Friday 28 August 2015

Avoid Go Direct Stock Market Investments

Here's a warning about Go Direct Stock Market Investments from the the Financial Services Board in Cape Town.
"The Financial Services Board (FSB) warns the public against conducting financial services business with Go Direct Stock Market Investments (GDSMI), Mr Mzoxolo Bezu and/or Mr Mbuso Mthethwa."
Given that the High Court in Grahamstown declared the scheme as "unlawful" in October last year, don't you think that the authorities would have perhaps reacted a little faster than this?

We first warned people to be cautious over two years ago and NBFIRA issued a public warning a few months after that. Maybe it takes South African regulators a little longer to recognize a scam when they see one?


Perhaps the most emotional and uplifting elements in our recent Consumer Watchdog Conference were the service stars we celebrated. They were the real stars of the event, the ones deserving the greatest recognition.

These were individuals who had demonstrated the highest levels of customer service over the last year. In the last year we’ve received about two hundred celebrations of such people. We took that list and narrowed it down to about fifty and then gave that list to an independent panel of business people who managed to reduce it to thirteen. These were the people who Former President Mogae helped us recognize at the conference.

All of these people have certain things in common, regardless of whether they work in a bank, a parastatal, an insurance company, a supermarket or the public service. They all have incredible commitment to their employer, their colleagues and above all, their customers but better than that, they all have passion. Real passion.

If you join our Facebook group or look at our blog you can see a video we shot of interviews with all the service stars but I think some of the things they said need to be published. All of these comments were unrehearsed and unscripted. They were all speaking from the heart.

We asked what they thought great customer service was. One said:
“Excellent customer service is the first impression that you give to the customer. Smiling to the customer, greeting the customer by his name or her name and also selling your products, putting yourself in the shoes of the customer and making the customer feel happy and walkaway with a smile, wowing a customer.”

We asked them where good service comes from. Their comments included:
“Where there is team work there is always good results.”
“Good customer service is something that you learn and nurture. For you to offer good service you need to really understand what a customer means to the business. You really need to have that element of treating people with respect and integrity that they deserve.”
Several of them mentioned the cultural inspiration that helped them offer such amazing service.
“If you have botho you humble yourself and speak in a manner that this particular person you are assisting would understand, and put their trust in, whatever you are serving them with.”
“Good customer service should actually be inculcated through the spirit of botho because once you have botho you know what another person measn to you.”
“Botho is very important because if you treat other people the way you want to be treated it’s going to be easy to work with other people. You have to have passion for helping people, you have to love other people so that it becomes easier when you work with them on a daily basis.”
They told us what we needed to do as a nation to spread this approach.
“Customer service should be taught to the young children so that when they grow up they have to know what is expected in life.”
A police officer told us that: “I think it should be included in the curriculum, because for instance in my organization customer service is very important, it improves public trust. We need public trust so much.”

Others spoke about their personal motivations.
“For me, seeing a smile on the customer’s face, I mean, it’s what I come for every day”.
“That makes my day, to see a customer excited, to have that smile.”
“I think customer service is in me, it’s in you. Customer service is all about building a good relationship between you and the customer. The moment the customer enters through the door that thing should burn. You should be willing to help the customer.”
“I live with a motto which goes ‘my purpose in life is to help others’.”
“Customer service is very easy because what you have to do is just to humble yourself and respect other people and love them. Give them love, show them that you really want to help them.”
“Yes, it is a stressful job but if you like your job it’s not!”
A public servant from the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs (who I hope is destined for a senior position) told us that:
“We need to really up our game and help our citizens and our visitors.”
One of my personal favorites is a police officer. He said that:
“I would like to encourage all members of the Police Service to strive to be the best in whatever service they render to the public because that is essential especially for winning public trust. We need public trust, we need people to trust us because we have been entrusted with protecting them, protecting their property, ensuring their safety. Some people say it’s not part of our culture but I tend to disagree because we have always been practicing it and it has always been enrooted in our culture.”
The same police officer told us:
“I would like all of the police to shun mediocrity at work, to be always compassionate when helping members of the public.”
He concluded by saying this, which I think is truly impressive:
“I believe that criminals do deserve good customer care because they are also humans. They are entitled to their rights, they don’t have to have their rights trampled upon just because they are criminals.”
I urge you to take a look at the video clip online. Check our blog and Facebook group to see it. I guarantee you’ll be inspired by these wonderful people, all of whom have demonstrated that they don’t just talk about excellent customer service, they deliver it as well.

I promise you that you’ll be inspired.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Was I scammed?

I have a problem with an insurance policy. In May 2013 I opened a policy through a financial advisor and contributed a sum of P1,500 monthly and it was deducted at source through my employer’s payroll. In February 2015 I changed employment hence my premium could not be deducted in March 2015. In May 2015 I received an SMS informing me that my account was in arrears. In June I went to update my account whereupon I was referred to the insurance company offices.

