Sunday 29 April 2012

Indecent variety

One of the things that living for nearly 50 years has taught me is that the most wonderful thing about humanity is its variety. There are tall people, short people, fat and thin people, people of every shade, belief system and tradition.

In the same way there is enormous variety in service providers and stores. Some seem to understand how they should operate, others clearly don’t.

Before I continue, here’s a warning. I’m about to say nice things about certain companies. This doesn’t mean that they’re perfect, that they’re infallible or that I shop with them. It doesn’t mean that they never get things wrong or that they won’t make an almighty cock-up tomorrow. It doesn’t mean I’m promoting them, their products or their services. This is not an advertisement for any of them. It’s simply that I think certain stores know how to react when a customer isn’t happy. Other stores don’t.

Let’s start with an example. A consumer recently got in touch and told us about a laptop he bought from HiFi Corporation in February this year. Very shortly afterwards he noticed that there was a crackling sound from the speakers when he played music. Quite sensibly he took it back to them and asked them to have a look. They took it away to investigate but the experts came back to them saying they’d found nothing wrong with it. Nevertheless the customer says the speakers still crackled and he wanted a replacement. HiFi Corporation said no, that wasn’t their policy, they wanted to try and repair the device. That’s when he asked for our advice.

We got in touch with the guys at HiFi Corporation and within hours the customer was invited back to the store to pick up a replacement. In fact when he got there they offered him a complete refund, despite them not being able to find anything actually wrong with the laptop. You can’t really ask for much more than that.

The thing I find interesting is that this isn’t the first time HiFi Corporation have behaved this well. Over the years we’ve had a handful of similar stories and every time they’ve reacted the same way, putting their individual customer’s interest above their own. They’ve recognized that this is how decent customers deserve to be treated. This customer wasn’t trying to be difficult, he wasn’t trying to deceive the company, he just had a problem that needed fixing. They realized that their reputation means a lot to them. HiFi Corporation did the decent thing. Again.

It doesn’t always work as smoothly as this. Another consumer got in touch with a problem with some shoes she bought for her husband. These P750 Watson shoes were clearly a luxury product, something special but they only remained special for 3 months. That’s when they started to disintegrate. The upper started coming away from the sole and the bottom of the heel began to chip. Not what you’d expect from a pair of shoes costing P750. She went back to the store but got no help there. It’s not a manufacturing problem, she was told, your husband must have misused them. She strenuously denies this. It’s not his only pair of shoes, he drives to work, he can hardly have abused them, she says.

She sent over pictures of the damage and we sent this to the suppliers in South Africa. Their representative said
“Having had a look at the heels of the shoe, I have to beg the question if these shoes were perhaps used as brakes on a bicycle? This type of mechanical wear is not normal and it is very little wonder that the side leather has split. These are dress/ occasion shoes and need to be worn as such.”
In other words it’s all the customer’s fault.

OK, let’s be skeptical. It’s possible the customer has indeed been abusing his shoes but surely it’s unlikely? I can’t imagine that someone like this customer has been mistreating these shoes. The sort of person whose wife spends P750 on a pair of “dress/occasion shoes” for him isn’t going to treat them this badly and then lie about it.

We had an identical case last year when a customer had a similar experience with a pair of Levi’s shoes. However in that case as soon as Levi’s in South Africa heard about it they demanded his home address so they could ship him TWO replacement pairs to say sorry. He ended up delighted.

It doesn’t look like Watson’s customer is going to be as lucky.

It’s really incredibly shortsighted of companies to operate like this. I know some of them are terrified that if they start offering decent service they’ll open the floodgates. They seem to think that hundreds of fraudulent claims will flow in and they’ll be seen as suckers for fake complaints. But this simply isn’t true. I’m absolutely certain that companies that do the decent thing just get more customers coming through their doors because people know that these are companies who’ll treat them with respect on the rare occasions that something goes wrong.

