Friday, 2 July 2010

Did you know?

According to Section 58 of the Public Health Act 1981:
“No person shall sell or expose for sale… any food for human consumption in a tainted, adulterated, diseased or unwholesome state, or which is unfit for human consumption”.
OK, I suspect nobody will be surprised by that. It’s the sort of rule that every country has, except perhaps North Korea where they’re so poor and starving that they’d eat anything, probably even their football team. It’s a perfectly reasonable rule that makes it illegal to sell, or just as importantly, “expose for sale” food that’s rotten or even just “unwholesome” which my dictionary defines as “not conducive to health or moral well-being”.

However, here’s the interesting part. Any “unwholesome food” can be seized by certain authorised officials. Any idea who these officials might be? Let me tell you. The Act says that:
“any health officer, veterinary officer or police officer of or above the rank of sergeant may seize any such food”.
Read that again. Any cop who is a sergeant or better can enter a store and if he or she sees unwholesome food they can seize the food to protect the public from eating it. They don’t need to go to court, get an order, fill in a form, seek permission from the Commissioner, the Mayor or the President, or even get the permission from the store owner or manager. They can just do it.

So why don’t they? The reason is simple. They don’t know they have that power. Nobody has ever told them.

Can you imagine how much better things would be if store managers knew that the cops could do this? What would it be like if every time a police officer walked in the store to do his shopping the manager knew the powers the cop had? Rotten food would disappear overnight.

Here’s another fun section of the Public Health Act. Section 42:
“No person shall publish any advertisement … of any medicine, appliance or article for the alleviation or cure of any venereal disease or disease affecting the genital organs or functions or of sexual impotence, or of any complaint or infirmity arising from or relating to sexual intercourse.

Any person who publishes any such advertisement … shall be guilty of an offence.”
In case you haven’t realised it yet, every advertisement offering a cure for impotence has been placed there by a crook. The law says so.

There’s more. In the Public Health Regulations 1983 there is a lengthy part relating to “Refreshment Businesses” and within it a section entitled “Tables”. It’s worth repeating in full:
“(1) Waiters shall at all times wear clean clothes and overalls.
(2) Waiters shall handle cutlery by the handles only.
(3) Waiters shall not touch the rim of a glass.
(4) Food shall be served by means of an implement and not by hand.
(5) Waiters' fingers shall not come into contact with food when it is served.”
Remember that next time you’re in a restaurant and a badly dressed waiter with dirty fingernails gets his filthy hands all over your cutlery and glass. Remind him that he and his manager probably don’t want to fall foul of the Public Health Act and Regulations. Tell them the maximum penalty for breaching the law involves prison.

The Regulations go on and on, I could fill this entire edition of Mmegi with all the details. It covers hotels, butcheries, grain mills, bakeries, laundries and even public events.

Usually I would complain that these Regulations aren’t sufficiently well enforced but I think we all know we’re being let down in this area. I bet we’ve all seen restaurants and stores that have broken all the rules I’ve mentioned as well as the hundreds of others I haven’t. However my biggest complaint is that nobody is telling us about these rules.

Wouldn’t it be good if, instead of publishing utterly boring graphs about their performance, Ministries and Councils published information that was really useful to us, like the rules about public health, food hygiene, consumer protection and even just our general laws? Isn’t that what these bodies, that in case you’ve forgotten WE pay for, are really for?

Actually it is what some of them are for. The Consumer Protection Act establishes the Consumer Protection Office and it lists the various functions the office will have. Section 5 (2) (b) says that the office shall:
“disseminate information to enable consumers to acquire knowledge of basic consumer rights and obligations and the skills needed to make informed choices about goods and services”
The very next section says that they will:
“formulate and implement consumer education programmes”
Their last duty is remarkably broad. It says they will:
“do all such other things as may be necessary to protect consumers from purchasing or otherwise acquiring substandard goods or services or from being otherwise exploited”.
So why don’t they? Why don’t we see them publishing the information we need in newspapers, on government web sites and most importantly, in school text books so that we all know our rights and the obligations that apply to the people who sell us things. Yes, Consumer Watchdog will continue to do it’s bit but it would be nice to see the bodies actually paid to do it doing so.

One bit of good news is that all of these laws and regulations are freely available to us all on the web. Go to and you can see them for yourself. The bad news is that you’ll need to read through them all yourself to find out what your rights are. Or you could just keep reading Mmegi I suppose?

This weeks stars
  • Gosego from the Embassy restaurant at Riverwalk in Gaborone for service with a smile.

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