Friday 30 May 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I took several ladies trouser and skirt suits to Modiba Drycleaners in Palapye in July 2007. I needed them for a workshop in Francistown in early August. When I went to get my clothes, a jacket for one of the trouser suits was missing.

To this day I still haven’t received the jacket and the staff really don’t seem to care! At one point they asked me where I bought it and I told them that it was specially made. They asked for a quotation for the material and labour which I gave them. Then they told me that they needed three quotations which I think is unreasonable. Why should I do all the running around?

I went to Consumer Affairs in Serowe but nothing positive has been done. They tell me that when they contact the manager they are always told that the owner is in South Africa. I am now confused and don’t know what to do.

What can I do?

Many people don’t realise that the Consumer Protection Regulations cover “services” as well as products. It’s not just when you buy physical items that you have rights. Section 15 (1) (a) of the Regulations says that a supplier has failed to meet minimum standards if “the service is not rendered with reasonable care and skill and such service … (is) not fit for any particular purpose made known by the consumer”.

It’s quite simple. You took your clothes to be dry-cleaned and it’s perfectly obvious what that meant. You had a right to expect clean clothes back at the end of the process. What’s more, you had a right to have ALL of your clothes back, not just some of them.

Of course as consumers we must understand that occasionally even the best suppliers make mistakes. However, we still have our rights when this happens. We have the right to expect things to be fixed. Quickly. You’ve been waiting for 10 months and that’s totally unacceptable.

We’ll get in contact with them and see what we can sort out. We’ll let you know!

Freedom to trade?

Do stores have an absolute right to trade? Should ANY store be able to open up business and sell things? Should there be any restrictions at all on how stores do business?

As a big believer in the benefits of the free market I’m obviously not in favour of excessive controls. I think that, in normal circumstances, suppliers should be left alone. So long as they obey the law, pay their taxes, treat their staff fairly and are good neighbours then they should be left undisturbed to do their business as they see fit. The fewer controls they have to negotiate, the fewer forms they have to fill in, the fewer busybodies getting between them and success the better.

But obviously there are some reasonable restrictions we’d all agree on. Pick N Pay shouldn’t be able to sell weapons-grade plutonium. Crack cocaine probably shouldn’t be available on the shelves of Spar. Useless “miracle cures” for cancer, AIDS and typhoid shouldn’t be available in pharmacies at Riverwalk. OK, that last one doesn’t happen any more, at least not after we intervened.

Obviously all of those things are illegal so we shouldn’t allow them. That’s perfectly reasonable surely? Stores should not be allowed to sell illegal products, it’s very simple and I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing.

So why do we, the community, allow stores to do it? It’s happening right now as you read this. Stores are operating illegally, ignoring the laws and showing utter contempt for their victims.

I’m not sorry for repeating this point. Why do most stores ignore the law when they advertise their products for sale on credit? Why don’t they advertise the total credit price in the advertisement as the law demands? Actually, I know the answer. In fact I know several answers.

Firstly they do it because we, their customers, permit them to. If every consumer just stopped buying from these stores, just for a month, they would get the message. They would see half their profits disappearing overnight. I’m not making that last bit up, about half their profits. A furniture store manager once told us confidentially that more than half of the company’s profits came from their credit schemes, more than the profit they made from actually selling furniture. Most of the furniture stores you see around town should, more correctly, be registered as money lenders.

Secondly they do it because the powers-that-be, the regulators, those bodies about whom I am usually so dismissive, often aren’t doing their jobs. Every store that trades is required to have a trade licence and these licences are often based on an inspection. Why doesn’t that inspection include a very close look at their business practices, not just whether they have suitable lavatories and a fire escape.

Before you think I’m dismissing all the regulators I do have to say something good. In the papers recently I saw a press release from the Ministry of Health regarding the labelling of pre-packaged goods. This outlined what manufacturers and stores were obliged to include on food labels such as lists of ingredients, country of origin and weights and quantities. However the bit I liked most of all was at the end. It reminded us that anyone breaking these regulations would face “fines, imprisonment as well as cancellation or suspension of licences”.

Te previous week I saw a similar release covering tourism companies whose licences were about to expire. It stated clearly that if the licence expired they were forbidden from trading.

