Friday 28 August 2009

Where can you turn?

A friend asked me a few days ago where she could go to find out about consumer rights in Botswana.

Frankly I didn’t quite know how to answer. You might think that there would be a special section of the Government web site with a comprehensive description of all our rights but you’d be disappointed. It’s true that the Ministry of Trade & Industry has it’s own web site but, even if you’re feeling charitable, it’s basic.

There a section on it entitled Policy & Legislation which I thought would be a good start. Within that area there’s a link to a single article for the Department of Trade & Consumer Affairs. So far so good? Click on the link and then there’s another link called “Policy - DTCA”. Bear with me, we’re almost there, OK?

Finally you get to the right page and it has a description that reads:

“Short Secription Here Short Secription Here Short Secription Here Short Secription Here Short Secription Here Short Secription Here Short Secription Here Short Secription Here”.

No, that wasn’t either Mmegi or me going mad, that’s what the web site says. A little bit further down you get to the policy they promised. What is it? An application for an industrial licence. Wow.

Elsewhere on the MTI site there’s a section called FAQ. No, that’s not anything rude, it stands for Frequently Asked Questions. The first question I was tempted to ask is where’s the bloody information but I wasn’t answered. I finally found the one page of information that might actually help a consumer. It answered questions like “Who is a consumer?” The MTI answer is, in case you are wondering, as follows:

“As long as you buy goods and services for personal use and not for resale, you are a consumer.”

Again, wow. It doesn’t get much better.

Much as I tried I couldn’t actually find anything useful for consumers on the MTI web site. Other than pearls of wisdom about keeping your receipts, remembering to breathe out after breathing in and not sticking your head in a vat of boiling oil there wasn’t anything that would help the average person who wanted to learn a little more.

I’ve also seen the occasional piece in the Daily News but again, I have to say that they’ve never actually contained anything that struck me as useful and where can you go to find them today? They’re not to be found anywhere on the Internet as far as I can see so they’re not much use in the long term.

Perhaps you could check out the actual laws relating to Consumer Protection yourself? Well, you could go to the Government printers and buy a copy if you were feeling energetic and patient. You certainly can’t see them online yet. They were online for a few days in 2006 but they haven’t been available since then. We heard from the Attorney General’s Chambers recently that they were working to have them back online soon which is excellent news but it’s not much help at the moment.

So where else can you turn?

Unfortunately, and I DO mean unfortunately, I can only think of one place you can go to learn a bit about your rights as a consumer in Botswana. Our web site.

We’ve done our best to make the Consumer Watchdog web site a source of interesting and above all useful information, a place where consumers can learn more about their rights and read tips on what to do when things go wrong.

For instance there’s a section specifically on scams. It describes the crooks and conmen we’ve encountered and dissects some of their crafty schemes to part us from our hard-earned money. There are even recordings of some of the criminal charlatans selling cures for cancer, fertility problems and, yes, even for AIDS.

You’ll also find a variety of Shopper’s Guides that cover all sorts of issues. These were designed for you to read before you go shopping, before you buy anything, before you sign a contract so you do so well-prepared. There’s even a Shopper’s Guide specifically about our Consumer Protection laws.

There’s a section devoted to Store Credit Schemes explaining some of the scandalous behaviour of certain stores, the stores that ignore the law, that ignore our rights and frankly don’t give a damn about their customers.

Please, if you are Internet connected, take a look at the web site and let us know what you think. If you think there’s something we should put up there let us know. If you have a story you think other consumers could learn from then let us know and we’ll cover it online. If there’s a lesson you think your neighbours should learn then help us spread the word.

You can also comment on any of our published material and a whole lot of other comments on the Consumer Watchdog blog. Just visit the web site and you’ll see a link there.

So please let us know what you think, give us feedback, post a comment on the blog. It’s all entirely free, all it costs you is a few minutes of your time and if you have a lesson to share with the rest of us, who knows, you might save someone some money and heartache!

This week’s stars
  • Khumo, yet again from Air Botswana for being brilliant.
  • Beverly from Nandos at Game City, yet again for being wonderful.
  • Marnie from the hair salon at the Grand Palm for not taking any nonsense from a stroppy customer.

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