It’s not just HiFi Corporation that do the decent thing. The majority of cases we’ve sent through to Furnmart, our locally-grown furniture store, are resolved in the same way. It’s not always the case with their South African furniture store cousins.

Like I said, this isn’t an advertisement for any of the stores I’ve said have behaved decently. Where you shop is entirely up to you. However I do think it’s up to all of us to consider, based on evidence and experience, which stores are most likely to treat us decently if things go wrong. Which ones do we think deserve to have our money?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I just bought a quality Soviet t-shirt from people which are selling stuff on the streets. Unfortunately it just took 2 months and its value and colour was gone. It costed me P250 and I didn’t return it coz the waz no garantee.

Unfortunately I suspect there’s not a lot you can do in this situation. A legitimate product isn’t going to fade like that so long as you treat it well. A legitimate product that was sourced through normal channels would come with some sort of guarantee. It sounds like a fake to me.

If it’s a fake then you’re probably not going to get much support from the seller but it’s still worth a try. You might want to ask the seller whether the t-shirt was a fake or not. If it is they’ve broken the law. Whether or not it’s a fake they still owe you a replacement or a refund. However you’ll be lucky to get the seller of fake goods to honor their moral obligations. The sort of people who sell fakes are fakes themselves, they’re not decent people. If this particular seller doesn’t offer you a refund or a replacement I suggest you report them to the City Council for trading in illegal goods. Or the cops.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I would ask advice from you good people. My car was involved in an accident at Mogoditshane, immediately after the accident some breakdown vehicles approached me to assist. I agreed with one of them that his garage will make a quotation for labor and all the parts to be repaired/replaced. They later informed me that they cannot find the parts which I ended up looked for them myself and handed to them. After a week they phoned me asking for deposit which we did not agreed at first of P2,100 which is half the price they charged for labor only (P4,200 total) and if I choose to take the car I should also pay rental plus towing.

I would now like to know if it’s right to pay that amount before I am sure the guys will properly do the work as they promised.

I think you’re being abused but that’s not a surprise. We’ve all been there. Within moments of breaking down the tow-trucks appear as if by magic and exploit your situation. They take your vehicle away from you, making promises about fixing it and then, very often, ripping you off. We’ve heard before of towing and repair companies that only mention storage and towing charges AFTER they’ve got your vehicle and can hold you to ransom. Often they only mention these charges after you stand up to them and ask for your vehicle back.

It is, of course, completely unacceptable for them to introduce all these charges without telling you about them up front. They simply can’t do this, at least not legally. But when has the law ever stopped crooks committing crimes?

I suggest you speak to the company and get a full written quote for what they plan to do. Insist on a full breakdown of the work they plan to do and how long it will take. Then you can decide if you want them to do the work for you.

If you then decide to take your car elsewhere and they demand storage of towing fees, ask them for a copy of the agreement you signed with them where you agreed to pay these fees. If you did sign such a document then you’re going to have to pay up. Otherwise you should call the cops if they refuse to return the car they stole from you!

Acid free coffee?

Several people have been in touch asking about repeated emails they’ve received about “acid free coffee”. In fact we received these emails as well, 15 times in 3 days and they show no sign of stopping. This is spam email. Under no circumstances should you reply to the email or even try to unsubscribe. All that does is confirm that your email address is real. This is just a scheme to sell enormously over-priced coffee (P4.50 per cup) from a company called Tyler’s Coffee in the USA. Just delete the emails and don’t fall for the “acid-free coffee” scam.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Fraud from RISE University. Again

More nonsense from the fake "RISE University". An email arrives to one of my fake identities as follows:
"Welcome to RISE University!

RISE University has years of reputation for providing quality yet affordable education through a wide array of degree and diploma programmes as a pathway to academic and professional success.

Queen's Scholarship

Driven by the aim of providing quality yet affordable education, RISE University is offering Queen's Scholarship to students having exceptional academic profile and/or extensive work experience. Qualifying students will receive up to £10,700 in funding, which can be utilized to pay the fee of chosen programme."
Later in the email they describe themselves as "RISE University - Finest in UK Education" and "accredited by International Accreditation Organization (IAO)".

