Friday 19 December 2008

Christmas presents

It's time for some early Christmas presents. Consumer Watchdog is feeling very generous and has identified a small number of lucky recipients of our generosity.

Furniture stores

Not all of you, just a few. We've written a letter on your behalf. We've written to the President, confessing on your behalves that you have contempt for the laws and therefore the people of Botswana. You know perfectly well that when you offer something for sale on credit or hire purchase you must clearly disclose the full credit price as well as the cash price. Yes, you all say things like “Deposit P470, P427 x 24 months” but that's simply not enough. The Control of Goods (Marking of Goods) Regulations 1974 say very clearly in Clause 6 that in addition to those details you must also state “in characters of a similar size”:

“the total amount to be paid by way of deposit and instalments”

You all know this, yes you do. We know you know this because we've told you. We've written about it here in Mmegi repeatedly, we've written to all your Managing Directors, we've even had meetings with some of you but you have not heeded our advice.

You continue to advertise illegally and we can only conclude that you simply don't care about the laws of Botswana. Some of you even have the outrageous cheek to claim to be compliant with the South African National Credit Act. Who cares? We're not in South Africa, we're our own, sovereign nation with our own laws but some of you clearly don't give a damn about that. You really do seem to think that our laws don't matter.

You are operating illegally and we've written to the President confessing your guilt on your behalf.

Don't bother thanking us, it's Christmas.

Success University

You are also getting a letter written on your behalf. Actually three of them.

Just in case you've forgotten to do so yourselves we've written a letter to the Commissioner of the Botswana Unified Revenue Service announcing the formation of your organisation in Botswana and explaining how you operate. We've explained that you use a pyramid structure to sell a range of second-rate personal improvement and motivational claptrap to the gullible. We've also explained that each person in the pyramid can earn bonuses based on the volumes sold beneath him. We've explained that if your promises are anything to go by, some of these people can earn lots of money. Income that will be taxable. Taxable income that will need to be declared to the really rather professional people at BURS.

We've also written to the Registrar of Companies on your behalf just checking to see whether you are in fact registered as a company in Botswana. We've also written to the Tertiary Education Council regarding your use of the word “University” in your name. After all, some people might think you are a university, don't you think? I'm sure you wouldn't want anyone misled, would you?

Don't bother thanking us, it's Christmas.

Traditional doctors

You are also getting some letters written by us on your behalf.

We've written to the Minister of Health describing how you offer medical treatments without actually being qualified to do so.

We've written to the Commissioner of Police regarding the fact that you advertise medicines which is actually a criminal offence in Botswana. Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code forbid anyone other than a medical journal from advertising medicines.

We've also explained in the letter that describing yourselves as “doctors” is a form of cheating, also outlawed by the Penal Code. The letter also explains that by “pretending to tell fortunes”, which almost all of you do, is yet another criminal offence.

We also couldn't overlook the more outrageous services you offer. In our phone calls to some of you you've offered to have our made-up rivals suffer misfortune, illness and even death. You are a bunch of crooks and you should be given a free stay at one of our very welcoming correctional institutions.

Finally, as a special seasonal gift, we've given your details to the Immigration Department because you almost certainly forgot to declare your planned occupation when you entered Botswana. They can offer you a free trip home although it might not be as comfortable as you might wish.

Don't bother thanking us, it's Christmas.

Enforcement agencies

Lastly, here's a present for all those parts of the Public Service who are tasked with enforcing the law but who fail to do so.

Our present is us. We're going to continue highlighting your failure to perform. We're going to continue writing and broadcasting about the times you just can't seem to be bothered to do your job. We can't actually do anything about that of course but we know a man who can!

We've written to him on your behalf with some suggestions for ways of either improving your performance or for replacing you with bodies that can actually achieve something.

Don't bother thanking us, it's Christmas.

This week’s stars!
  • Ishmael at HiFi Corporation for great customer follow-up.

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I saw an advertisement for a Sony PlayStation Portable that said it was on sale for P1,900, a discount of P700. When I got to the store they were indeed selling it for P1,900 but the original price was actually P2,200. The store was also selling another PSP for P2,700 but that also included a selection of games in the price.

Was it fair for the store to advertise a discount that wasn't real?

No, it wasn't fair at all. More than that it was possibly even a breach of the Consumer Protection Regulations. Section 17 (1) (a) of the Regulations says that it is a deceptive practice and an unfari business practice if a store makes “false or misleading statements of fact concerning the reasons for, existence of, or amounts of price reductions”.

In their advertisement this store said that the price of the PSP had been reduced from P2,600 to P1,900 when in fact it had only been reduced from P2,300. The fact that there was another PSP on offer at P2,700 including some games sounds like an excuse for claiming a much bigger price reduction to me. In fact the real P2,700 PSP wasn't comparable to the reduced price P1,900 version because that didn't come with the free games.

Seems like a very good example of a “false of misleading statement” to me.

I suggest that you write to the store manager asking him or her to explain how this discount actually worked and to explain why the numbers don't add up. There's very little you are likely to achieve but you can at least make them work a bit.

Meanwhile don't shop there again until you get a suitable response from them. Vote with your feet and your wallet.

Friday 12 December 2008

Courtesy costs nothing

What does it cost to be courteous? My mother always used to say that “Courtesy costs nothing” and I think she was right.

It still surprises me, as a people who pride ourselves on the courtesy and respect we claim to show each other, how often we are so incredibly rude. I'm not just talking about combi and taxi drivers who seem to have a policy of behaving on the roads as if they were at war with the rest of us. I'm talking about some people who really shouldn't be working in a customer-facing environment.

I'm thinking of a certain cellphone store at Game City where the staff are surly, unhelpful and miserable. I'm thinking of the border post at Tlokweng where getting a smile from a member of staff is almost impossible. I'm thinking of the employee of a major store at Game City for telling a customer who was querying a price reduction that he was “a Motswana, born here and I can explain it better than you”. Yes, I'm also thinking of the debt collector who seems to delight in being completely rude to anyone who dares to criticise her.

But why does it have to be this way? Is it because the rude ones haven't been on a course to learn how important courtesy is? No, because nobody needs to be trained in courtesy. We all learned about courtesy from our parents. Is it because managers don't enforce courtesy in the work place? Maybe, but does anyone really need to be told by their manager to be polite to a customer? Is it perhaps because customers don't demand courtesy? That's probably more likely but why don't we? Why don't we remind rude service providers that courtesy is a basic element of service whenever we don't receive it?

Everyone now knows that the financial world is in crisis. Contrary to what many people seem to think, this isn't actually the fault of the world's financial system. Saying that capitalism, the free market or liberal democracy are somehow to blame for this crisis is a bit like blaming Toyota when your taxi driver takes a wrong turn. It's not the vehicle's fault, it's the incompetent driver who's to blame.