This is all magnificent, utterly magnificent. This is what the Public Service is for. Not sitting there reading the Daily News all day but enforcing the law.

Of course part of this is the new level of energy you can find in the Public Service these days. Anyone who has dealings with them can’t help but notice a new level of anxiety they exhibit. The new CEO of the Public Service seems to have brought a new broom to bear. Long may it continue.

So here’s an idea. The law says that the Minister of Trade and Industry “may at any time withdraw, suspend or cancel a licence… if, in his opinion, it is in the interests of the inhabitants of a particular area or of Botswana generally”. It then says that the Minister can keep it suspended for as long as he sees fit and until the store has done whatever they’ve been told to do.

Simple, powerful and woefully underused. If a store breaks the rules their licence can be withdrawn. So let’s see that happening. Let’s see a few stores have their licence withdrawn, a few days would be enough, and see the message spread throughout the community. Maybe even my long-running fantasy can be realised. Don’t worry, it’s nothing too depraved but it does involve a store manager spending a few nights in prison, enjoying the state’s hospitality as a result of persistently ignoring the law.

Maybe that’s all the industry needs in order to shape up. Just a couple of serious enforcements and the message will spread to all the other stores who think the law is optional.

Here’s another suggestion. We’ll give the Minister everything we’ve gathered, all the evidence, including documents, recorded phone calls and even undercover video recordings of stores telling our team lies. It’s all available to whoever in the Ministry needs it. All they have to do is ask.

This week’s stars!

  • Tumelo Sejoe at Game Stores for going out his way to help a customer.
  • Captain John Seke, First Officer Moseki, Donna Moloi and Motshegetsi Mphato from Air Botswana for “being friendly and helpful as we have come to expect from our national airline”.

Thursday 22 May 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I bought a Telefunken 74cm Colour TV from Payless at Game City in April this year.

I know a bit about televisions and quickly noticed that the colour balance was not right. I thoroughly checked the set and found out that it wasn’t able to produce any yellow along with the other colours on the screen. The absence of the yellow colour made everything else seem purple. I also noticed that the brightness control did not give good brightness even when set at maximum.

Also the power supply isn’t functioning properly. It turns itself off and won’t go back on. I have to wait 15 minutes or more before I turn it on and then, the standby light comes on for exactly 3 seconds before it goes off and the TV does not go on.

I took the TV back to Payless and they kept it for two days and then said they did not see any problems with it but they would call in their technician. They told me that he said there was nothing wrong with it. Eventually one of the store managers told me that every one of those models is like that. He refused to take it back or to replace it.

What can I do?

Why is it that certain stores fail to understand the simplest of consumer protection rules. The Consumer Protection Regulations are perfectly clear. We’ve said it over and over again so there’s no excuse for not knowing this. Section 13 (1) (a) of the Regulations say that Payless have failed to meet minimum standards of service by selling you a TV that is not of “merchantable quality”. In simple terms that means that the TV should be “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. Colour TVs are meant to display colours. All of them, not just red and blue. TV owners usually want to see yellow on their TV.

Take the TV back to them once more. Give them your copy of The Voice and show them this page. Give them 24 hours to replace your TV with another that is worth at least as much as you spent and that shows ALL colours, not just the ones they think you deserve.

Update: We spoke to the senior manager at Payless and it’s all sorted. Common sense has prevailed.

A free lunch?

There’s a saying used a lot by physicists, economists and bar owners, three of my favourite professions.

"There’s no such thing as a free lunch".

In simple terms it means that you can never get something for nothing. Even though a bar owner may offer free snacks, you are expected to buy lots of drinks to earn them. Even though you get energy out of a physical or chemical reaction you always have to put more energy in to obtain it. In economics it’s often said that to get something you have to give up something else.

Then the phrase is used by cynics to suggest that nobody ever really gives away anything for free. Sometimes I think I’m a cynic and not just a sceptic.

Last week, in a full-page advertisement a furniture store offered a free gift. They offered you, entirely free, a duvet inner and two pillows, so long as you buy a base set from them first. So it’s obviously not really free, they’ve factored the cost of the cheap extras into the cost of all their base sets beforehand. It’s not free at all, it just sounds like it is.

What the store also did was to offer those deliciously tempting pillows for a VERY brief period. 24 hours. If you weren’t there the day after you read the advertisement this once in a lifetime offer disappeared. Well, until next weekend probably.

