Thursday, 14 April 2011

A legacy

My very good friend Dave Williams died recently. It seems that despite what his family and friends sometimes feel, there were actually some people who didn’t know him. It’s hard to believe that someone as out-going and approachable, someone who so enjoyed meeting people, someone as generous as he was, wasn’t known by everyone.

Despite missing him terribly it’s not his family and friends I feel sorry for. Instead my sympathy is for those of you who didn’t know Dave. Those of us who knew him were the lucky ones, we had the opportunity to spend time with him, those who didn’t are the ones who should be mourning their lost opportunity.

One of Consumer Watchdog’s little secrets is the number of people that provide free, anonymous advice. They all prefer to stay anonymous, none of them is seeking gratitude or recognition, they just want to help with specialist advice they might have. Dave was a great example of this. He was the lawyer we turned to whenever we needed to understand a piece of law, an opinion on how best to advise a consumer or even just someone to help us mull over a situation.

I last saw him a couple of weeks ago to pick his brains about things. We’d had a number of complaints from readers that I wanted him to consider. They were all fairly straightforward and I thought my understanding of the law was ok but when you have a friendly attorney who’s happy to chat over a coffee or two it’s worth checking.

He was able to confirm, for instance that a national utility company cannot enforce a bill for P166 that they suddenly delivered to a consumer 13 years late. There are legal limits to how late a bill can be delivered. We also spoke about the marvellous “in duplum” rule that states that:
“it is unlawful to recover interest equal to or more than the capital sum upon which interest had accrued.”
That’s in quotes because that was said in a ruling by Judge Dow at the High Court in Lobatse on 18th August 2008. So it’s law, geddit?

So the loan shark who recently demanded a total repayment of over P10,000 from a consumer who had originally borrowed a mere P1,000 isn’t going to get her money. Lawyers, magistrates and judges all agree on that so loan sharks better stop trying it.

One of Dave’s particular passions was combating illegal debt collection. He’d spent a lot of time trying to stop debt collectors adding enormous and unenforceable fees to the debts they collected. His ambition was to stop this happening forever. You can rest assured that we’ll continue this in his name.

Another of his genuine passions was getting the law closer to the people it protects. Dave was one of the key players in developing our new Legal Aid mechanism that will give the poorest and least fortunate people access to legal protection. When this system finally becomes available it will Dave Williams that deserves our thanks.

Unfortunately Dave’s passing leaves us with a gap in our arsenal. We no longer have an astonishingly generous, friendly and supportive lawyer on call to offer consumers advice. Is anyone prepared to volunteer to take his place?

We can offer you many things if you offer to help. We can promise you complete anonymity, an absolute absence of recognition and no fame or fortune at all, just the knowledge that you’re helping consumers who have been abused. And perhaps the occasional breakfast on us. Any volunteers?

When I spoke to Dave the first time about helping us in this way I made him an offer. I promised him I’d never tell a single joke about lawyers. You’re welcome to, he said, just so long as I understood he’d double his fees if I did. Seeing as he’d just agreed never to charge us I wasn’t too worried but I kept to my side of the bargain.

But now he’s gone that obligation is lifted. Until we get another friendly attorney like Dave I think I’ll pass on a lawyer joke each week.

Did you hear that they’re using lawyers in laboratories instead of rats these days? It seems that there are certain things even rats won’t do.

A celebration

Some months ago we reported on a sports store up north that sold a customer a pair of shoes that very quickly started to disintegrate. When he complained he was told that it was all his fault, he shouldn’t have gone dancing in this P499 pair of Levi’s “fashion shoes”.

Needless to say both the customer and we were shocked. The store later got extremely angry when we reported on the story, threatening us with hellfire and damnation unless we retracted the story. We didn’t, it’s still there on our blog for all to see.

Realising that the store didn’t really care I called Levi’s in South Africa and explained the situation. They were as appalled as we were and expressed their concern that he had been treated so badly by the store. Without the slightest hassle or hesitation they dispatched a brand new, better pair of shoes to the customer, entirely for free.

I heard recently from him and he’s delighted both with the shoes and the response from Levi’s. So are we.

So this week we celebrate Levi’s as a company smart enough to know that for the price of a pair of shoes they’ve just got a fan for life and showed themselves as a company that knows how to treat customers.

Unlike a certain chain of stores.

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