For too long in the USA and Europe banks have been pressurised, even bribed by governments desperate for popular support, to lend money to people who they shouldn't lend to. I really don't believe that we should blame the system for this. We should blame those politicians who stuck their dirty fingers into financial systems they didn't understand. We should blame those banks who didn't have the courage to stand up to the politicians and be as sensible as their customers needed them to be. We should blame the banks that thought they had found a way to make a quick buck at the expense of their poorer customers.

However, the world isn't going to end, we're not all going to starve, the sky isn't going to fall in but there ARE tough times ahead. Officially many countries are now in recession but I think that just forces us to concentrate harder, tighten our belts and show a little prudence.

So what has this got to do with courtesy?

I think that when times get tough, companies have to focus even more carefully on what will help them compete against their rivals. They are going to need to come up with much more attractive products for us. Some companies are going to withdraw into their shell and be much more cautious in their business. I think the exact opposite is required. This will be a time when companies need to be even more aggressive in their product development and marketing, a time when they have to fight much, much harder to sell us their products, a time when they need to come up with tempting bargains. They'll need to show a level of courtesy and freindliness that is much better than their competitors.

In short, this is going to be a time of huge opportunity as well as one of huge risk. If we are like the rest of the world (and there's no reason to suspect we're not) we'll see companies failing if we enter a recession. Maybe we'll also see some more of that one thing that is most important to consumers, to business and to a country in general: competition.

Consumers who have less to spend and who are thinking carefully about who deserves their money will be forced to be more selective. They will need to start discriminating. We will all be forced to ask ourselves some basic questions. Do we spend our money at stores that act illegally by not disclosing the full credit price of a product when they advertise it for credit sale? Do we spend our hard-earned money on a cellphone or a computer from a store that says there are no warranties on the items they sell? Do we buy from companies that show our country contempt?

We are likely to have the opportunity of a lifetime. We can use our money, even if there's slightly less of it, to decide which companies survive the recession. We really will have that power. A store told us a couple of years ago that more than half of their profits came from their credit schemes. In a recession that profitability is going to be under huge threat. Isn't that a wonderful opportunity for the people to make their feelings known?

This week’s stars!

Ralph, Alan, Tumi and Kenneth from Barloworld for exceptional service.
Neil and the team at Mr Moves for really efficient and excellent service.

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I got a letter from Debtsolve saying that I owed money on my Barclaycard. However I haven't had a Barclaycard for years and as far as I can remember when I closed my account I paid everything I owed.

What should I do?

Firstly you should check with Barclaycard.

We've heard from several people with exactly the same problem recently. Barclaycard and at least one other bank who out-sourced their credit card business to Barclaycard seem to have messed up a bit. Each person who's contacted us tells the same story. They had a Barclaycard, or a card operated by them, they moved to another bank or just had enough of that particular card, they closed their account and believed everything was done. Ages later they get the threatening letter from Debtsolve saying there's still a debt.

Each person who contacted us then got in touch with Barclaycard, very politely asked what the hell was going on and eventually got confirmation that they didn't owe a thebe.

The other surprising thing was that none of these people had ever been contacted by Barclaycard about the alleged debt. The first thing they heard was when the heavy mob got in touch with threats.

It really is fairly basic, don't you think? A bank has a responsibility to check, double check and then triple check their facts before they get heavy with their customers and irritate them hugely. Before they scare people with threats they should at least sure they are threatening the right people.

Thursday 4 December 2008

More bad debt?

In late October this column was entitled “Bad debt” and told the story of a debt collection case that had gone wrong.

A customer had bought things on credit from Game Stores and ended up having difficulties making the payments. Her debt ended up being passed over to a debt collector to pursue.

So far there’s nothing wrong with this situation. Stores have a right to chase the money they are owed, just as you and I do. They are perfectly entitled to engage debt collectors and are just as entitled to take court action and seize goods if it’s done according to the rules. Our issue wasn’t an objection to debt collection, just the way this particular debt collector handled it.

The problem was that the customer wanted a statement detailing how much she owed. That shouldn’t be too hard, should it? That should be the sort of thing debt collectors do all the time, surely? A customer is perfectly entitled to regular statements, showing how much they owed, how much they paid and the balance. I don’t see how anyone could object to that.

Well, the debt collector did. There’s no point going over the details of the story, you can see that on our web site. What happened next is interesting.

The debt collector engaged her lawyers to write to the customer’s lawyers and deny everything. So far, so good. However, the letter ended by referring to the article we wrote in Mmegi about the situation. The letter said that the article “is defamatory and action will be taken against your client.”

Against the consumer trying to pay off her debt? How would that work? She didn’t write the article, I did. If they want to threaten someone they should be threatening us, not the consumer. Unless perhaps they think that the consumer is more likely to be intimidated by a lawyer’s letter than we are? That’s likely because we’re NOT threatened. We didn’t defame anyone, we reported the facts of the case as reported to us and the phone calls we had with the debt collector. So threatening us is a waste of ink.

The consumer DID eventually get a statement although it was so difficult to read she’s none the wiser. All she can see is that even after paying off over P10,000 against an original debt of around P9,000 the statement claims she still owes another P11,000 in unexplained charges. She has a right to an explanation.

But the issues remain the same. Why should debt collectors make life so difficult for consumers who acknowledge their debts and make every effort to repay them? Why should debt collectors be so rude? Why do Game seem to care so little about the way their debt collectors operate? When we spoke to Game their response was that she shouldn’t have got into debt in the first place. Well, obviously but life isn’t that simple. People DO get into debt but some of them then do their utmost to settle the debt. Why punish the honest ones?

Then we got another call about a similar situation. Same store, same debt collector. Of course this doesn’t mean anything, the second consumer had read the article, she recognised a similar story and that prompted her to contact us.

She also had a debt with Game, the same debt collector was engaged and the consumer paid off everything. She also couldn’t get a statement but despite this she managed to pay what was demanded. But this year when she applied for a loan she was turned down because her TransUnion record showed she still owed the money. The bank showed her the TransUnion report that said that the debt to Game had been “written off”. Not repaid, written off. Cancelled in other words. How could that be when she had repaid it in full? She contacted Game and they admitted her record was wrong and have promised to correct it but that’s quite a curious mistake don’t you think? A consumer repays a debt but the store thinks it hasn’t been repaid and even goes as far as saying that in the TransUnion record? How could that have happened? The consumer has all the receipts and her bank statements that show the money was paid over to the debt collector so it’s not the consumer’s mistake.

The good news is that once the consumer spoke to Game, they confirmed that once they’ve confirmed with the debt collector that everything is in order, they will remove the consumer’s record regarding this incident from TransUnion completely.

So what’s the lesson from all of this?