Similarly the so-called Church of Scientology will certainly give you a free leaflet explaining how their ridiculous philosophy will solve all of life’s problems but to find out exactly how this works you have to buy the books, the courses and the endless, compulsory “counselling” with your own money. Vast quantities of it. Of course you get the counselling at subsidised rates if you join their commercial “religion” and help them spread the word and make them some more money. Only then do you get a glimpse of their copyrighted, secret scriptures. The same ones that are available on the internet.

Then there’s the Multi-Level Marketing company offering all sorts of wonderful toiletries, household goods and a vast array of “lifestyle” products. On top, entirely for free is the opportunity to become rich by becoming joining the pyramid, becoming one of their distributors and making a fortune. Shame it doesn’t work.

So is there anything you can genuinely get for free?

Yes, there is. I’m delighted to confirm that Consumer Watchdog breaks all the laws of physics, economics and bar ownership.

We do it all for free. No hidden charges, no funny business, entirely free, for nothing, gratis, zero-cost. Free.

These days we get around 60 calls each month from consumers who have fallen victim to scandalous store credit schemes, villainous micro-lenders and dodgy cellphone stores. Very often they ask us, before they explain their problem, “What will you charge to help me?” It sometimes takes quite a while to convince the callers that we don’t charge a thing. We really don’t.

Very occasionally people have insisted that they want to give us something. On these occasions we’ve always politely declined and suggested that if they really feel that they want to give someone something as a result of what we’ve done then they should give something to charity. If we help you and you feel generous then give something to the Cheshire Foundation and help someone less fortunate than yourself.

Then there’s our annual party. That’s also entirely free. Nobody has to pay a thebe, a cent or a penny to come to our party. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a service star, a service star’s boss or a VIP. It’s free, it always has been and it always will be.


Yes, there’s an exception. There is one group of people who DO have to pay for our services. I’m not going to use the word I’m tempted to use to describe them but let me put it this way. If, like the consumer who contacted us recently, you tell us that you only want help from me, because I’m a white guy and not from my extremely talented but black female colleague then you have to pay. Cash. Lots of it.

We have a number of advantages over the Government Consumer Protection Unit. We’re not bathed in bureaucracy, we achieve things and we can turn people away. We don’t have a law that says we must help everyone. We can turn down consumers who think that it’s acceptable to tell my black female colleague that she’s not good enough. We’re free to show racism and sexism the door.

An update.

Last week I appealed for honest cellphone store owners to contact us so we could announce to Mmegi readers that such creatures DO exist. Do you know how many have contacted us? Do you know how many people who sell cellphones have got in touch so they could publicly announce that they respect their customers, promise to abide by the various consumer protection laws and be good guys?

10? 5? 2? 1?

Zero. None. Not one. Not a single one. Can they be so rare? If so I’m contacting the Department of Wildlife to see if we can have honest cellphone sellers officially classified as an endangered species.

Another update.

Check our web site for our latest Buyers Guide, this time on store credit. Let us know what you think by leaving a comment on our blog which you can also reach from the web site. Just click on Consumer Watch-blog.

This week’s stars!

  • Modiri and Howard at Incredible Connection for excellent service.
  • Nekere at Musica at Game City for always being extremely friendly, cheerful and helpful.
  • Vivian from the Rural Industries Innovation Centre in Kanye for exceptional help to a lost visitor.

Friday 16 May 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I was a customer of Jet Stores up to November 2006. I cleared the account which was P2591.00 on the 20th November 2006 and closed the account. When I cleared this amount the gentleman who was helping me at Jet Stores failed to tell me that they had already listed me with ITC. It was only when I applied for a cellphone contract in December 2007 that I found this out because I was declined.

I asked Jet for a statement and they confirmed that I owed them nothing. However when I contacted ITC they told me that I was listed on 7th November 2006 by Jet with an unpaid debt of the full P2591.00.

I followed Jet’s advice and contacted their Head Office in South Africa. They wrote me a letter confirming that I had paid off the debt and that they would clear the amount as unpaid within 14 days. However my record would stay with ITC for 2 years from the date I was originally listed. I contacted ITC and they also told me that the details would remain on their records until November 2008.

