Friday 26 August 2005

Consumer Watchdog Shows Off a Bit More!

Last week we showed off a bit about some of our recent consumer success stories. Sorry but this week we’re going to show off some more!

We know that it sounds like we’re boasting but we hear that mentioning Consumer Watchdog these days seems to have a tremendous effect on suppliers. People keep telling us that when they have a problem they just have to mention Watchdog and suddenly the shop owner becomes cooperative!

OK, so this makes us feel good but isn’t it a little sad that it takes threats of public exposure to make things happen? Shop owners, suppliers, bank and the rest really should be giving us excellent care because it’s the right thing to do, not just because they’re afraid of some embarrassment. Don’t they also realise that word spreads? Every supplier surely knows by now that for every good story customers tell their friends and neighbours they tell 10 bad ones?

The plain fact of the matter is that good customer service makes a supplier profitable. Look how busy Primi Piatti is every evening, even during the quiet times of the month. Then look at their neighbours where sometimes you’re lucky to see a single table occupied.

The crashing ATM

We were contacted by Ms X who tried to withdraw P1,600 from an ATM when it suddenly shut down. The machine told her that the money hadn’t been taken from her account but later she learnt that the money had in fact been deducted from her balance. When she contacted the bank she was told that it would take almost 2 weeks to credit her with the amount she hadn’t actually withdrawn. She contacted us and we made some calls. We spoke to the no. 2 in the bank and he assured us that it would be fixed. Less than an hour later the money was back in her account.

The lesson? When you are clearly in the right, don’t give up! Go up the line of command until you reach someone who can take decisions!

The faulty football boots

Mr Y contacted us about football boots he purchased. Within a week one of the studs on the boots came off. He took them back to the store who replaced them pretty quickly. However when he used the replacement boots three studs came off!

When he complained he was told that not all goods were guaranteed (yes, we know that’s nonsense) and he got the usual run around from the store. They said that until the boot manufacturer had responded the store couldn’t possibly consider a refund. By this stage Consumer Affairs were involved but they couldn’t seem to get things resolved either.

As usual we made a few calls, applied a little pressure to the store and literally within minutes we heard back from the store that the original manufacturer had accepted that there was a fault with the whole batch of boots. Mr Y got his refund in total.

The lessons? Well, firstly even the best manufacturers sometimes get a bad batch of products. However good manufacturers confess this pretty quickly and fix it because they have their good name to protect.

The next lesson is that consumers shouldn’t be distracted from a simple truth. The store from which you buy something is the party with whom you have a contract. Don’t take any of the “Well, I’ll need to contact the manufacturer” nonsense. You bought your goods from Store X. It’s Store X who has to fix the problem.

The patriotic bus company

We heard from a consumer who wanted to congratulate Seabelo for their great service between Gaborone and Johannesburg. However she was very critical of the general quality of service at the Jo’burg end of the route and specifically in the treatment of a passenger who was returning from surgery in South Africa.

We contacted Seabelo and Mr Thambo here in Gaborone said he really appreciated the patriotism of the passenger and that they don’t take their customers for granted. Apparently they were already aware of some problems down in Jo’burg and as a result they have appointed a new Supervisor who starts on 1st September.

The lesson? Let’s stick up for local businesses, particularly when they are already on top of problems and are taking measures to fix them.

For the record

Nobody has mentioned this to us yet but Watchdog wants to make something clear. In all of our work with suppliers and customers we never accept a freebie. Not ever.

Consumer Watchdog is sponsored by Business & Enterprise Solutions Botswana (Pty) Ltd. We make absolutely no money from the Watchdog. It’s just one of our ways of putting something back into the community.

Quite often suppliers we mention, particularly restaurants, very generously offer us a free drink or two for saying something nice. Much as we appreciate the friendly gesture we always politely decline. Much as we’d like something free we value our independence. However, we DO accept offers that we can pass on to our readers and the listeners to our weekly radio show on GabzFM. Best of all we love to pass on treats to our service stars. Every week when we mention a success we write to the person’s boss congratulating them and when we can, passing on anything donated to us to the stars themselves.

This week’s stars!

  • The entire call centre at Standard Chartered Bank in Gaborone for service with a smile.
  • Ntume at 25° East for such friendly service.
  • Pick N Pay at Riverwalk for not only compensating a consumer for produce that turned out to be bad but for cleaning the dish as well!
  • Lebo Morebodi of GabzFM. According to our reader she’s “friendly and bubbly”, “always willing to listen and go the extra mile” and is “an amazing person”.