  1. Don’t buy on credit AT ALL if you can possibly avoid it.
  2. If you DO have to buy on credit then don’t default on your payments.
  3. If you DO default recognise that you are going to pay back a LOT more than you first thought.
  4. Keep records of everything you pay.
  5. Get someone you trust to do the maths for you and confirm that you are paying what you really owe.
  6. Demand details of the penalty charges, collection fees and legal costs they demand.
  7. Once you’ve finished paying demand a letter from the store confirming that you have repaid the debt in full.
  8. Check your TransUnion record.
  9. If there’s the slightest problem, contact us and we’ll listen.
  10. Never forget, even bad debtors have rights.

This week’s stars!
  • The tender team at the Tertiary Education Council for outstanding service.
  • Nkhwinya Lewanika at Gaborone City Council for friendly, helpful, knowledgeable service.
  • BotswanaCraft Marketing for providing a great venue for an exhibition, in particular for Nicola for being “second to none”.

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

In March I bought a Samsung E350 cellphone from the Game City Orange store for P1,500. In August the phone went wrong so I took it back and they offered to repair it. I picked it up again on 18th September. However the phone showed the same fault so I took it back a week later. Yet again they repaired it and returned it to me. Then it started misbehaving again with the screen blacking out, the phone freezing, a faulty speaker and sometimes it couldn’t receive calls at all.

I took it back yet again but they weren’t too happy to repair it.

What do you think I should do?

Take it back again and now you can demand a replacement. If a phone goes wrong that many times there’s clearly a manufacturing fault.

But that doesn’t affect your rights. You were sold something that was not of merchantable quality. It was a cellphone that you couldn’t use as a cellphone, simple as that. The Consumer Protection Regulations are perfectly clear in this sort of situation. Unless you signed something saying there was no warranty then you deserve a refund or a replacement without any argument.

Update: Instead of talking to the Orange Store we spoke to Orange themselves. Their Chief Marketing Officer was very upset that an Orange customer had been let down and has offered her a brand new phone to replace the faulty one. Good for Orange. Who could ask for more?

The lesson? If something goes wrong you should obviously give the store a chance to put it right, that’s only reasonable. However if they won’t or can’t fix the problem you should escalate to the next level up. Go to the Regional Manager, the Country Manager, Head Office, whoever you think is most interested in the company’s reputation. Chances are they’ll fix it pretty quickly.

Thursday 27 November 2008

Success University advertisements

Adverts are appearing in the papers offering people "up to $50,000 per annum" if they get involved with Success University. Unfortunately the web site mentioned doesn't seem to let me email them a complaint about pretending to be a University.

This also meant I couldn't explain to them that they were in breach of Section 17 (1) (i) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001 lists a number of "deceptive methods, acts or practices shall constitute acts of unfair business practice", one of which is:
"advertising courses of instruction and implying the promise of
employment or remuneration where this cannot be guaranteed".

Thursday 20 November 2008

A visit from Success University

On Thursday 13th November I got to the office and found a delegation from Success University outside the office. They were very upset about the coverage we had given them in Mmegi.

Their General Manager for Southern Africa told me that our coverage was very damaging to them but curiously could not tell me anything in the article that was factually incorrect.

One item of interest was the press release from the Bank of Namibia which has described Success University as a pyramid scheme and has declared them illegal in Namibia. He told me that following his intervention this was going to be reversed.

So I called the Bank of Namibia to ask about this.

Not surprisingly the Bank of Namibia told me that this was not quite correct. They said they stand by their press release. They had received a lot of information from Success University and they will be updating their judgement but that saying it was going to be reversed was "not based on truth".

Meanwhile, we've received a deluge of emails from Success University participants. Very strangely though they all have exactly the same structure. Would this perhaps be a concerted campaign by SU?

Watch this space...

Are we different?

I’m writing this within minutes of my return from a trip to Johannesburg. As many of us do every so often we needed a day or two away for some wider shopping choices, a bit of healthy self-indulgence (yes, I insist that it’s good for you) and just a change of scenery.

But every time I’m there I find myself becoming all analytical and wonder about what I perceive to be the difference in service between Botswana and SA.

Like many of us, I instinctively think service is a bit better down south. I’m not saying things are wonderful there and terrible here but I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a common perception.

But does perception mean truth? Just because something feels true, that doesn’t mean it really is. We all see the Sun apparently travelling across the sky every day but we know that it’s just an illusion, we know the Earth is rotating around the Sun. We know that although distant objects appear smaller they don’t really shrink as they grow more distant. We all know that although it calls itself a church, the so-called Church of Scientology is really a business masquerading as one.

I think there are several reasons why service seems better over there. Firstly there’s the volume. Johannesburg is enormous compared to any town in Botswana. There are many more shops, restaurants and hotels in which South Africans can impress us. I’m not sure how many stores there are at Riverwalk Shopping Mall in Gaborone but I suspect that a large mall in Joburg has 10 times as many. There are simply more places to get good service.

Then there’s the fact that we simply can’t trust our perceptions. No, trust me, we can’t. So you think you can tell the difference between black and white? You can tell which of two objects is the biggest? You can tell whether something is moving or still? If you don’t believe me, visit our web site and see the new section on perceptual illusions.

Human beings, and for all I know it our ape cousins as well, are prone to a psychological effect called “confirmation bias”. This is the tendency we all have to remember those events that match, or confirm, our beliefs and prejudices, and to forget those that do not. Just think about something like the newspaper horoscopes. They’re full of the vaguest, most meaningless nonsense but every so often, just by sheer chance, they might get something right. Maybe one week you WILL have stroke of good luck, you WILL meet a new love or you WILL get a new job opportunity. You’ll remember those lucky coincidences but you’ll conveniently forget the hundred times they missed by miles.

I think that happens in service. We remember the encounters in Joburg that fulfil our pre-conceived ideas. We remember the charming waitress, the helpful shop attendant and the bank teller with the gorgeous smile and we forget every time someone is surly, unhelpful or just rude. We expect to get better service there so that’s what we remember.

Then there’s the competitive effects of wider choice. There are hundreds of hotels, bars, restaurants and shops in Joburg and far fewer in Gaborone. If you want to choose a hotel in Gabs you have a very limited choice. They’re often so fully booked that you have to take what you can get.

Not so much in Joburg. There must be hundreds of hotels there. They have to fight much harder for your money. They can do that either by cutting their prices of just doing things better than their rivals. Or both.

If you ask around one thing that some (rather unenlightened, out-dated and naïve) people will suggest is that there’s a cultural difference, maybe even a genetic difference between us and them. We can discount that one as silly from the beginning. It’s simply not true that there’s a gene for warmth and attention that differs between different ethnic groups.

Maybe it’s our history? I think this is more convincing. We all know the history of struggle for freedom and the cruelty South Africans have endured. The University I attended had a motto: “Per Ardua Ad Astra”. Through adversity to the stars. In other words it’s though hard work and struggle that things are achieved. Despite the very long way SA has still to go they have a wonderful sense of achievement and pride that I think we lack. We’ve had it too good and we show it.