What can I do?

Unfortunately not very much. If you were actually behind on your repayments and you DID owe Jet the full amount then that record is actually true. Obviously the record should show that you no longer owe Jet that amount but a store is entitled to record that you did, in the past, owe them that amount.

You were wise to check with TransUnion (who used to be called ITC). You were also wise to get Jet to confirm with TransUnion that you no longer owed them the money. However you will, unfortunately, have to wait until later this year before the record is purged.

Follow-up: As you may have seen recently we reported that TransUnion have formed a partnership with BotswanaPost so that you can check your TransUnion record at Post Offices. It’s starting small at just three Post Offices in Gaborone but will be rolled out to the whole nation soon. It costs P30 but that sounds like money well spent!

It’s wrong to lie

My mother taught me that lying is wrong. More than that, she would draw my attention to the perils of lying (on the occasions she caught me doing it) with a smack to the back of whichever part of me was within reach.

Your mother probably did the same. Chances are that every mother in the world does this, regardless of race, creed or religion.

Didn’t cellphone store owners have mothers?

I used to think that it was used car salesmen, taxi drivers and builders that couldn’t be trusted but I’ve changed my mind. I HAVE found honest, reliable car salesmen. I’ve even found builders that tell the truth. I’m still not sure about the taxi drivers.

However I’m having little luck finding an honest cellphone salesman. I‘ve asked almost everyone I know if they can recommend an honest one but they just laugh at me.

We’ve recently been overwhelmed by consumers contacting us with stories of deception by cellphone stores. We’ve had reports of fake cellphones that simply don’t work and when you take them back to the store they tell you that there’s no warranty at all (which of course is true) and that your money has disappeared never to be seen again. There’s not much you can do, particularly as the authorities don’t really seem to care a bit about the problem.

We also heard from someone who bought a phone from Cell City in the Old Lobatse Road in Gaborone. It worked briefly but very quickly stopped working. Every time she replied to a text message it would power off. She also noticed that the screen was broken. Of course she took it back and they kept it to “reprogram it” and to see what they could do with the screen. When she eventually picked it up nothing had changed, it still kept powering off and the screen was still damaged. They’d done nothing at all.

She contacted us and we phoned Cell City to see if we could help. That was at the end of March. Now, 6 weeks later, nothing has changed. We’ve called various people at Cell City but no luck. They promised to give her a refund but that never materialised. Now they seem to be refusing to take our calls. She still doesn’t have a working cellphone.

Let’s explain this to them in simple terms. They sold a product that was not of merchantable quality. That’s Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations that’s been broken. They failed to repair the phone which is a breach of Section 15 (1) (a) which talks about rendering services with reasonable care and skill. Finally they broke Section 19 (1) which forbids ignoring phone calls from Consumer Watchdog. Trust me, it does say that, honest, it’s the same section that says we’re always right and they’re always wrong.

Another customer bought a new phone from Davkom that wouldn’t charge. Davkom’s initial response was that chargers aren’t covered by the warranty. Sorry but no. Unless there is a sign 3 metres high at the entrance saying that power supplies aren’t covered by the warranty then they ARE covered. The sign should be in every language spoken in Botswana and in Braille for the blind. That’s also in the law. I think. Luckily Davkom saw sense and the customer got her problem solved.

Sometimes the stories we hear aren’t beyond a joke, they ARE a joke. We were told by a cellphone store owner that customers breach the phone’s warranty if they keep them in their bras. Yes, cleavages break warranties.

Last weekend we did a very unscientific warranty survey in some cellphone stores. The good news is that those that are linked directly to either Orange or Mascom or to a specific cellphone manufacturer like Nokia or Sony Ericsson seem to be honest about the warranties on offer. They said that their phones come with one-year warranties. However every one of the other stores was more, shall we say, “imaginative”. One store said phones came with warranties that lasted 6 months, others 3, some said only one month and we’ve heard of stores that offer no warranty at all.

All of this is clearly nonsense. If you are an honest store you will buy new phones through legitimate channels and they will all come with a manufacturer’s warranty. The manufacturer will give the phone at least a year’s warranty. It’s distinctly possible that these stores are not selling the real thing. Either fakes or, more likely, second-hand phones they’ve imported from overseas.