This fake scholarship can save me a fortune, they say:
Bachelors Programme Fee
£ 5,600
Less: Queen's Scholarship
£ 4,700
Programme Fee after Scholarship
£ 900
Enrollment Fee
£ 99
Total Payable Fee:
£ 999
Let's be clear. "RISE University" is s fake university. Let's go through the clues.
  • The IAO is a fake accreditation organisation.
  • RISE University steals people's money.
  • Despite claiming to be in the UK and quoting prices in British Pounds, they are not a registered company in the UK.
  • They are not recognized by UCAS.
  • Despite claiming to have existed online since 2002, in fact the domain was only registered on 19 July 2008.
  • Above all, they offer degrees based on life experience.
They're fake and anyone who get s fake qualification from them is a fake as well.

Sunday 22 April 2012


I recently heard someone use the phrase “asymmetrical business relationship”. He was talking about the relationship between The United Kingdom and its people and his opinion that the relationship between them wasn’t balanced. He suggested that the British State take Brit’s money in the form of taxes and doesn’t give anything in return.

He’s wrong of course. In any democratic state like the UK or Botswana, the people, like us, DO get things from the State.

We get policing, education, basic health care, roads and military protection. We pay for that in taxes, every one of us. Even those of us who don’t pay income tax pay something in VAT whenever we buy something that isn’t an essential for life. That’s what they call the social contract. You and I agree to obey the law and pay our taxes and the State agrees to offer us the protection of the law and offer some basic facilities. I think that’s fairly balanced, even though both sides fail occasionally. Many of us deliberately avoid taxes and the State often neglects some of its responsibilities but we both have the right to criticize the other until they honor their obligations. They can prosecute us and we can, in principle, vote against them at the elections. That’s the democratic deal.

But it’s not symmetrical. Each side has a different set of responsibilities and benefits. But it IS balanced even though balance is more complicated to explain and prove.

In any commercial dealing, whether it’s buying bread, a cellphone, a car or a house both parties should walk away equally happy. Both party’s level of contentment should be balanced. I walk away with a new shiny cellphone, feeling 8 out of 10 on the happiness scale. The store manager should also be feeling an 8 out of 10 happiness level. If one party is happier than the other then you know something has gone wrong. That wasn’t a balanced deal.

That’s how it should work in a free market. You and I, if we don’t like the prices at Store A, can shop instead at Stores B, C, or D. We can move to a store that offers us a more balanced deal. We have that freedom, a freedom that some people and political movements have tried to take away from people in the past in other countries. Instead of allowing their people to take the decision, their States have intervened and set prices for consumer goods. The problem with this is simple. Every time it’s been tried people have ended up either starving to death or overthrowing their government. Intervening in a balanced relationship is like introducing a mistress to a marriage, it unbalances everything.

Unlike many people on the radical political left I think most people are perfectly capable of seeing when they’re not getting a service that balances their payment. They’re also capable of recognizing that it’s not just the material things that matter. We value emotional elements as well. In a restaurant, for instance, it’s not just the temperature, quality and taste of the food we buy that matters. It’s also the welcome, the attention and the friendliness of the waiters and management that add to our sense of value. That’s why we choose to go to one of two superficially identical restaurants that both deliver identical quality food, the one with the happy staff that make us feel welcome.

That’s fine in principle but does it work like this in practice? Not always.

The obvious situation when this doesn’t work is when the consumers are poor, educationally disadvantaged and geographically remote, just like a significant proportion of our population. Such people don’t often have choice, they often don’t have two stores to choose from and, let’s be frank, many disadvantaged people are so ground down by poverty that any assertiveness they might have once had has long since evaporated.

But the solution is not to abandon the system that works for the majority. The solution is to allow people to get themselves out of poverty by getting work and the only way to help them do that is to allow, perhaps even encourage, companies to get out there and offer them paid employment. The solution is to allow everyone access to the system that works for almost everyone who joins it.