Then there’s the history of business leadership they have, clearly an advantage over us. When I think of all the moments of good service I got during my trip away you could tell that there was an active manager somewhere close.

The good news is that we DO have this here. Maybe not as much as our cousins do but we have it nevertheless. Think of Primi Piatti, of Café Dijo, of Pick N Pay at Molapo Crossing and the Caravela. They all have hands-on, active managers who know how it’s done.

So let’s stop putting ourselves down, stop making excuses, stop thinking we’re not capable and just get out there and do it. In short, JFDI.

[You may need to Google that if you don’t know it. Mmegi won’t allow me to explain!]

This week’s stars!
  • Mothusi, Kethani and Omphile from Wild Speed in Palapye. A consumer found a nail in his tyre on a Sunday while driving in Palapye, saw their vehicle driving past and they stopped to assist. They opened up their workshop specially for him and got it fixed. See, who says we can’t do it in Botswana?
  • The team from Electrodata in Gaborone for service above and beyond.

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

A while back I registered for an online free lotto and now they are saying I won a jackpot and that I should now put in a claim by sending my details to them. How credible are this guys and how should I handle this.

Please advise.

This is as likely as flying pigs, the tooth-fairy and someone who really DOES have millions of dollars stranded in a Nigerian bank account that only you can help release.

Let’s be sensible. There are some web sites that are linked to genuine lotteries around the world. However you have to remember that lotteries, like all forms of gambling, are run by highly intelligent business people who want to take in more money than they pay out. That’s the case not just with privately run lotteries but all the state-run ones as well. The catch with the lottery web sites that are linked to these national lotteries is that they also want to make money from you as well as the lottery itself. You stand to win even less if you enter a lottery through a middle man.

However, the whole area of online lotteries is full of scammers. The clue in what you say is that the online lottery you entered was “free”. There’s no such thing as a free lottery. Every lottery requires you to buy a ticket in return for a chance to win. That’s how the lottery companies make their money. If it’s free how can it be real?

What will probably happen is that if you respond to the notification that you’ve won you’ll be asked for money up front. If you do a search on the Internet you’ll find endless stories from people who had to pay money to “validate” their prize and never got a thebe as a result.

Send us the details of the lottery you entered and we’ll research this some more. However I don’t think we’ll have any good news for you. We’ll post what we find on our web site for everyone to read.

Thursday 13 November 2008

Dear Commissioner

Dear Commissioner

[An open letter to the Commissioner of Police.]

We have recently investigated several so-called “traditional doctors” who advertised in a range of local newspapers. I believe that the products and services that they offer are illegal and that the Police Service should step in to prevent the criminal activities committed by these charlatans.

They breach the requirements of the Consumer Protection Regulations by offering “outcomes where those outcomes have no safe scientific, medical or performance basis” but that is not a matter for the Police. More important is their criminal activities, an area where the Police can intervene.

Firstly these “healers” offer medicines in their advertisements. This is illegal. Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code of Botswana make it an offence punishable by up to a year in prison to publish, in writing or by speech, anything that offers to sell any “medicine, surgical appliance or treatment”.

These sections define a “prohibited advertisement” as “any advertisement of any medicine” that offers treatment for a long list of complaints. These include sexually transmitted diseases, cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease or “any habit associated with sexual indulgence”. The list also forbids advertising anything “for the promotion of sexual virility, desire or fertility”.

We telephoned a number of these “healers”. A “Dr” Timba offered one of our callers a solution to the fictitious virility problems her husband was experiencing for P500. The same “Dr” Timba told another caller that he could improve her CD4 count in return for P600.

A “Dr” Benson, who described himself as a “herbalist” and a “herbacologist”, told our caller that he could resolve her fertility problems for P970. For this sum she would be given “herbs” to drink that would “assist that which has been blocked”. This was before he had even asked if it was she who was infertile or her husband.

A “Dr” Hassan told another caller that he had a cure for tuberculosis. We have a recording of him stating that “Yeah, I can cure TB”. The same “Dr” Hassan, when asked if he could cure AIDS said “Yeah, I can cure”. When she asked him if that meant she was not going to die, he told her “Yeah, I can cure all that diseases that can kill you”.

All of these charlatans are cheating the public by taking their money in return for nothing of value and, worse still, false hope in the face of health problems. However, worse than all of this is the risk that consumers are taking if they fall for this deception and take these false remedies instead of orthodox, proven, scientific medicines. My great fear is that vulnerable people with HIV will stop taking their ARVs and expose themselves to a tremendous risk to their health and, in fact, their lives.

However, the most shocking of these calls didn’t relate to health matters at all. The same “Dr” Timba who could resolve virility problems and improve a caller’s CD4 count also offered services that go way beyond mere prohibited advertisements.

Our caller told Timba a story. She said that she had a pending court case and that she would like the opposite side “to lose and to disappear”. She even wondered whether it was possible for her opponent “to have a horrible car accident”. Although Timba was initially reluctant to discuss the issue on the phone we managed to push him. She asked him “Can you help me achieve that?” he said “Yes” and “That’s not a problem”.

Clearly, Timba is a charlatan and a fraud and we entrapped him. He obviously has no genuine ability to bring about anyone’s death but his conduct seems to verge on being conspiracy to commit murder.

Section 221 of the Penal Code states that “Any person who conspires with any other person to kill any person… is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years”. We believe that although Timba clearly did not have the capability to undertake the crime he showed himself willing to conspire to do so.

Of course, we do not believe that he can actually be charged with such a crime. We haven’t produced sufficient, admissible evidence for such a charge. We are not a law-enforcement agency but we are entitled to lodge a complaint and to request further investigations.

I believe that Timba and his kind are a menace to our society and are guilty of publishing prohibited advertisements. I also wonder how each of these people, who are all foreigners. managed to enter Botswana. If they failed to declare themselves as healers then presumably they are operating illegally in that regard as well.

What is also of concern is that these so-called “healers” are almost certainly not registered as practitioners as required by the Botswana Health Professions Act, 2001. I also believe that, by all calling themselves “Doctor”, they are guilty of Cheating, as outlawed by Section 310 of the Penal Code. They may even be guilty of “Spreading infection” (outlawed by Section 184) if they encourage a consumer to stop taking their legitimate medication and replace it with their worthless products.

We believe that action is required. We believe that these charlatans need to be stopped. They threaten our people, our health and our rule of law.

I urge you to investigate these so-called “healers” and to assess for yourself the extent of their criminality.

With best regards

The Consumer Watchdog Team

This week’s stars!

  • Ditiro from The A Team builders for being charming.
  • The team at the No. 1 Ladies Opera House for excellent service

Wednesday 12 November 2008

An email regarding Success University


Many thanks for your email regarding Success University.