Or they just can’t be bothered to respect their customers.

So here’s a challenge. If you know an honest cellphone store owner, or if YOU are one of these rare, endangered species get in touch. If you will give us a commitment that you will sell legitimate products, treat your customers with respect, abide by the Consumer Protection Regulations and, above all, tell the truth then we’ll mention you in this column. We’ll publish your commitment to honesty and just watch how the customers come flocking to you.

On the other hand if you don’t want to be seen as honest then that’s up to you. But remember that shoppers are like your mother. Sooner or later you’ll get a firm slap on the bum either from her or your customers.

This week’s stars!

  • Nancy at Tyre Services for listening patiently and taking a complaint seriously.
  • Onkabele Chere at BTC Corporate for really quick, polite, pleasant, helpful service. Apparently he “is a gentleman”.
  • Geoff at the Sunday Standard Advertising Department for really going out of his way to help a customer meet a deadline.
  • Pinkie, Kebonyetsala and Orabile at Metcourt Inn for problem solving and finding an easy solution to a customer problem.

Friday 9 May 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I had a bad experience buying perfume from a store at Riverwalk Shopping Mall.

I went to the shop to buy my favourite perfume but they persuaded me to buy some Chanel instead. They even called the manager of the store on his cellphone to come back to the store to give me a discount. He came back very quickly and he did indeed give me a reduction. However as soon as I got it home I realised it was a fake.

I returned it the next day but they refused to take it back or replace it with an original claiming that I had already opened it.

What can I do?

They’re crooks, simple as that. Don’t ever buy anything from him again and although we can’t name the store (yet) you should tell everyone you know that they sell counterfeit goods and can’t be trusted.

There seems to be an epidemic of counterfeit goods at the moment. Whether it’s DVDs that contain several pirated films, illegal copies of computer software, branded clothing or perfume it’s all rubbish and illegal as well.

Regardless of things like copyright law the store has broken Section 13 (1) (b) of the Consumer Protection Regulations by selling you something that caused a probability of confusion about the source of those products they sold. If it said Chanel on the box it must be Chanel. If it turns out that it isn’t Chanel they are crooks, simple as that.

The bad news is that you’ll get no support from the Government enforcement authorities. But don’t despair, you’re not alone. The good news is that Consumer Watchdog and The Voice love a fight. Bring us the bottle of perfume you bought and we’ll send it to the nearest Chanel distributor for testing and if they can prove it’s a fake we’ll expose them as well as reporting them to the Police.

Watch this space!

Give me your fakes...

At the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York, there is a brass plaque with an inscription. It’s rather long, deeply grandiose and is very, very bad poetry. However it does contain the famous line:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

Despite my feelings about the terrible poetry the statue has justifiably become a truly international symbol of liberty, opportunity and hope.

I’m tempted to have a statue constructed outside our office. It will be a half-naked, buxom woman (trust me, that bit’s compulsory) holding aloft a copy of the Consumer Protection Regulations. At the base it will say:

“Give me your fake cellphones, your dodgy perfumes and illegal product claims, your abused consumers struggling to get their money back”

We get more than our fair share of consumers who report to us their stories of fakery, crooked dealings, deception and lies.

We had a visitor this week who brought in a cellphone she had bought for over P1,000. It was very flash, very good looking and was from a very good manufacturer. Nokoa. Not Nokia, Nokoa. Should she have been surprised that it didn’t work? Should she have been surprised that when she took it back to the store they told her she would have to pay to have it repaired? Should she have been surprised when they completely refused to refund her money or replace it with a genuine phone?

No, she shouldn’t have been surprised at all. The name said it all. She must have realised that this was a fake. However, that doesn’t excuse the store from their obligation not to sell counterfeit goods. They were clearly trying to portray the cellphone as a Nokia and therefore sought to cause a probability of confusion regarding it’s source and that’s illegal.

Then there was another customer who spent P400 on a fancy perfume from a shop at Riverwalk Shopping Mall in Gaborone. She went there searching for her favourite scent but the store staff persuaded her to buy the extra special Chanel perfume. They even phoned the manager and negotiated a discount for her. So far so good. Well, it would have been if it wasn’t a fake bottle of perfume.