The other problem we face is those organizations who either take themselves out of the free market or who were never in it. The monopolies. Monopolies don’t have to care because nobody forces them to. Our power producer and water company can get away with delivering dreadful service because nobody is going to stop them. I don’t mean the State, that’s not their job. I mean that consumers can’t move away from them because they all have a legally enforceable monopoly that protects them from the only thing that will improve their service: competition.

Some may argue that with only one power cable and only one water pipe entering our houses there can never be a competitor to BPC or WUC. Not true. Just because there’s only one set of cables and pipes that doesn’t mean there can’t be more than one company pumping power and water into them. There’s only one road from Gaborone to Francistown but that doesn’t mean we have to use only one bus company. The infrastructure can be rented out, just like BTC rents out it’s cabling infrastructure to the three cellphone companies. Power can be done in exactly the same way. Two or more companies pump power into the grid, we choose who to pay for it.

Maybe that will add a bit of balance to our lives? Maybe that’ll encourage BPC not to be quite so monumentally monopolistic and arrogant?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I am writing this letter very much disheartened by the poor craftsmanship of a dressmaker I approached for her services. The dress was a bridesmaids dress that was paid for in full in February 2012 for a wedding that took place this past weekend. On my arrival for my final dress fitting on Friday 6th, I was informed that my dress was mistakenly given to another bridesmaid and was altered to suit her shape, leaving me with no dress for the wedding!

She had to sew another dress for the very same night and I was not pleased with the results. I wore a dress that was literally falling apart, the state of the dress did not match the P650 that she charged me. I even missed the church proceedings as my dress was still being sewn.

She did not have the decency to apologize for all this and refuses to give me a discount. The dress is worthless, I can never wear it again. What are the proper steps I should take in getting a refund for this? I want to take action against her but I don’t know how.

I'm very sorry to hear of this, it must have been very disappointing and frustrating for you, particularly on what's meant to be such a happy day.

I'm not a lawyer but I suspect this can be seen as a simple breach of contract to begin with. You paid money for something that was not satisfactorily delivered. You also have a valid complaint under Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001 which states that “any supplier who offers a commodity or service to a consumer fails to meet minimum standards and specifications if … the commodity sold …
does not match any sample or description given to the consumer [or] is not of merchantable quality”

Clearly a wedding dress that's falling apart is "not of merchantable quality". What's more, Section 15 (1) (a) says that a supplier fails to meet minimum standards of performance if "the service 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."

I suggest that you write to the dressmaker and explain this. Mention both these clauses and the breach of contract and give her 7 days to make a full refund. Suggest that if she fails to do so you'll take her to the Small Claims Court.

Let me know how this goes!

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

I recently vacated a rented house and the landlord is refusing to return my P6,300 deposit on the house. I was wondering what my rights as a tenant are in Botswana? It was a 3-year lease that expired end of February 2012, and we did not renew as we wanted to move.

The lease said that when it expired we had to “return the premises, the fixtures and fittings thereof and appurtenances thereto, to the Lessor in good order and condition, fair wear and tear excepted; and which the whole of the internal parts of the premises properly painted in a worklike manner and with such paint and material as shall first be approved by the Lessor".

My problem here is the following: When we moved into the property it was NOT painted, and the walls were full of holes and screws. In fact, the previous tenants were still moving their last stuff out, as we were moving in. In my opinion we cannot be liable for painting the whole interior, as it was not done when we move in.

The landlord has started painting and renovating the house and states that he is keeping track of the costs, and will present me with a final bill when all is done. I feel I am simply being taken for a ride here, and they will make sure to come up with a bill which equals our deposit, or maybe even more.

What are my rights here, and what can I do to resolve the matter and get the deposit back? I have to reiterate again: the house was in pretty bad state when we moved into it, and we looked after it very well.