Friday 19 August 2005

Consumer Watchdog Shows Off a Bit!

In the last couple of columns we’ve outlined a few things we think we as consumers deserve. We think we deserve a Consumer Protection law and as importantly in these electronic days, laws on Data Protection. You can see these and other articles again if you visit our website at, click on Consumer Watchdog and then on Mmegi Column.

This week we’d like to show off a little and report some of our recent successes.

The Education of a Bank Customer

In June Mr B called us because he’d had a number of problems with his Barclays account. He’d gone overdrawn as result of a misunderstanding regarding bank charges and as a result he’d had his account frozen and he couldn’t use his ATM card. We spoke to Barclays and they agreed to reinstate his account.

It turns out that Mr B, like a lot of customers, withdraws his entire salary on pay day. However when the bank later applies the monthly bank charges there’s no money left in the account and the customers then find themselves overdrawn. Then they get their facilities cut off. Of course when the next month’s salary is paid into the account some goes towards the overdraft and the customers find less than they expect in the account. This becomes a cycle with customers never seeing what they expect to see in their account.

Our success is that in conjunction with the bank we explained to Mr B that perhaps he should budget for the month in advance and only then withdraw what he actually needs. This may seem obvious but nobody had ever taken the time to explain this to Mr B. A little simple advice can go a long way!

We think that the lesson from this is clear. We really do need better consumer education. Banks should take the lead in explaining, in simple terms, how accounts work and should give real, practical advice to their customers. They should have clearly explained charges that we can all understand. Just as in a good restaurant the waiter is happy to explain the menu and find a meal that suits you, so should banks explain the options to their customers.

However we think that the community should take a lead here. Let’s use Kgotlas, churches and schools to get the message out. Surely every one of these gatherings is going to have a maths teacher with some spare time who can take the lead and become a community hero?

The Injured Shopper and the Two Good Samaritans

Also in June we heard about an incident in a local supermarket (we won’t name them - they know who they are!). During renovation work, some shelving was left in an aisle and pretty soon a senior citizen, Mrs M, tripped over it and injured herself. Eventually, and because of our first Good Samaritan (another shopper), she got some help and was taken to hospital.

Unfortunately the store in question has so far refused to take any responsibility for the incident. They tell us they’ve made an insurance claim but the victim has so far not seen a Thebe in compensation for the injury, inconvenience or travel costs to hospital. She certainly hasn’t had an apology and nor has she even had a phone call from the store to see how’s she’s doing.

Here comes the second Good Samaritan. Pick N Pay at Molapo Crossing in Gaborone heard the story and contacted us to see what they could do. They were appalled to hear that someone had been unfairly treated by a completely unconnected store and offered to help. They offered Mrs M a P250 voucher and invited her to come and shop with them instead.

Needless to say Mrs M is delighted at their generosity and had a great time spending her voucher at Pick N Pay!

The lesson from this story? Well, we think it’s a pretty strange state of affairs when a store can’t even fix it’s own problems and a total stranger steps in to fix things. However it’s also a reminder to us all that there really are some Good Samaritans out there. Some of them also happen to be pretty smart business types as well!

The Damaged Furniture and the Fantastic Recovery

In July Ms S called us to tell us the story of her mother’s furniture. In February 2004 she bought her mother a sofa and a table from FurnCity in Gaborone. However when it arrived at her mother’s place in Palapye it was already broken. Despite loads of phone calls nothing was done to fix the problem and tragically in November last year her mother passed away without ever being able to use the furniture. So Ms S was left paying for broken furniture for her deceased mother on a 2-year credit scheme!

We contacted FurnCity and Ben the manager told us he was very upset to hear what had happened. He made a few calls and within 2 days we had a response. Ben made sure the fixed sofa was delivered to Ms S, he cancelled the entire outstanding debt and gave her P1,000 in cash as an apology.

Now THAT is a recovery!

The lesson? Well, despite what we sometimes might think, a lot of store owners really are good people and will respond well if given the chance.

And even more good news!

Consumer Watchdog believes that as well as complaining, we should all celebrate success when we find it. This week we want to celebrate:

  • Tebogo and Joyce at Botswana Life for being friendly and offering solutions
  • Vera at FNB Industrial Branch for her tireless efforts and courteous service
  • All the guys at Pick N Pay Molapo Crossing for fixing someone else’s problem
  • Ben at FurnCity for really recovering from a problem very well indeed!

