Friday 2 March 2007

We need enforcement!

I sometimes think that before any new laws should be passed our legislators should be forced to find one to cancel to make room.

We have no shortage of laws in Botswana. We have laws that cover everything from marriage, the protection of monuments and relics and witchcraft. No, not the protection of witchcraft, the law makes it illegal. Did you know it is illegal for anyone to claim that they can “discover where or in what manner anything supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found”. Strange then that we still have advertisements in the press from so called traditional doctors who claim that they can do this. Maybe the problem isn’t that the laws aren’t there. Maybe the problem is that nobody is actually enforcing them.

Anyway, let’s move on from witchcraft to consumer rights.

I’ve been reading the Consumer Protection Act and the Consumer Protection Regulations and do you know what I think?

They are amazing. When I started reading them I thought I would find no real protections, no real powers and nothing with any teeth, but I was totally wrong. The Act gives the Director of the Consumer Protection Office a wide range of powers and the Regulations include a number of perfectly sensible and reasonable guidelines about what consumers can expect.

For instance any commodity or service must be “fit for any particular purpose made known by the consumer” and best of all in my opinion, must be “of merchantable quality”. What does “merchantable quality” mean? It’s simple. Items must be “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased, as it is reasonable to expect in light of the relevant circumstances”.

In plain language this means that a DVD player must be able to play DVDs. The cellphone you buy must be capable of making calls. If you buy a sofa it should be capable of being sat upon.

There is a whole lot more in the Regulations that might seem obvious but are actually there in black and white for us to use. If a store says something is new, then they will be in deep trouble if you later find out that “it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand”.

Over the next few weeks we will be giving away a tip every week from the Act and Regulations, as always entirely for free! We will give you the details of a clause from the Regulations you can use whenever you encounter a specific problem. This week’s free tip concerns deposits. We heard recently from someone who paid a 50% deposit for an item they liked on a Friday, came back on Monday only to find that the item had been sold. If this happens to you, just go back and read out the following:

“By failing to restore to me the deposit I gave you regarding this item you have contravened Clause 15 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001. Unless my deposit is immediately restored to me I will be reporting this matter to the Consumer Protection Office and requiring them to exercise their powers to investigate this issue as described in Section 8 of the Consumer Protection Act 1998.”

While you are saying this to them remember to keep your back straight, your eyes connected with theirs and above all remember that you know your rights.

Just watch as they crumble before you!

As I mentioned earlier we don’t lack laws, we lack enforcement. However the powers that be, in this case the Consumer Protection Office, can only act when we complain to them.

What about an example to start with?

Holiday Clubs.

We have heard from so many people over the last few years about the holiday clubs that call inviting you to attend a presentation where you learn about the fantastic holidays that will be entirely free if you join their club. A few weeks ago a customer called us to tell us his sorry tale of being trapped by one of these companies. Over a few years he has paid them a total of around P15,000 and has not had even one holiday. What these companies strangely forget to emphasise is that all they offer is accommodation. Yes, you can stay for free in a hotel in London, Sydney or the South Pole but you have little choice of which hotel you stay in and they make no contribution towards your food and drink while you are there. Most importantly they pay absolutely nothing towards your travel costs. So yes, there is a free hotel for you in Las Vegas but you have to find the P10,000 it takes to fly there. Even when you arrive there is no guarantee you will be within spitting distance of the nightlife.

And the worst thing of all? The contract you sign is for life. For ever. There is no cancellation clause. According to the clubs you can never change your mind. Their excuse is that they give you a chance to change your mind when you first sign this contract but after that it is a bit like marriage only worse. No divorce from the holiday club. Ever.

Well, we think this is wrong. So wrong that we believe that a lifetime contract is an unfair business practice as outlined in clause 17 (1) (f) of the Regulations and not making this repeatedly clear to customers at the outset is deceptive and an unfair business practice as outlined in clause 17 (1) (d) of the Regulations.

We have complained already to the Consumer Protection Unit and we will let you know what happens!

This week’s stars!

  • Lucky at Payless in the Main Mall for knowing her customer, always giving her a personal service.
  • Victor at Barclays Bank Main Mall for winning the Barclays annual service award.
  • Nancy at Ministry of Finance for being helpful and going out of her way to find information for a customer.
  • Rebecca at Department of Customs & Excise for being really helpful, friendly and even offering a customer a newspaper to read while she was waiting!
  • A G4S security guard at Mascom Head Office for being really helpful and helping someone who had their cellphone stolen.

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