Unfortunately you’re bound by whatever the lease agreement said. I understand you find it frustrating but that’s what you’re obliged to do. You can’t link the state of the house when you moved in to its state when you moved out. The problems at the beginning of the lease should have been fixed then. You can’t wait until 3 year later to deal with them. Sorry!

Sunday 15 April 2012

NorthCentral University - can they be trusted?

A member of the Facebook groups asks:
"I've been looking for a school to advance my education level and not lose my job. So i just found 100% online university, Northcentral University but i suspect it might be a scam because they do not have a physical campus, yet their school appears to be accredited on U.S univerities by state at:
Are they real or fake just like most of US online universities?"
Well, they ARE accredited, but I'm not sure if this makes a difference in their case.

NorthCentral University is described by Wikipedia as "a private, for-profit, accredited university based in Prescott Valley, Arizona, that offers distance education".

While they appear to be legitimate I would be more concerned about the quality of the service they offer.

To begin with I would have concerns about their financial status. As you can see here they were not considered financially sound in 2009-10.

Then there are the complaints about them by their own students. I count 19 different complaints between 2008 and 2012 on the Ripoff Reports site. There are 181 reviews on the Online Degree Reviews site. They are very mixed. Too many of them are dreadful in my view. There are also various bad reports elsewhere like this one on Scam Informer. It's not alone.

Personally I would steer clear!

Saturday 14 April 2012

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Please I need your help, a private legal outfit has been identified to pursue my case since 2009 by one of the legal cover firms locally. After initially declaring interest in the garage defendant and asking me to seek service elsewhere I choose not to as I thought the lawyers were honest and had no grounds to not trust them. But now after more than 3 failures to physically represent me and explain what delays my case from closure am at my wits end despite my numerous complaint with the legal cover firm to rein in its representative. Whilst I have maintained my cover installments I’m not getting the service I have been promised by the legal cover company

Can u please assist what I should do.

I’m not sure how this could have happened. You say that the law firm declared an interest in the garage you wanted to take action against? Just so readers understand, that means that at some point in the past, or perhaps even now, they have a relationship with the garage. Maybe they represented the garage in the past, it might mean that the attorney is a friend or even a relative of the garage owner.

If this is correct, how did they agree to represent you when you persuaded them? Either they had a conflict of interest or they didn’t. I think you have a right to know exactly what the relationship is.

Furthermore you have a right to expect a decent service from them. You also have a right to expect a service from the legal cover company, they’re the ones you may money to every month. They’re the ones who should be ensuring that you get a decent service.

I think you should write to the legal cover company and demand some action from them. Give them perhaps 14 days to ensure action is taken or you’ll take action against them!

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

Tuesday after work my house was soaked in water, including my sofas, TV stand and TV. The TV stand is starting to crack and the TV is showing some lines. The person who was fixing the geyser now said it didn’t have an overflow pipe and water was accumulating in the celling. In December it was fixed because it was dripping and the electricity when you switch it on, the main plug will go off.

The house was given to me towards the end of year 2011 at work. The TV stand and TV are on hire purchase, I bought them in November. Please help me what should I do, keep the damaged goods? Or should I go back to the company which was fixing or should I go to my work place or to where I bought the goods. I want to know who should be responsible for the damaged goods?

This sounds complicated. First question. Do you have household insurance? If you do that will probably cover the cost of your losses. If not, then get some tomorrow in case this happens again.

Are you renting the house? If so it’s possible that the landlord might have some responsibility for permanent fixtures like the geyser. It’s also possible that the person fixing the geyser might have some responsibility if he was meant to install an overflow pipe.

However I would first speak to the store from which you bought the TV and TV stand. There might have been an insurance scheme associated with your purchases that covers the loss. It’s worth calling them to find out.

The lesson is that household insurance is worth every thebe you spend. It might not seem worth it every day but you’ll suddenly realize how valuable it is the day something like this happens!