Despite what you suggest, everything we write IS researched carefully.  I DID look closely into Success University's business model and, to me, it satisfies the definition of a pyramid selling scheme very well.  It's not helpful to fall to the level of "ad hominem" attacks because my analysis doesn't match yours.

I don't agree at all with what you say about either SU or the Direct Selling Association.  Membership of an industry group, particularly when that group was set up specifically to protect the interests of it's members rather than their customers, doesn't persuade me.

Your statement "Because AMWAY,STRATEQUITY,QUIXTAR and even Success University are members then it means they are following good bussiness practice" is no more than "an argument from authority".  Membership of a group like the DSA proves nothing.  Did you know that SU have only been members of the DSA in the USA since June 2008?  Did you know that they aren't a member of the South African DSA?  Is this perhaps because the DSA in SA encourages people to avoid "Illegitimate Pyramid Schemes".

One of the best comments I've heard so far regarding SU is, in fact, your own.  You say "SU is not selling tangible products".  I agree entirely.  What SU, and other pyramid schemes, are selling is the illusory opportunity to make money, not from a product but from the opportunity to recruit others beneath you and to encourage them to recruit others beneath them.  THAT is a pyramid scheme.  

When we attended their presentation in Gaborone it was made clear to all attendees that this was how money could be made.  However, no mention was made of the mathematics of pyramid selling and the requirement for Malthusian, exponential "down-line" growth in order to make the impossible fortune.  

However, ignore my opinions and instead trust those of the Bank of Namibia who stated last month that:

"After carrying out its investigations, the Bank hereby declares the operations of Success University in Namibia to constitute a pyramid scheme and therefore it is illegal. The Bank of Namibia, therefore, warns all promoters of this scheme in Namibia to stop their activities immediately."

Anyway, thanks for at least expressing an opinion!  If only more people took the time to do so, even if we disagree.

Best regards


-----Original Message-----
Sent: Monday 10 November 2008 17:21
Subject: Information is power


I really love your great job of sensitising the nation on tricks that conmen usually use to rob people of their hard erned money.There is one advice i need to give you so that you dont mislead the nation in the name of consumer protection.Anything you dont understand i encourage you not to say anything about or atleast take time to research in that area so that an informative information is published.With MLM/Network marketing companies there are certain code of conducts/practice that they have to operate within.There is an international organisation called the Direct Selling Association(DSA).It is a regulatory body that that controls direct selling.It also doesnt allow pyramids.Because AMWAY,STRATEQUITY,QUIXTAR and even Success University are members then it means they are following good bussiness practice.The only problem is that SU is not selling tangible products.I suggest you enrol youself so dat you can get to know the well structured courses  inside as well as the compensation plan.Try and practice Investigative reporting.

Thank you in consumer protection

Saturday 8 November 2008

Success University - Namibia cracking down?

The Bank of Namibia has warned Namibians not to fall for Success University and even states that their operations are illegal.  See here for an AllAfrica report.  Click here for the original report from Bank of Namibia.
Good for them.  We'll be writing to the Bank of Botswana suggesting that they take the same line.

Friday 7 November 2008

Success University

We had a call this morning from Saeed Moosa who is in Botswana selling the charms of Success University. We covered this pyramid scheme in Mmegi and The Voice in the past.

Saeed said that he felt we hadn't been completely fair to Success University who he said "can sue you". I explained that I thought that would be unwise and unlikely given that everything we wrote was true and that it was for the public benefit that it be published.

He says he wants to come and see us to clear this up which he is very welcome to do.

Nevertheless we stand by what we said and what we wrote. Success University is a pyramid-selling scheme.

We'll keep readers informed.

Web and email problems

The BES and Consumer Watchdog web sites are temporarily unavailable while we move to an alternate ISP.  Things should be back to normal by Monday.

Lying to scammers

I know lying is bad but I’m sure everyone will forgive us because many of the victims of our misbehaviour have themselves been lying, cheating criminals.

Firstly there was a pyramid scheme.  

Many people will have seen these leaflets given out at traffic lights in Gaborone recently.  

One of the Consumer Watchdog team called the number on the note and she was invited to a presentation about “Success University”, a classic pyramid-selling scheme.  They encourage you to buy motivational materials but, and this is the critical clue that it's a pyramid scheme, it offers you the opportunity to sell Success University yourself.  Their web site even has a link that says "Learn and Earn".

At least MLM companies like Amway have products to sell.  Success University has no product other than some worthless mass-produced DVDs.  Consumers should just throw these leaflets away and not waste their time responding to them.

Ask yourself why a total stranger would offer you an opportunity to make a fortune rather than doing so himself unless the plan is based on exploitation?  Why would anyone try to recruit people at traffic lights?  Why would a legitimate business operate from a Hotmail address?

Then we had the email lottery scammers.  We’ve received a dozen emails in the last month saying either we’d won cash or a car in a lottery we never entered or we’d been awarded a grant by the United Nations or some such organisation.  Let’s just get this straight.  Nobody in the history of the world has ever won a lottery that they hadn’t entered.  No international organisation is going to give cash to a total stranger.  Never.

We called some of these scammers to get a taste of their methods.  Please don’t bother doing this yourself, don’t waste your money on an international phone call because we’ve done it for you already.  If you go to our web site you can hear recordings of some of our calls.

The scammers are good at their job.  When you phone them to learn more about your win they are full of enthusiasm and energy.  However this is all just a cover for two things they want from you.  Firstly they want your identity.  In order to get your hands on your fictitious winnings you have to send them your full name, address and copies of your ID documents.  Before long you’ll receive credit card bills and invoices from a range of exotic locations.  The second thing they want is much simpler.  They want your money.  In all these scams, once they’ve suckered you into believing the unbelievable and just before your imaginary LandCruiser or your non-existent fortune has reached you, there’ll be a snag.  Oh, they’ll say, there’s just the matter of the customs fee or the import duty or the legal fees. One of the crooks we called told us that to receive our lottery win we must open an offshore bank account.  OK, that’s plausible, but why would we have to pay a fee of between €1,000 and €2,000 to the scammer to open the account?

That’s all they’re after: your ID and that last-minute fee.  Give them these two things and you can rest assured you’ll never hear from them again.

Then there are the ones I think are the worst of all the scammers, the ones that do things worse than steal your money and your identity.  The ones that can kill you.

We called a number of the so-called “traditional doctors” that advertise in the newspapers.  The ones that offer cures for everything from asthma to love problems, the ones that also offer solutions to problems with your immune system.  The things they offered were startling.  Did you know that they can offer herbs to put in your bath that will guarantee you the lover of your choice?  I assume they exclude Hollywood stars and The President.

Did you know that they can solve fertility problems before even establishing that it is the woman who is infertile and not her husband?  Did you also know that they can improve your CD4 count?  They can do away with the ravages of imminent AIDS.  

