Thursday, 20 May 2010

Are we all crooks?

Are we, as an entire nation, crooks? Normally I accuse just a few small groups of being crooks. Sometimes it’s second-hand car salespeople, the next week it might be cellphone stores. Among the groups I unashamedly accuse of being crooks are anyone selling a pyramid scheme, or even most of the slightly more acceptable Multi-Level Marketing schemes. I also accuse almost all companies that sell, or rather claim to sell, jobs abroad. There may be one or two that are legitimate but most are just crooks.

Of course there is my current favourite crooked firm in Botswana, the recently renamed New Era Travel. They used to be “Uniglobe” New Era Travel but that was before they stole money from a customer, ended up being dragged in front of the Police and finally were slapped around by the Small Claims Court. It was only after months of effort by the aggrieved customer that he got his money back. So, you might think, that was that? No.

It turns out that they also stole money from another customer. This time they even gave her what they claimed was a flight ticket but in fact was nothing more than just a piece of paper without the required e-ticket number that rendered it useless. At the last minute, after she had confirmed with the airline itself that she had no genuine ticket, she had to pay a small fortune for last-minute tickets from a different, this time reputable travel agency.

Isn’t it staggering that a company can be so shameless? They find themselves exposed in the press for cheating one customer and then they steal even more money from another customer? I can’t imagine how they sleep at night.

And the reason they changed their name? Uniglobe, a respectable international travel company, finally got so angry with New Era that they withdrew their franchise and set lawyers on them to stop using the Uniglobe name. I went and had a look last week and can confirm that they’ve removed any reference to Uniglobe. They still appear to be trading although I didn’t see anyone enter their premises while I was there. Maybe the public have finally got the message that they simply can’t be trusted and that there are other travel agencies that won’t steal your money? I hope so.

(The New Era office window, before and after their enforced change of name!)

So does this mean I think the criminal element is a tiny minority amongst us? That only very few people in our communities are crooks? Maybe not.

A good friend sent me a report from the Business Software Alliance on the levels of software piracy around the world. Before I give you the bad news I should explain that obviously any organisation with a name like the “Business Software Alliance” has an agenda. In this case that agenda is simple and obvious, they exist to represent the interests of the business software industry, but that’s no different to a local association of farmers, lawyers or hairdressers, they’re just standing up for their industry and it’s members.

One of the most interesting things in the report, the “Seventh Annual BSA/IDC Global Software Piracy Study”, is a league table, showing the countries around the world with the highest levels of software piracy. Of course the usual suspects are top of the list. The top five countries are Georgia, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Moldova and Armenia, all countries with virtually no rule of law or real law enforcement, no surprises there. They all had piracy rates of 90% or more. Further down the list you find examples like Iraq, Venezuela, Ukraine and Bolivia.

But, I can hear you saying, those countries are all basket cases, what’s the highest-scoring democratic, civilised, politically stable country in the league table of software pirates? That’s the bad news.

It’s us.

According to this survey the BSA estimate that in 2009 79% of all software being used in Botswana was pirated.

We apparently have exactly the same score as China and we’re even higher than Albania, Kazakhstan and Serbia. In case you’re interested the score for South Africa was 35%.

If this is to be believed we are a nation of thieves. Of course you can question that figure. For instance I genuinely don’t know anyone, as an individual, who currently uses pirated software. However I have heard about several large organisations who have been caught out using pirated software and who only just managed to escape prosecution by paying the software companies vast amounts of money to say sorry. They had hundreds of PCs with illegal software.

At Consumer Watchdog we’ve also had some contact with small computer companies who have actively sold pirated software. We reported last year about a local firm called Micro-IT who, as well as ignoring the Consumer Protection Regulations, were successfully prosecuted for installing illegal copies of Microsoft products on the consumer PCs they sold.

I actually don’t believe we’re a nation of thieves, of course I don’t, but I do think that appearing in the top section of this league table is shameful. If we’re not careful, if we don’t demand law enforcement from the authorities, the rest of the world will see us just as a nation of companies and people like New Era Travel and Micro-IT. That really would be shameful.

An appeal

Which company in Botswana gives you really dreadful service on the telephone? Let us know who you think sucks on the phone and we’ll phone them, record their abysmal service and then send a recording to their CEO or MD. Let’s demonstrate how bad things are to those who have the power to do something about it!

This week’s stars
  • Kagiso from Water Utilities for a very prompt and helpful response to a consumer.

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