We’ve all seen people selling perfumes from little tables in shopping malls and we know they are obviously fakes but this was from a proper store. When she took it back they refused to do anything because she had opened the packet. Utter nonsense of course. That’s a bit like a restaurant saying you can’t send back the plate of rotten food because you took a bite before you realised it was bad.

Those of you who are into perfume, cosmetics and so-called beauty products, or those of you like me who are married to someone who is, will have come across Clarins. They sell an enormous range of products and they are a good example of my latest theory. Any company that uses the word “lifestyle” in it’s marketing materials doesn’t really have very much to offer.

Marketing companies seem to use the word “lifestyle” whenever they see a product that has little, if any, intrinsic value and instead try to conjure up an image how wonderful life would be if only you bought their vacuous products. It’s all about style rather than substance. There’s nothing wrong with packaging something attractively but when the product is no better than the cheap variety you get from your neighbourhood pharmacy or supermarket you should realise that sometimes it’s just the packaging your are buying. Oh and the lifestyle.

Clarins recently got into trouble in the UK. They launched a product called “Expertise 3P Screen Mist” which, they claim, is “Anti-Electromagnetic Waves & Urban Pollution”. According to their advertisements this scented water will protect you from the hazardous electro-magnetic waves issued by cellphones and the resulting aging effects thereof.

Rubbish. Meaningless, ignorant drivel. As it turns out, illegal rubbish. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority called Clarins and told them to cut it out. They instructed them to stop making up scientific-sounding nonsense and claiming that their product could fix a problem that simply didn’t exist.

I confess this last issue is more about fake claims rather than fake goods but fakery is fakery, however and wherever it appears.

So what’s the lesson about counterfeit goods?

By all means buy them. But understand that if you knowingly buy a counterfeit product you are on your own. Nobody will help you. If you buy a fake Nokia phone, find it doesn’t work and you take it to Nokia they are perfectly entitled to show you the door. You have virtually no consumer rights with counterfeit goods. However that’s true if you knew they weren’t the real thing when you bought them. If a supplier sold you something and led you to believe it was the real thing but you later find out it was counterfeit then you can at least go back to that supplier and demand your money back. Don’t ask for a replacement because that store can’t be trusted.

And if they don’t offer you a complete refund, instantly? Then bring the product to us and we’ll do it for you.

Next time you’re in a store and you see something on a shelf that you’re convinced is a counterfeit you should stand there, point at it and in your loudest voice tell the owners to remove it from the shelf. Try the phrase “Fake Off”.

This week’s stars!

  • Botlale Joseph at Shell Village Plaza for great service, recognising a regular and being attentive.
  • Leungo at Birds of a Feather for being willing to listen and fix a problem.

Friday 2 May 2008

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

I recently bought a cellphone from Davkom computers.  When I got it home I followed the instructions and plugged it in to charge it for 4 hours.  However when the time was up it wouldn’t switch on.  I took it back to the store the next day but they told me that there was a problem with the charger but that this wasn’t covered by the warranty and I would have to pay for it to be repaired.


What can I do?


This isn’t acceptable.  The Consumer Protection Regulations state that a store can’t just say that something isn’t covered by the warranty unless they made that perfectly clear to you BEFORE you bought it and that they made perfectly sure you understood it.


We checked your receipt and it does say, in very small letters “No warranty on power supply”.  However we don’t think this is reasonable because you don’t get the receipt until after you’ve paid and it’s hardly clear if it’s written in tiny letters nobody can read.  Also this wasn’t actually explained to you in detail before you parted with your money so it just doesn’t count.


Nowhere on the receipt or anywhere else did you confirm that you were waiving your rights so your rights are still protected.


The receipt also says that there is a 20% “handling charge” on all returned goods and that also is completely unacceptable.  You can’t be charged for returning goods that aren’t of merchantable quality, that’s just silly.


You should take the goods back to the store, explain your objections and demand either a refund or a replacement.  Remember you have rights and you should stick up for them!


An update.  We contacted Davkom and explained our understanding of their obligations and the good news is that after listening to what we said they have agreed to offer the customer a replacement for the faulty goods without any fuss.


Good for Davkom for seeing sense and good for the customer for sticking up for himself!

The triumph of mediocrity

Are we happy being mediocre? Are we happy being acceptable, generally OK and no better than “good enough”?