Finally did you know that they can offer to have your enemies fall victim to a sudden death?  We called one who said that it was “no problem” to have someone die suddenly.

Of course he’s talking supernatural mumbo-jumbo.  He has no more ability to control someone’s fate than I do.  It’s a bit like hiring a contract killer who doesn’t actually own a gun.  But the critical thing is that he was offering to do so, regardless of his ability to achieve it.  What matters is the intent and the conspiracy to kill.  Section 221 of the Penal Code says that “Any person who conspires with any other person to kill any person… is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years”.  The conspiracy is enough.

Let’s put this to the test.  This “doctor” can presumably use his supernatural abilities to identify me.  He presumably knows I have a recording of him saying he can have someone killed.  He presumably knows that next week I plan to name him in Mmegi and give his details to the Police.  He only has 7 days left to have ME killed.

This week’s stars!
  • Suresh and his family at Knack at Kgale Hill Shopping Centre for his personal and extremely friendly service.
  • Mark at Barloworld Motors for coming up with a solution to a consumer’s problem.
  • Letiro from The A Team builders for being charming.

Thursday 30 October 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

Two weeks ago while I was in Gaborone (I live in Francistown) I encountered a situation at an internet cafe in which I bought fifteen minutes of internet time and after waiting patiently I didn’t get a connection and the owner refused to refund me my money. To top it off he was very rude about the situation saying that it wasn’t his fault.

As a consumer who was wronged what action can I take and what penalties can be imposed on people like him who have no regard for their customers?

It sounds like you have been badly let down by this Internet cafe.

By not giving you what you had paid for (internet access for 15 minutes) they have failed to honour their obligations under Section 13(1)(a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations which say that a store has failed to meet minimum standards if the commodity or service they sell is not of "merchantable quality".

The Regulations also state (Section 15(1)(a)) that they have failed to meet minimum standards of performance if the service they deliver is "not rendered with reasonable care and skill and such service and any materials used are not fit for any particular purpose made known by the consumer".

Finally they have also failed again to meet minimum standards by refusing to give you a refund when they failed to give you what you had bought (Section 15(1)(e)).

No doubt what they might say is that the problem was beyond their control and blame their Internet Service Provider or BTC but that's not your concern. You paid for something, they failed to deliver it, you deserve your money back. It’s as simple as that.

The bad news is that you are unlikely to be able to prove what you say, unless you have a receipt and can prove somehow that you had no access. However, we would be very happy to call them for you to see what they say if you can give us their contact details.

Friday 24 October 2008

Bad debt?

We got a call recently from a consumer who was in trouble with some money she owed Game in Gaborone. At no point has she denied that she owed Game the money, which at the beginning of the story amounted to just over P8,800 but her ability to repay it hasn’t been helped by how Game tried to recover it.

Before I go any further I have to say that this is not a stab at Game. They were owed the money and they were perfectly entitled to reclaim it from the consumer. Nobody argues with that. It was entirely the customer’s fault that she got into trouble in the first place. But…

Game instructed a Tlokweng-based company called Sadgewicks (Pty) Ltd whose letterhead states they are “Debt Recovery, Business Consultants and Advisors”.

Again there’s nothing wrong so far. Debt collectors are a perfectly respectable way for stores to reclaim the money they are owed.

Sadgewicks got in touch with the consumer and demanded the money on Game’s behalf. She gave Sadgewicks a number of post-dated cheques that would pay off the debt. Over the next few months she paid back just over P10,000 and was beginning to suspect that she must be close to repaying the total amount. However she made a mistake, albeit a fairly innocent one. She changed banks. That meant that the remaining post-dated cheques were worthless. However she says she contacted Sadgewicks and explained what she had done and offered replacement cheques. She claims that despite this Sadgewicks tried to cash the remaining cheques and they obviously bounced. That’s when Sadgewicks, instead of calling the customer and making a plan, called the Police and the lines of communication began to break down.

Throughout the whole saga the consumer has asked for a full statement of the outstanding debt from Sadgewicks and also from Game so she could know exactly how much was left to pay.

No statement was forthcoming. In April she wrote to Sadgewicks demanding a statement. She told them that unless she got a statement of her account she would not be liable for any further interest that might accrue on the remaining balance. She got a letter the following day from Sadgewicks saying that she wasn’t going to get a statement as she had already been given several already, something that she strenuously denies.

Months passed and despite her further complaints, the consumer, who was by now blacklisted and couldn’t get a bank loan called her lawyers who wrote to Game complaining about the lack of a statement and her resulting inability to repay the correct amount.

Again, nothing happened. So she called us.

We called Sadgewicks to see if we could help sort things out. Well, we tried. The problem is that Sadgewicks appear to operate from just two cellphone numbers. Their letterhead does give a land line number but it says in bold capitals that it’s a “FAX LINE ONLY”.

Firstly they refused to take our calls when we rang from the line in our office that withholds it’s number. So we rang again from a normal phone line. Before we could even outline the problem Sadgewicks told us that they had instructed their attorneys to write to us, presumably telling us to get lost. They then “warned” us that “when you are dealing with our company you’re not just dealing with a straightforward consumer issue, you’re dealing with legal matters.” No, sorry, it’s a consumer issue. A consumer is not being given a statement detailing her debt. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to ask for.

Then the call became completely bizarre. They told us that “Previously you have put our company and our lives in danger”. This referred to one of several complaints we’ve had about how

Sadgewicks deal with consumers. This one resulted in them calling the Police to remove a consumer who had gone to settle a matter. We knew the call was coming to an end when they said that they “have nothing further to say to us” and that we could deal directly with their attorneys. We were told that “I am going to report your society, association or whatever you call yourselves to the relevant Ministries as well.” We were then rather rudely told that “I am informing you and requesting you, nicely, please stop calling us concerning debtors.”

Well, OK, you did ask nicely. Almost. We won’t call again. We’ll write to you. You’ll find our letter on our web site, just near the recordings we made of the phone calls we had with you.

One last thing we need to say to Sadgewicks. Don’t bother getting legal with us and threatening to sue us for defamation, OK? Section 195 of the Penal Code (there’s a summary on our web site) says that a matter is not defamatory if:

"the matter is true and it was for the public benefit that it should be published"

Is there a lesson here? I’m not sure. I just know that when consumers try to settle their debts they should be helped to do so with some cooperation and courtesy. In fact almost everyone deserves cooperation and courtesy don’t they? This consumer had to cope without either of those things.

Don’t forget to listen to Consumer Watchdog every Thursday morning between 7:15am and 8:00am on DumaFM.

This week’s stars!

  • Jewel at Game at Game City in Gaborone for being “just brilliant”.
  • Beverley at Nandos also at Game City for being terrific, yet again.
  • The entire team at Café Dijo for wonderful food and a great atmosphere.

