Monday, 16 May 2011


Some years ago I employed someone to help me work on a project with a major client. This was a person I’d briefly worked with before and thought I knew well enough to take the big step of employing him. He flew all the way out from Europe and I got him somewhere to live, lent him a car and helped out financially until we could start charging the customer for his time.

To begin with things went well. He had a remarkably gifted tongue, charmed all the customers and rapidly became very popular. I have no problem with that. Unlike some people I’ve known I find it immensely rewarding when people like my team members, it makes me feel good for recruiting them.

But things went sour fairly soon. It turned out that he was what the Irish refer to as a “gobshite”. “Gob” means “to talk” and the rest you can work out for yourself. He was remarkably skilled at talking, charming and seducing but that’s where his skills ended. The first warning sign was some basic mistakes in the work he did. The second was when I heard from a colleague who worked for another company that he had approached them and asked to work for them instead. Time for action. I wrote him a formal letter telling him to cut it out.

Later I found out more. He’d been using our email system to communicate with people for business purposes and then I saw some of the emails he’d sent out customers. A history of lies and distortions and serious breaches of confidentiality.

That was the final straw. I fired him the next day.

What he’d seemed to misunderstand is that in a small business community like Gaborone, nobody has any secrets. Word spreads very quickly when you’re up to no good in business. He’d previously worked for large organisations in large places and presumably had been able to get away with his tricks for longer. After this was all over I mentioned the experience to a former colleague overseas who’d worked with him. “If only you’d asked me first” I was told, “he’s a nutter.” It turns out I wasn’t the first victim of the gobshite.

But this is history, it’s all in the past. Well it was until last week when someone sent me a link to a careers website where he’s posted his CV. Just one entry refers to his time in Botswana and it’s startling how little truth is there. He doesn’t name the company he worked for, claims credit for areas he never work in and (OK, not surprisingly) neglects to point out that he was fired for misconduct and ejected from the country.

So I’ve been thinking about liars a lot this week. It started with my lying former employee but then it continued with other people and companies with a loose connection to the truth.

We recently heard from a reader who bought some furniture in SA last August and used her usual shipping company to bring the goods home to Botswana. Unfortunately the truck on which they were transporting the goods crashed, destroying all of her furniture. Now of course this company would have had insurance, don’t you think? Who knows. Since August they’ve been giving our reader a mixture of excuses and the silent treatment. Eventually they asked us to get in touch and that’s when I think we started getting some lies.

The shipping company wrote to the reader saying:
“We are not willing to take liability of this shipment as we were not aware of the existence of that shipment on our vehicle that had the accident … only the driver and the operations manager knew about the shipment being on board the vehicle … we are not liable for the loss of this shipment.”
Not good enough I’m afraid. It’s not the reader’s fault that your company is so undisciplined that your staff are running a business within a business. Your truck was carrying her furniture and your truck crashed and destroyed her furniture. Pay up or else.

Another reader was in touch about something that seemed absolutely simple, almost trivial. He went to a store and bought a 1.2m cable to connect his laptop to his TV. Should be simple you might think. Unfortunately he simply couldn’t get it to stretch far enough from his TV and eventually found out why. It wasn’t 1.2m long. In fact it was barely a metre long. Those missing 20cm made all the difference.

When he did the obvious, and correct, thing, and take it back to the store for a replacement he was apparently first asked “If you thought it was short why did you open the packet? You could have measured it first.” Quite how you measure a cable before unpacking it is beyond me but that’s not the point. The store sold him something with a particular specification (it clearly said that the cable was 1.2m long on the packaging) and they failed to deliver that.

Let’s overlook the simple breach of contract and concentrate on the store’s breach of Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001 which state that:
“Any supplier who offers a commodity or service to a consumer fails to meet minimum standards and specifications if … the commodity sold … does not match any sample or description given to the consumer.”
When he spoke to the store manager he apparently said “We have a two week returns policy”. Well, that’s fine, but only if the consumer voluntarily, freely and (most importantly) knowingly agreed to that. If not then the store’s 2-week return policy is a nonsense.

I won’t say that the store was “lying” but they clearly seem to have lost their connection with truth, justice and the Botswana way. They should do something about that, don’t you think?

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