Friday, 2 March 2012


When Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, was first running for the office (and before he discarded his conscience) he famously outlined the three main priorities for his prospective government. They were, he said, “Education, education, education”.

While there are many critical things you can say about Blair that was a noble sentiment. I genuinely believe that one of the key roles of Government, along with the provision of health care, roads, defense and policing is education. Critically though I don’t think this stops when someone leaves school or university. I think the Government and its various specialist agencies have an on-going job to educate us, just like we should have an on-going desire to learn.

Some of these agencies actually have education in their job description. The Consumer Protection Unit in the Ministry of Trade and Industry was set up specifically to do this. Section 5 (2) (a) of the Consumer Protection Act says that one of their jobs is to:
“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 next section of the Act says that they must “formulate and implement consumer education programmes”.

Forgive me but I don’t see this happening. Was it that weekend when I was away?

But they’re not the only culprit. I think we need to see much more public education coming from a range of sources. The most obvious is the Ministry of Education. Why aren’t our children learning about their consumer rights at school? Why isn’t it part of the curriculum? And what about adult education? Isn’t this a critical thing that they should be doing? Educating the public on their rights?

To be fair, there are some governmental agencies that do at least operate in public. Both BOTA, the Training Authority and NBFIRA, the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority have been known to roll up their sleeves and get rough with colleges and companies that misbehave. Just as importantly they’ve done it publicly so you and I can both see that they’re doing something. But I think we deserve more. I think we need to hear from them how they do this, what the rules are and, most importantly, how we can protect ourselves against crooks and scammers. I think we need advice from agencies like BOTA and NBFIRA on what to look out for, what the warning signs might be and perhaps even some horror stories of how things can go wrong. There’s certainly no shortage of them.

But let’s not stop there. Let’s start demanding that other agencies do the same. They’re all paid large amounts of money to exist, let’s demand just a little bit more from them.

The Bank of Botswana for instance. I know they spend most of their time doing very worthy things like worrying about exchange rates and how much money we have in the national piggy bank but they also have a responsibility to regulate business. In fact they have the power to inspect and control companies if “it appears to the Bank that the company is carrying on business in a manner which is contrary to, detrimental to, the interests of the public”. That’s fine but let’s see it being done.

A couple of months ago there was a press release from BOB announcing that they had taken action to stop a pyramid scheme operating but unfortunately it wasn’t any of the pyramid schemes that most people know about like TVI Express. However it was clearly better than nothing. But we need more, a lot more and again we need education from BOB. We need them to educate us on what to look out for, what the clues are that a scheme is dodgy.

However it’s not always difficult to spot them. Last week we were approached by a reader who asked about a scheme he had been invited to join by a colleague. Calling itself “Three Link Connection” they invite prospective “investors” to invest nearly P12,000 and guarantee a 100% profit within 4 weeks. I think it’s fairly obvious that this can’t work. There’s no investment scheme in the world that can promise to double your money in a month, we all know that, don’t we? We know that anyone saying that is a fool or a crook, don’t we?

However the story is more interesting than just a conventional scam. This is a reincarnation. It seems that this is just an old scam with a new name. The founders, South Africans apparently called Hennie Visser and Daisy Mojale, were previously investigated in SA for running another investment scam that was variously called “Young Stars Investments”, “Double Star Investments” and “Triple Star Investments”. It’s alleged that they stole millions of Rand from hundreds of people.

The problem is that, perhaps partially because we’re a small country, but also because our enforcement agencies aren’t quite as busy as we need them to be, scammers like these think they can come to Botswana and get away with their crimes more easily than in their home countries.

I think we deserve more from these agencies than we currently get. We need more enforcement action from them but also more education. It shouldn’t just be up to newspapers like Mmegi to get these things done. I look forward to a situation where the biggest fear companies have in Botswana is not from mindless and pointless bureaucracy but from effective and highly-focussed regulation. I look forward even more to a time when crooks are genuinely afraid of a highly educated population of consumers.

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