The Voice - Community survey – The dollar bill scam

Following the story on the dollar bill scam the Consumer Watchdog team hit the streets of Gaborone to ask people what they thought of this leaflet.

We didn’t tell them what or who was behind the leaflet, we just asked them whether they would be tempted to call the number or to send an email to the address given.

The good news is that only one third of the people we questioned would be tempted to make the call. One person said “Yes, with the strength of the dollar against the Pula, I think it’s tempting enough because you want to find out how you would get this dollar in your pocket.” Another said “Of course, Yes, I mean why not. It’s an opportunity to earn money and like it says you’ll be earning money in US dollars so it’s a great opportunity.”

Unfortunately consumers like these really need to be more skeptical. They need to ask themselves why the leaflet doesn’t say what the product is. Any normal, responsible and trustworthy piece of advertising would give you a clue what was being sold. This just offers you a get-rich quick opportunity. As the Consumer Watchdog team always say: “if it seems too good to be true then it probably is.”

However the good news is that two thirds of the people we spoke to didn’t trust the leaflet at all.

Most just told us that they instinctively didn’t believe it was true. One very smart young woman told us that “There are so many adverts that are really empty adverts.” She thought it was similar to the online lottery scams. She said “You get a message in your mailbox saying that you’ve won the lottery but you’ve never joined the lottery! It’s a scam.”

Another lady who the Consumer Watchdog team thought was very wise said “My ethic when it comes to money is to do things the old-fashioned way. Earn your way up and invest. These get rich quick schemes are usually corrupt.”

However, most damning was a man who told us “These people, they are thieves! They should be arrested. Send them to prison now!”

Perhaps that last suggestion was going a bit far but perhaps not? If someone is trying to scam you out of your money with a pyramid scheme then perhaps the law enforcement agencies should be involved?

The advice from Consumer Watchdog is that consumers really MUST be more skeptical. We mustn’t believe what anyone says unless there is reason to do so. If someone offers us a miraculous medicine, an investment scheme that can’t possibly fail or a get-rich scheme then we must ask ourselves whether there is any evidence that what they are saying is true.

The bad news is that it’s often difficult to research these things for yourself. The Internet is full of scammers trying to mislead people but there are sites you can visit that try to give impartial and honest advice. You can begin by visiting the Consumer Watchdog site where we’ve given a list of other reputable sites that will give you honest consumer advice.

Remember that Consumer Watchdog is there to help you. Unlike the dollar bill advert you can see above it’s completely free. What do you have to lose?

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I was given a leaflet at some traffic lights in Gaborone last week that offered a way to make money in US Dollars. It said “Want to earn more money part time or earn a fortune full-time? Earn in US Dollars”. On the other side it gave an email address and cellphone contact numbers.

Is this for real?

No, it’s not, it’s a scam.

We’ve seen one of these leaflets and they are quite well-produced. It resembles a US bank note and says "Want to earn more money part time or earn a FORTUNE full time? Earn in US Dollars." The reverse of the note says "The best money opportunity awaits you". It then gives two Botswana-based cellphone numbers, one South African and a Hotmail email address.

One of the Consumer Watchdog team called the numbers on the note.

This turned out to be for the ridiculous Success University, a classic pyramid-structure Multi-Level Marketing scheme. This scheme encourages you to sign up for motivational course work but, and this is the critical clue that it's not legitimate, it offers you the opportunity to sell Success University yourself. Their web site even has a link that says "Learn and Earn".

This explains how you can make money. It’s the usual pyramid-selling approach. To make money you have to recruit other people who, in turn, recruit others who themselves recruit others. And so on, and so on. Of course, like all pyramid schemes there are the promises of huge amounts of money. Success University promises “up to $10,000 each week”.

At least Multi-Level Marketing companies like Amway have real products to sell. Success University has no product other than some meaningless so-called motivational speeches that they are mass producing.

Ask yourself why a total stranger would offer you an opportunity to make a fortune rather than doing so himself? Why on earth would a total stranger try and recruit people at traffic lights? Why would a legitimate business operate from a Hotmail address?

Consumers should just throw these leaflets away and not waste their time and risk their money by responding to them.

Friday 17 October 2008

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

In September I went to a Chinese store called Investors View in Kasane and bought speakers costing P315.

When I got the speakers home I asked my friend to connect them for me, only to find that they weren’t working.  I took it back the following day.  The manager showed me a piece of paper that said “No guarantee for electronics” but he had never showed me that before I bought the speakers.  He told me that it is my responsibility to walk around the store and find the notice for myself.

I asked him to check the connections but he refused to listen and chased me out of the store.  He even said I should report him to the Police.  I went to the Police but they advised me to go to Consumer Affairs.

Can you tell me if there is a law regarding no guarantees?

Yes, there most certainly is!  A store simply cannot do that.  Section 17 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that it is a deceptive business practice if a store disclaims or limits “the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for use, unless a disclaimer is clearly and conspicuously disclosed”.  Notice that last bit.  It’s no good having a scrappy piece of paper hidden in a drawer underneath your unpaid VAT bills that says “No guarantees”.  It must be on the wall where nobody can miss it.  The next section of the Regulations states that it’s another deceptive business practice if they get you to waive your rights unless you have specifically consented to it.  That means in writing, before you paid.

So no, they can’t do that.  We’ll get our Chinese-speaking colleague to give them a call and explain to them in simple terms where they’ve gone wrong.

Meanwhile?  If you buy anything from Investors View in Kasane then be prepared to be abused.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Letter to Mmegi regarding scams

Many people will have seen a leaflet that is being given out at traffic lights in Gaborone at the moment.  It resembles a US bank note and says "Want to earn more money part time or earn a FORTUNE full time?  Earn in US Dollars."  The reverse of the note says "The best money opportunity awaits you".  It then gives two Botswana-based cellphone numbers, one South African and a Hotmail email address.

Consumers should just throw these leaflets away and not waste their time responding to them.  This type of scam is widely used around the world and is actually quite similar to the Nigerian 419 or "advance fee" scams that anyone with an email address has seen.  At some point the unsuspecting consumer will be required to pay these scammers a membership or joining fee.  That's how they earn their money.

We consumers should be more skeptical.  We should ask ourselves why a total stranger would offer us an opportunity to make a fortune rather than doing so himself?  Why on earth would a total stranger try and recruit people at traffic lights?  Why would a legitimate business operate from a Hotmail address?

I urge consumers to do the sensible thing.  Throw these leaflets away and do not get suckered into parting with your cash.  The old saying is a good one.  If something seems too good to be true then it certainly IS too good to be true.

Richard Harriman
Consumer Watchdog

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Online lotteries

Hi there!! I read your article about scams,cons and deceptions and it got me thinkin a lot.

I'll just get to the point...........I played free lotto games in March and I was told that I won. I had to enter my personal details and I started receiving e-mails notifying me that I won $1000000.

