvellous things.  Real awards go only to those who deserve them.

The lesson is to be sceptical about awards.  In fact not just about awards, consumers should be sceptical about everything they hear.  Don’t believe a store when it tells you that they have the best deals.  Don’t believe the charlatan herbalist who calls himself “Dr” when he’s no more of a doctor than I am.  Don’t believe the TV evangelist who is coming to town who calls himself “Bishop Dr Something or Other” when he made himself a Bishop and got his doctorate from a very dubious and unaccredited diploma mill.

So who can you trust when it comes to awards and prizes?

Well, to begin with you can trust us.  We are just starting to plan this year’s Consumer Watchdog Birthday Party.  This will be the third party we’ve held at which we get to celebrate the customer service stars of Botswana.  These are the people YOU have celebrated and who are mentioned at the end of these columns.  These stars all receive invitations to the party along with their MD or CEO to be celebrated in front of the nation.  We’ve been privileged on the last two occasions to have the former President attend to help us recognise that as a nation we CAN deliver the very best service.

The key thing though is that nobody has to pay to be celebrated by Consumer Watchdog.  All people have to do is deliver excellent service and then for us to be told about it.  The stars don’t pay, their companies don’t pay.  Not a single thebe.

It’s up to you.  All it takes is for consumers to celebrate anyone who delivers excellent service.  Drop us an email, give us a call and we’ll make sure that they get to be celebrated here in Mmegi and in front of the nation.  

For free.

This week’s stars!
  • Tiny from Orange at Trade Centre for outstanding service, excellent product knowledge and being very helpful.
  • Akrum from Furniture Paradise for “knowing customer care”.
  • Gaone at Game at Game City in Gaborone for “making service personal”.
  • Tamatie at Ministry of Local Government Recruitment Section for outstanding customer service