Purely in the interests of our readers Consumer Watchdog saw Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat again. There isn’t much time left so if you haven’t already got a ticket, beg, borrow or acquire one somehow!

Friday 12 August 2005

Some suggestions

In our column last week we proposed solutions to some of the problems we feel that consumers in Botswana face. Please forgive us our presumption but rather than just complain we feel that everyone has a responsibility to contribute towards solving problems. As motivational specialists say: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”.

We don’t claim that we have the answer to everything. Much of what we suggest is really just to stimulate a public debate. However we’re passionate about helping to solve some of the problems we all face.

Last week we suggested a number of specific things that we think would help. This included real, effective legislation that would protect consumers and help guarantee fair trade, fair credit and cooling-off periods for credit schemes or major purchases.

We also suggested two concrete things that Government could do that we think could really change the landscape for consumers. Firstly we feel that community-based lending mechanisms would take credit away from loan sharks and return to where it used to be: our communities.

Secondly we proposed that Government should establish Citizens Advice Bureaux where we could all get free, independent and expert advice on consumer law. How many of us can afford lawyers for minor issues?

This week we’d like to cover another area where consumers currently have little or no protection.

Data Protection

In our column on 22nd July we covered some situations in which we felt that data held on us was not well enough protected. In particular we reported a case where personal credit information was disclosed to an unauthorised party.

We suggested in that article that we need effective Data Protection laws that will force organisations who hold data on us to guarantee that it is correct and to be forced to correct it when it’s not. Such laws should also cover how exactly the data held on us can be used and in particular who has access to it.

So what exactly should a Data Protection Law say?

The Information Commissioner

There needs to be someone in authority who can take charge. We think that Government should appoint an Information Commissioner. This officer should operate either within the Ministry of Communications, Science & Technology or perhaps even independently like the Ombudsman. The Commissioner should have legal powers to regulate the use of information and to punish those who transgress.


Any organisation that holds data on it’s clients must be forced to register that they do so with the Information Commissioner. They should disclose exactly what they are going to hold, who they hold it on, what they plan to do with it and to whom they plan to give it.

This must include everyone. Banks, shops, credit agencies, suppliers, everyone. Yes, everyone. Even hospitals, Government and schools.

Well, maybe not everyone. We’re not naïve. There are certain agencies that should be excluded from this regulation. We’re thinking of the Police and security services who obviously have to hold some data secretly. In these days of international terrorism it’s only reasonable.

Personal access

We must have access to the data held on us. This mustn’t be a voluntary thing. It should be our legal right. We must be able to confirm that the data held on us is correct and if we can prove that it isn’t then we must be able to demand that they correct it.

There should be standards for this access. We’re not unreasonable. We think that perhaps we should be given access to our data within something like 28 days of asking. Corrections should only be made if we can prove that the data is incorrect. The correction should again happen within another 28 days. We also think that is fair for the consumer to pay the supplier for access. It shouldn’t be much but it should be enough to cover the cost of a computer printout and postage. That way we’d also avoid spurious requests for access. Also this should only be done in writing, not over the telephone so we can prove we are who we say we are.

Regulated disclosure

There must be very strict rules about how data is disclosed. Companies who hold data on us must disclose when they register to whom they will disclose it. They will simply not be permitted to disclose it to anyone else.


The Commissioner needs teeth. He or she should be able to punish those who break the rules. The punishments should be effective and should provide a real deterrent.

How easy is it?

This sort of law exists in many other countries already and we know that many people in Botswana, notably in Government, have already given this some thought. However we think that the people need to be consulted. We need the chance to contribute towards this sort of law. However we do feel that we are lagging behind and this is not where Botswana deserves to be. We need this sort of protection now. We need to do what we do best: leading Africa, not following!

If you want to see some examples of how it works elsewhere, visit our website at, click on Consumer Watchdog, then on Useful Links.

And now the good news!

Consumer Watchdog believes that as well as complaining, we should all celebrate success when we find it. This week we want to celebrate:

  • The cast, crew and everyone else connected with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat! If you have any doubt about whether we in Botswana have amazingly talented performers then go see it and be proved wrong. It’s simply amazing!
  • Ntume at 25° East for great service.
  • Joyce and Tebogo from BotswanaLife for being so friendly and helpful.

Friday 5 August 2005


In our recent columns we’ve covered some of the ways in which Consumer Watchdog thinks we’re either being ripped off or where consumers don’t have the protection they deserve.