Mediocre doesn’t mean bad, just as it doesn’t mean good. It just means somewhere in between. Somewhere where the services and products we’re sold are satisfactory, adequate and generally acceptable. Just not fantastic. Not awesome. Not wonderful.

As a nation we obviously don’t want to perform badly. We don’t want to be seen as hostile, unfriendly and unwelcoming and I imagine we don’t want to be famous for delivering appalling service. But are we happy being regarded as a nation that is average, middling and ordinary?

Why aren’t we striving to be exceptional? Why are we accepting the ordinary and not demanding the extraordinary?

Take the Public Service. Go on, take it, please.

Why do we permit such staggering mediocrity from our Public Service?

I have to be fair. There are some bits of the Public Service that are getting it right. We often hear compliments about the service delivered by the Police, in fact they are probably one of the most often celebrated of all organisations in the country but then they are an emergency service so I suppose we should expect the occasional exceptional experience from them.

We also hear great things about the Department of Road Transport and Safety and, for some strange but delightful reason, the Bee Keeping Units in the Ministry of Agriculture. Something is clearly working in these units. On the other hand we keep on hearing about certain parts of the Public Service that still seem to think that the public are there to serve them, not them there to serve us. These are Public Servants who clearly have forgotten that they are called Public Servants for a reason so simple I’m not going to explain it.

But, like so many other areas, the majority of the customer-facing areas of the Public Service just seem to be just terribly, terribly ordinary. Neither good nor bad, just hugely forgettable.

Then there’s my current, major disappointment. I confess this is a personal thing but I know I’m not the only one moaning about the gradual disappearance of local radio that addresses the needs of people like me. I have a preference for a certain type of morning drive-time radio program. I like to hear intelligent people talking intelligently about intelligent things. Along with the coffee it starts my brain in the morning, gets me to the office or to a customer with ideas floating around in my head and perhaps, every so often, I learn something new. Even on the occasions when I disagree profoundly with what’s being said it’s like an early morning dose of adrenaline. Recently I, a rather grumpy, middle-aged man have ended up listening to, sit down before you read this, YaronaFM. Why? Because the level of intelligence-stimulating and interest-prompting conversation at GabzFM, my natural radio station is slowly evaporating. Where are the extended, intelligent and stimulating debates about the things that matter to us? Yes, they still have the Shombi and Mike slot but it’s getting smaller and smaller and before we know it will have disappeared completely.

Why do our commercial radio stations all seem to think that they can win against their competitors by being the same as them? Why isn’t one of them being different? Why don’t they understand that to be good and different is often as good as being better and similar? It’s also easier. So why can’t we have just one radio station that doesn’t try to please us by playing the music almost all the time rather than giving us something different? There’s nothing wrong about being clever and talking in a clever manner about clever things. Honest, there isn’t.

The trouble is that if they don’t realise this soon they’re all going to fail miserably. The threat to them comes from a variety of sources. We already have Motsweding that broadcasts to us from across the border and SAFM, the one station that understands that voice is as desirable on radio as music.

Late last year there was a heading in Mmegi that said “Motsweding teaches local media a lesson”. That’s just shameful and embarrassing. It also suggests to me that our local radio, despite going national, is speeding headlong into mediocrity and from there further in the wrong direction.

Enough moaning. Here’s something positive.

My original idea was to suggest that government, every time they grant a business a licence, or give a foreigner a work permit for a job that involves selling things, should give away a free summary of our Consumer Protection laws.

That way nobody could ever say that they didn’t realise that consumers have rights.

Anyway that was my original idea but it didn’t last long. I realised that even if someone in authority thought is was a great idea and agreed to do it, all that would happen for the next 2 years would be the formation of a Working Party, governed by a Steering Committee and above them a Project Board that would first start by drafting it’s Terms of Reference, immediate action plan, a formal project plan, the drafting of an Invitation to Tender to engage consultants to draft the initial text of the summary that would then go for consultation amongst the various stakeholders, stakepositioners, stakehammerers and stakestraighteners. Then of course it would need approval up, down and up again through the chain of command and perhaps, if we are very lucky we might get it some time in 2010.

So I did it myself. It’s on our web site.


This week’s stars!

  • Boys at the Total Filling Station at Game City for an example of how things CAN be excellent.