Some e-mails consists of cheques written my name and signed by the prize coordinator.They sent me an e-mail saying that they are seeking for an International winner which is me.I also have a list of people who played the lotto and won and then claimed their prizes. Some did not claim them.

The problem is that I do not know if its true or what. I tend to believe and sometimes I doubt. I just need your clarification about this and I guess you are the only one who can help me.

The bad news is that online lotteries are a waste of time.

Some do link to official lotteries like those in the UK and the USA but you are required to pay an extra fee on top of the basic lottery ticket price. That reduces your likely financial return even further than if you had entered the lottery in person.

Then there are others that are straightforward scams. They don't actually offer you anything genuine at all.

As for the emails you're getting regarding "winnings" these are fraudulent. This is one of the most common forms of email spam at the moment and they are probably not connected to you entering lotteries online, it's jut a coincidence. For instance I don't play online lotteries but I've received emails telling me I've won big prizes many, many times. These are what they call "advance fee" scams like the Nigerian 419 scams. They tempt you to respond and before long you have to pay them an advance fee or legal fees or customs clearance fees. It's this money they are seeking. As soon as you pay they will disappear and you will never hear from them again.

My first piece of advice is to ignore online lotteries completely. You are never going to win anything and your net return will be less than the amount you pay to play. That's how they make money.

My second piece of advice is never, ever respond to unsolicited emails that say you have won money. They are ALL scams. ALL of them.

Hope his helps!

Thursday 9 October 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

In 2003 I opened an account with Jet Stores in Gaborone.  This included insurance cover against all sorts of risks.  In 2005 I lost my teaching job due to illness.  From that time I failed to service my account, particularly when I spent 6 months out of the country seeking treatment.  When I returned to Botswana I contacted Jet and told them of my circumstances.  At that time my account balance stood at about P3,000.  They told me that they couldn’t help and that my account would continue accruing interest.  I tried my best to pay instalments with the help of friends and relatives.

I recently got another job and I started paying back P500 each month but I was shocked to find that my balance now stood at P7,000.  I also found out that I had been blacklisted.

My problem is that I thought I was insured against loss of employment and I think that Jet should have considered this.  I have tried to clear my name with TransUnion but they won’t do anything about it.

Can you help me? 

I’m sorry but I don’t think we can help very much.

You face several problems.  The first, and MOST significant, is that you failed to tell Jet in time that you lost your job and couldn’t make your repayments.  You really must tell a store these things instantly.  They’re not interested if you tell them months later.  Even if your policy did include insurance against losing your job it was probably too late by then.

There is probably very little that can be done regarding your listing with TransUnion.  Everything Jet told them was true.

You seem surprised that the amount you owed had increased so much.  It IS surprising how quickly the interest on a loan can accumulate if you fail to make repayments.  

You’re not a maths teacher are you?

An uncomfortable truth

The truth isn’t always what you want it to be.  That’s just one of those lessons that adults have to learn although many of us still retain one or two childish delusions into our grown-up years.  Some adults still believe in ghosts, witchcraft and thokolosi.  Some still believe that Governments are best placed to run businesses.  I confess I still believe that public transport and BX drivers CAN drive safely if they want to.

But we’re all slightly deluded if we still believe in this sort of nonsense.  Part of growing up is to put behind us the childish delusions and to embrace what is really true.  What is demonstrably true, the things that are based on real evidence.  Far from making life clinical and boring in fact this approach just makes us much more in touch with reality.  As the author Douglas Adams said “Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

As consumers, as citizens, just as people we have an obligation to look around us and examine what we are told and to try our best to identify what is right and what is not.

I’ve had to do this recently and it’s not always a terribly comfortable thing to do. 

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the forthcoming alcohol levy.  Instinctively I opposed it.  One of the reasons I opposed it was that I thought just putting up the price of booze wouldn’t actually dissuade anyone from drinking.  Well I was wrong.  It doesn’t take much internet browsing to establish that there is actually quite a lot of evidence that putting up the price of alcohol reduces it’s consumption.  Obviously there’s an element of common sense in that but it struck me as being a rather crude way to achieve the aim of reducing alcohol abuse.

I also have a fundamental opposition to anything that places me in the same camp as puritans.  I am a self-confessed self-indulger and I really dislike that streak of puritanical rejection of fun you sometimes see.  A puritan has been described as a person who has the nagging suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having more fun than they are.

However the uncomfortable truth for me is that there IS quite a lot of evidence that when countries enforce a levy such as the one our government is considering then alcohol consumption DOES actually go down.

However, I do still oppose it.  Not, as a friend pointed out, because each time it’s implementation approaches I stock up on wine and then promptly drink the stockpile in celebration each time it is postponed.

No, I oppose it primarily because it’s a bit like employing a dog-catcher rather than tying up your dog at night.  Instead of introducing something new with a range of unknown consequences why don’t we first use the tools we already have?  We already have a remarkably effective method for controlling alcohol abuse.  In fact we have thousands of them.  Very usefully they even wear easy-to-spot blue uniforms to help us see them.  The Police.  They have the training, the transport and, most importantly, the legal powers to curb excessive drinking.  They have the power to sit outside bars and make sure we don’t get into fights.  They have the power to stop someone who’s driving like a drunken moron and take their keys away.  They have the power to close down bars if they are causing a public nuisance.  All of these powers exist already.  There just not being used.

Instead of trying the levy first why don’t we demand that the Police use their existing powers and see what effect that has?  It’ll certainly be cheaper for everyone than introducing the levy.  It’ll save some jobs, save KBL some legal expenses and will earn the Police some respect from the community.  Only when there is real fear of enforcement of a law (and punishment) will it be respected.  

In fact, why don’t we go a little further?  Let’s not restrict our demand for action to the Police, let’s include all the other agencies.  Let’s demand that the Consumer Protection Unit enforce the Consumer Protection Act and Regulations.  Let’s see them throw a couple of store managers and Managing Directors in jail for a few days for ignoring the law.

The uncomfortable truth is that we are being badly let down by our law enforcement agencies.  The uncomfortable truth is that unless WE start demanding service from the authorities we will never get them.

Another uncomfortable truth is that it’s not just the public service that is letting us down.  Anyone who uses the internet regularly will have noticed some severe problems recently.  I’m told that this is down to a BTC problem.  BTC even issued a press release outlining the problem and referring customers not to BTC but to the Internet Service Provider.  Where exactly is this press release?  I don’t know.  It’s not on their web site where you might expect it to be.  The only way I know there WAS a press release is because I found a reference to it at  That’s not exactly comforting, is it?

This week’s stars!
  • Opi from Musica at Game City in Gaborone for going out of her way to deliver excellent service.
  • Boitshoko at FNB First Card for being brilliant.
  • Philemon at BPC for being really helpful and for caring about his customers.