Wednesday 11 April 2012

More fraud from "Corllins University"

This is the online conversation I had with "Corllins University", a well-known fake university, earlier today. This is when they offered me Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate degrees, all in Nursing, a subject in which I am wholly unqualified. A subject in which it is dangerous, reckless and criminal to offer degrees to unqualified people, I'm sure you'll agree.
Danny Johnson: What is your last Education Level?
[Me]: i don't have any degrees yet
[Me]: but i was told by one of your advisors that i could get a bachelors, masters and doctorate all at once
Danny Johnson: D you've completed your High School Diploma?
[Me]: yes
Danny Johnson: Yes, you can.
[Me]: and i can choose which subject?
Danny Johnson: In which field you have your working experience?
[Me]: i've worked in health and i thought nursing would be a good subject
Danny Johnson: Yes.
[Me]: so that's possible?
Danny Johnson: Yes It is. You can also proceed with the programs one by one as well.
[Me]: what do i need to do?
Danny Johnson: You're application for all three program is completed and all we have to do is to process your registration to have your Documents shipped up to you.
[Me]: ok, that's wonderful
[Me]: how much will this cost me?
Danny Johnson: Well, If you can have all three of them processed within this week so your total fee for all three of the program would only be $948.00 (Including Shipping and Handling)
[Me]: and will they all have the same year?
Danny Johnson: No not at all.
[Me]: which years will they have?
Danny Johnson: They will surely have different years on it.
[Me]: which years will they be?
Danny Johnson: Please wait let me show you.
Danny Johnson: Am giving you your application preview so that you can view your application.
Danny Johnson: Make sure the fee that your going to see on your application preview is the actual fee, But your fee is $948.00 which will be adjusted once your fee is processed.
I was then sent an "application preview" from "Universal Degrees" that contained a number of interesting elements. Here are my three potential degrees in Nursing.
As promised they've offered to adjust the years I got the degrees to make the whole thing seem more believable.
All that's left for me to do is hand over the cash:

Surely this is perfectly simple to understand. Corllins University is a criminal scam operated by criminals. The only people lower in my estimation are the frauds who buy their degrees!

Tuesday 10 April 2012

HCG - more dangerous medical claptrap

On Facebook you'll occasionally see an advert for "HCG Ultra Diet Drops" that, the suppliers claim, have some remarkable qualities. These drops can:
They also claim:
This really is the most monumental hogwash.

First things first. HCG is "Human Chorionic Gonadotropin". I'm not a dietician, but any weight loss scheme that claims it can help you lose "1KG PER DAY" is a dangerous fraud. Either that or it involves cutting parts of your body off.

The suppliers also claim that the product is "IMPORTED FROM THE U.S.A. AND MANUFACTURED IN A FDA REGULATED FACILITY"

This is a lie. A deliberate deception. It's "an intentionally false statement".

In fact the FDA says "HCG Diet Products Are Illegal" and describes "Fraudulent HCG Products for Weight Loss". They say that consumers should "steer clear of these "homeopathic" human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) weight-loss products" and describes them as "unproven and illegal".

I agree.

In an email to me earlier this evening the Facebook advertiser told me their product:
"does contain the HCG hormone and is a real HCG product. The market is being flooded with fake HCG products but HCG Ultra Diet Drops are not one of them."
So it IS a fraud, a lie and a deception then?

WorldVentures - NOT the route to financial freedom!

Yet another Get Rich Quick scheme on Facebook. "Would you like to have more fun, freedom and fulfillment in your life?", it asks. "Would you like to achieve true financial freedom? find out how!"

This time it's WorldVentures, yet another travel discount voucher, along the same lines as TVI Express. They're the ones who, bizarrely, took over Success University, a pyramid scheme that based it's con on educational, personal growth claptrap.

WorldVentures, like Herbalife and Amway, are required to disclose the income figures for their "Independent Sales Representatives". Their figures for 2008 figures show, for instance that less than 30% of these reps earn any income from their WorldVentures efforts. The median income for these people is a pathetic $100. Note that like Amway and Herbalife those figures are "income", not profit. As WorldVentures themselves say:
"These figures do not represent Representatives’ profits; they do not consider expenses incurred by Representatives in the promotion of their business."
In other words on average you lose money with WorldVentures. Some do OK though. Half of ALL the income made by WorldVentures is earned by the top 0.5% of the representatives. 80% of all the earnings goes to the top 4% in the pyramid.