We hope that readers will forgive our presumption but in the next couple of columns we’d like to suggest some solutions. Nothing we’re proposing is exactly rocket science and there’s nothing here that doesn’t exist in other countries but we really think that the time has come for Botswana for match what the others are doing and perhaps even to do what we in Botswana do best: to take the lead in Africa.

A REAL Consumer Protection Law.

Before we go into details let’s make a few things clear.

The real responsibility for protecting consumers must remain with the consumers themselves. We all have to take responsibility for our own actions and our decisions. If we knowingly sign up for an abusive finance scheme then it’s our own fault. We can’t always blame the Government and suppliers for mistakes that we’ve made.

Nevertheless we really do think that consumers deserve to operate in a market that has at least some regulation. Let suppliers charge whatever they want but let’s make them do it openly, honestly and without anything sneaky. Let’s make them tell us exactly what we’re going to pay before we sign anything. Let’s make them abide by some basic standards. Let’s make them do this under the threat of punishment!

So what should such a new Consumer Protection Law contain?

Open and honest trading

We’re entitled to honesty. The law must require suppliers to be completely honest about their prices. If a supermarket says on the shelf that the price is X then we should be paying X at the till. No excuses.

Similarly when they advertise a product at a particular price in the press then that should be the price we actually pay. Again, no excuses.

Open and honest credit

Just as importantly the law should demand that suppliers are open about finance charges, interest rates and penalties for non-payment. No excuses.

Every credit scheme must state in a standard way exactly what the charges will be. Every advertisement should say something like the following:

“The cash price for this item is P4,699. If you choose to pay on credit monthly for 2 years the total repayment will be P10,718. The total annual percentage rate is 64%.”

(Those are real figures by the way).

The law should dictate the way that the annual percentage rate is calculated so that we can make real comparisons.

We also think that there should be upper limits to the interest rates charged. We’re not naïve. We realise that lenders need to make a profit and to protect themselves against bad debt. However they should operate within the boundaries of decency. We suggested in a previous column that the maximum interest rate could perhaps be a multiple of the Bank of Botswana prime rate for long term loans and perhaps a slightly higher multiple for short-term loans. The 30% per MONTH maximum allowed by the Micro Lenders Association of Botswana is just outrageous.

Cooling off periods

We think that the law should include a compulsory cooling-off period. Any credit scheme must include a period after the contract is signed in which the customer can change his mind (Yes guys, it’s not just women that impulse-buy!). During that period the customer has the chance to calm down, make sure he’s done the right thing, pass it by his wife (or her husband) and take a step back if she has a tantrum.

Community-based lending

We think that the government should go one stage further and provide an alternative. Why don’t they encourage local, community-based lending schemes? Local communities could set themselves up as Cooperative Micro-lending Trusts. Everyone who wanted to participate could invest perhaps P10 – P100 per month into the Trust. The Trust would be hosted by the local Bank and the trustees could be local dignitaries such as the District Commissioner and some trusted local Councillors. All reports and statements would be public and audited by the Auditor General’s Office.

When people who have contributed want a loan they could approach the Trust and request a loan against the capital that has been built up. They’d pay interest but the more they’ve previously contributed the better the interest rate they get and even the highest interest rates would be reasonable and not blatant profiteering.

Then, at the end of the year any profits above inflation go back to the community investors or if they choose to it could be invested into a community facility (but probably best if it isn’t a bar!).

Yes, this could be complex but don’t government employ accountants who can help? Aren’t Kgotlas and Local Government Offices there to help communities? And isn’t it worth it to give affordable micro credit to those who need it? We realise that there are informal lending mechanisms out there already but this would include a new level of control and regulation.

This approach would take the lending mechanisms away from the loan sharks and take control back to the people. Who do we trust more? Loan sharks or our community?

Citizens Advice Bureaux

Maybe Government should establish and support the sort of Citizens Advice Bureaux that other countries have. These would be free, independent local contact points around the country that consumers can contact for advice on a range of consumer and legal issues. They could be staffed by a mixture of volunteers as well as part-time specialists such as community-spirited lawyers and accountants.

Yes, we confess that what we’ve suggested isn’t fully thought out, costed and considered in great detail. But let us know what you think! Are we on the right track?

And now the good news!

We had a fantastic response to our article last week. We mentioned Primi Piatti a few times and in response they’ve donated three P150 vouchers to our readers. We’re going to give these away to the best customer service stars YOU nominate this coming week. Tell us who makes your day when they serve you. Tell us why they deserve it and Primi will give them a meal to remember!