Friday 12 June 2009

Dear Doctor

No, for the first time in a while I’m not going make a fuss about traditional doctors. Obviously I still have very strong feelings about them and I still think that many of them are criminal scumbags who threaten the health and the lives of our family, friends and neighbours. I still think that action should be taken to curb their activities and to minimise the threat they pose to us. I still think this is a consumer issue because they’re taking our money for their ridiculous herbs and juices.

The good news is that we had some feedback from the authorities regarding the infamous “Dr” Jabu, the one who claimed to have a cure for AIDS, epilepsy, asthma and cancer. We wrote an open letter in this column to the Commissioner of Police in April regarding Jabu suggesting that he was so dangerous that action was required. We felt that his products and services were so likely to persuade a desperate person to abandon the treatments that work and instead take Jabu’s juices, that the authorities should intervene. And they did! We got a letter from the Office of the President thanking us and politely informing us that the Police and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship have dealt with Jabu. They didn’t say exactly what they had done but I suspect he’s bothering victims in another country by now!

No, this week I’m talking to a real doctor and not even a doctor of medicine. This is another one of Consumer Watchdog’s open letters, this one to the Attorney General.

Dear Dr Molokomme

At Consumer Watchdog we believe that the Attorney General’s Chambers has a number of opportunities to take actions that will deliver great benefits to the consumer of our country.

I feel that many of the problems the consumers of Botswana face are made worse by their lack of knowledge of the laws of our country. Most consumers have no idea even whether they are protected and certainly have no knowledge of what rights they possess.

In a survey we undertook last year we found that less than 20% of consumers have any idea what protections they are afforded by our Consumer Protection laws. Worryingly I suspect that this is probably the case about our laws in general. I suspect that there is considerable ignorance of our laws amongst the public and I think this exposes our people to abuse and undermines our sense of national pride.

The solution is education. We firmly believe that it would be uniquely empowering if our children were taught about the laws of Botswana in schools. Imagine the confidence and sense of national pride it would give them if they graduated from school already possessing a basic understanding of our constitution, the Penal Code and the various laws that mean something to consumers every day. Having children I also know how exciting children at certain ages find these issues. With their simple, uncorrupted view of natural justice they find stories of laws being used, of abuses being corrected and of villains being caught and punished thrilling.

Of course not all of our laws are terribly interesting but kids would find the Consumer Protection and Food Control Regulations, our Constitution and, above all, the Penal Code fascinating.

Of course I understand that this is the task of the Ministry of Education and not that of the Attorney General’s Chambers. However their task would be made much simpler if you would permit open and easy access to our laws. Put simply we believe that you should allow access to our laws on the internet.

We know this is possible. In 2006 the laws were put online for a few days but were very quickly withdrawn. The website used ( still exists but anyone outside of Government who visits this web site sees the following message:

“The online format of the laws, in its present form, is only intended for use within the Government network. The issue of making Botswana Legislation available through the Internet is currently under active consideration. It is hope to make accurate and up-to-date electronic versions of the laws accessible to the public through the Internet in the forseeable future. We sincerely apologise for any misunderstanding and inconvenience caused to the public.”

I respectfully suggest that the time has come for this “active consideration” to end and for the people of Botswana to be allowed to see their laws freely and easily. I think it is important to note that the laws do actually belong to the people, not to lawyers, Parliament or Government. They are OUR laws and we deserve access to them.

The great news is that our laws don’t require a legal education to understand them. They are written so well, so simply that all that is needed to understand them is a basic command of English. When we’ve shown them to students, teenagers and even a few bright younger children they have been able to understand them. That is a tribute to your drafting team but it seems a great waste for this simplicity not to be appreciated by the general public.

Although it seems like a small thing, something that could be achieved within hours, making our laws accessible to the public and to children in school in particular would be a dramatic contribution towards our nation’s development and the sense of pride consumers would possess.

As always our information and our efforts are at your disposal.

The Consumer Watchdog Team

This week’s stars
  • William and Kelebogile from Game in Gaborone for outstanding service.
  • Thato Marumo, from BTC BroBe division, for being unbelievably professional and courteous.
  • Ontiretse Lebang from Francistown City Council for making things happen and showing that council employees can be as good as anyone else.

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