Unless you want to throw your money away, I suggest you steer well clear of WorldVentures.

Monday 9 April 2012

Can you get a real degree based on "life experience"?

"Anonymous" posted a question on the blog regarding the fake Headway University as follows:
"While I agree with all being said about Headway and expect all of it to be true, my question is, and I'm asking for myself and not to knock anyone, is there any accredited university that offers any legitemate degrees based on life expierence?"
How can I put this simply?


Friday 6 April 2012

We're incompetent

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am the world’s most patient, supremely tolerant and completely easy-going person. OK, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration. Anyway, my tolerance and patience is extensive. Until I encounter incompetence. Repeated organizational incompetence.

I can cope with occasional incompetence, mainly because we’re all incompetent sometimes. We all have areas where we’re naturally talented and others where we’re naturally “challenged”. The sooner we all, individually and also as a nation, accept that there are certain areas where we are incompetent, the better. Only by recognizing these areas can we do something about them.

As a nation, for instance, we’re very good at organizing conferences to talk about important issues. We run a magnificent conference, seminar or workshop where organizations can “engage with stakeholders”. Just look at the pictures in the newspapers following these events and look at the attendees “listening attentively” during a PowerPoint presentation and you’ll see how good these events are.

Yes, I am being sarcastic.

The completely depressing thing for me is just how incompetent we are in certain areas. Like billing.

I know for a fact that I’m not the only person who gets bills from Botswana Power Corporation that seem to be no more than a collection of random numbers. I know this because large numbers of people have contacted us asking if we help them understand what’s going on.

One reader said:
“Last month, I paid P170 for my electricity but when I went to get this month's bill, that P170 was in arrears and the new bill amounted to P800. I was told there is nothing that could be done and that's my bill and I just have to pay it. I’m not the only one in my area who was told that.”
Another said:
“For the last three month I have been making regular payments and none of them are reflected in the bills I receive. Last time I went to check my statement the teller said he can see them but when he prints it doesn't show the payments.”
Yet another said:
“Our bill was about P1,800, just for a month, but its only me and my mom living in just a small 3 bedroomed house.”
I think there are two issues here. Firstly it looks like almost everyone has had their bill estimated by BPC at some point. I know ours was. Of course I understand that there will be times when BPC meter-readers can’t get to the meter because the occupants aren’t at home (they’re probably at work trying to earn enough money to pay their exorbitant power bill) but that shouldn’t happen every month.

But even estimates shouldn’t cause chaos. Anyone with a mathematical brain and a spreadsheet can work out a way to make reasonable estimates. My suggestion (skip to the next paragraph if you don’t like maths) is that the estimate should equal the amount consumed in the same month last year plus the average proportional change in last three months of this year compared to the same three months last year.

The bigger issue is the billing system. Let’s have an example. A real one. Mine.

My latest bill claims I owe P239 from last month, made no payments and have a “current charge” of over P8,000. So my “total due”, you might expect, should be just over P8,000? No, the bill says that THEY owe ME P1,172. Before you ask, yes we ARE disputing that we used over P8,000 in a month. What they’ll say of course is that this is as estimate as well. And yes, we did make a payment last month.

The critical issue is that not one of these numbers seems to make any sense. Every one of them is disconnected from reality. Worse still, there’s not even any relationship between them.

One of the few areas where I have some competence is in the implementation of big IT business systems. It’s something I’ve done for a living for a couple of decades with organizations as varied as governments, oil companies, banks and, yes, even organizations like BPC. Implementing a major computer system like a billing system is not like installing Microsoft Office on your laptop. You don’t just stick a CD in the drive, press Install and start working. It takes months of planning, design, data modeling, data capture, process integration and above all, testing.

You test these systems over and over again, over a period of months to ensure that they work correctly. This may seem a remarkable idea to BPC but you do this testing BEFORE you inflict it on your customers. Based on my experience and conversations this week with more than one highly qualified IT Auditor, the BPC billing system shows the symptoms you would expect from a badly implemented and untested IT implementation. It’s not the fault of the system itself, it’s the fault of the people who configured it, instructed it how to do the calculations and told it which numbers to print on the bills. More importantly it’s the fault of the people who were meant to test it before they unleashed it on you and me. It’s the fault of the top brass who are meant to take responsibility for their organization’s failures.

I’ve heard it said that much of these problems are due to BPC inheriting bad data and systems from the past. That’s no excuse. Either BPC were incompetent in the past or they’re incompetent now. Worse still it might be both.

Let’s not forget what BPC have clearly themselves forgotten. Despite their extraordinary arrogance they owe us a duty of care. They owe us both a reliable power supply and bills that make some sense. In both of these regards they are failing us catastrophically. It’s time for someone in power to remind them of this. Will a Minister, or someone more senior, step forward?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

In December I bought my husband a pair of leather shoes at a store in BBS worth P749.95. Around the end of February my husband noticed that one of the shoes was developing a hole on the side and the soles were getting chipped.

I took them back in March since I felt that it was too soon to be having such a problem especially for leather shoes. The ladies at the store told me that their manager wasn't around but will call me when he comes. He didn’t call and a week later I went there since they had the shoes in their possession. I found the manager and enquired.

He told me that he took pictures of the shoes and sent them to the suppliers who then told him that the problem was not a factory fault but wear and tear due to how they are used. I was shocked and I told the manager that I don't expect a shoe of that quality to last for not even 3 months considering that my husband drives to work and has another pair of shoes which he uses as well. The other shoes, which he has owned for the past 2 years, are still intact.

I thought that was a very unfair. The manager told me that if the supplier cannot take responsibility then he can’t either as it will be a loss to him. I was very frustrated and I told him that I regretted having bought these shoes from his store.

I don’t blame you for regretting your purchase. A pair of leather shoes like the ones you mentioned (I’ve removed the manufacturer’s name from your letter) should last for ages, not just a couple of months.

Firstly I think you should go back to the store and very politely explain that what he claims the manufacturer thinks is not relevant. HE, not the manufacturer, sold you a pair of decent leather shoes that clearly aren’t “of merchantable quality” as required by Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations. It’s up to him to provide evidence that your husband misused them if that’s what he thinks.

Secondly I’ll get in touch with the manufacturers to see if they want to protect their brand name. I suspect they’ll be cooperative.

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

Last year July I bought a Nokia C3-01 at a store at Game city for P1,999. This year in Feb, I started experiencing problems using it because when I touch the icons on the screen it senses a different icon that I did not select. Because it is still under warranty (12 months) I took it back to the same shop in Francistown.

They told me that the repairs are done in Gabs, I let them take the phone to Gabs for repair because I was desperate to get the phone repaired. Approximately a week after, they phoned me to come collect the phone and be prepared to pay P75 as labor charge. I went to Francistown to collect the phone but I found out that the phone is not repaired and I should still pay the labor charge!

I refused to pay and left with the courtesy phone, since then I never went back to them. What can I do?

Let me get this straight. The store took your malfunctioning phone for repair, spent a week doing nothing and they want you to pay them for this? Which planet are they on?

You don’t have to pay for anything. You bought an expensive phone from a legitimate manufacturer and you have a right to expect it to work perfectly for the duration of the warranty. I assume it came with a 1-year warranty? That’s certainly what Nokia will offer with a legitimately shipped phone. Unless, of course, the store was selling a grey import? What did they tell you when you bought it?

I suggest that you politely tell the store that they’ve sold you a phone that is not “of merchantable quality” and that it’s their job to fix it, repair it or refund you. It’s their choice which of those they prefer. But it must be one of them. Demanding a labor charge for doing nothing is not an option.