I met a man who gave me a poor service because he could not tell how much I was owing in order update my account. I eventually requested for my statement to see how I had performed since I opened the account. To my surprise the fund had not performed instead I was given a statement with a value of P8,410 but my contributions amounted to P39,615. I was informed that I should continue paying the premiums until 2030 when the true positive value will then reflect. I demanded for all my premiums to be refunded at least since there have not attracted any interest from 2013 but was told to apply for the P8,410 as my only entitlement.

I then called the advisor for further clarification because I cannot invest in fund which hide the performance to policy holder. He requested to continue paying until My 2016 in order to get a positive value. May you please help me with the issue in particular that premium did not perform even though there was no recession whatsoever since 2013.

I think I know what’s happening here but I’m just an amateur. Instead I contacted a friend who is an expert and this is what he said:
“It appears that the consumer has been sold a long-term policy without being guided as to the charges. Long-term policies tend to have fixed charges that pay for the costs of selling and administering the policy over its whole lifetime. These are either taken out explicitly from investment values up-front, or taken out gradually over time with a surrender penalty if the policy is stopped.

This person either has a policy where a) the charges were explicitly taken out up-front (ie the initial part of his money was not invested, but simply went to pay the future charges) or b) the charges are taken out gradually, but he’s now been given a surrender value which includes a surrender penalty.

The bottom line is, if you take out a twenty-year investment policy and cash it in after two years then it’s not going to work.”
I think you should speak to the insurance company to get more detail on the product and to establish when you will in fact go into profit.

Is he being scammed?
My uncle received a communication from Euro Milliones Spanish Lottery Prize Award Department. He has supposedly won millions of Euros and in order for the money to be released to him he has to pay $1450.00. May you kindly investigate on his behalf if these people are genuine.

I think you know that this is a scam, don’t you? I’m certain that everyone else reading this recognizes it.

You need to explain to your uncle that he must not, under any circumstances, send these crooks any money. He needs to understand that there is no prize money, there is no Spanish Lottery win, there is only an advance fee scam. The only genuine element to this is the money they want from him to get the fictitious winnings. That’s the “advance fee” they are seeking. My experience is that if he does send them the money they’ll just demand more and more money from him, endlessly promising him the winnings until he either realizes that he’s being scammed or he simply runs out of money. Please tell him the truth before he loses out to them.

Saturday 22 August 2015

A few pictures from the 2015 Consumer Watchdog Conference

Just a few to begin with. More will certainly follow!


The official opening by His Excellency, Former President Mogae.

The service superstars.

The speakers

Tony Leepile, Chair, Mmegi Investment Holdings

Odie Merafhe, Cash Bazaar Holdings

Stuart White, HRMC
Ben Dahwa, Air Botswana
Sandra Moreau, Maano Masisi, Lepata Mafa, Orange Botswana

Connie Matabiswana, MRI
Adam Jones, Wealth Magazine

Kabelo Binns, Hotwire PRC
And the Day 2 workshops included...

Aldo Brincat, a national treasure.
Bogolo Kenewendo, eConsult
Chris Hughes, LEAD
James Fern, SCI Wellness
Mariam and Vish Sethi, IT-IQ
Our Captain for the flight.

Captain Bonni Dintwa, our MC

Kate Harriman, Consumer Watchdog
Richard Harriman, Consumer Watchdog
And finally, the service stars.

Friday 21 August 2015


By the time you read this, assuming there hasn’t been earthquakes, lightning strikes or alien abductions, the Consumer Watchdog team will be lying down, having a day off, trying to recover from the exhaustion of the last two days, from the 2015 Consumer Watchdog Conference. Don’t bother calling the office, we’ll be too tired to even pick up the phone.

With luck you’ll see some of the pictures and newspaper coverage of the event that will show that the conference, like last year’s, was very different to other conferences.

I’ve spent a small but significant proportion of my life in conferences, ether speaking or in the audience and the thing that they all have in common is that they can be incredibly boring. Even when the content of the speeches is useful, the approach can be wickedly dull.

But our conferences are different. I believe that in all areas of life, whether it’s our relationships, our jobs or our free time things are always best when we’re having fun. Why can’t it be the same with a conference? Why can’t there be comedy, theatre, music and dance in a conference? Of course the content must be serious, informative and educational but why can’t it be fun as well?

A company called us a few weeks ago enquiring about the conference. “We’ve heard it’s going to be fun”, they said. Yes, we said, it certainly is and then we told them about the speakers and workshops but that we were deliberately inserting fun into the equation. “Then we can’t come”, they told us, “we want it to be serious.”

I’m glad they didn’t come. Who wants people sitting at an entertaining event who look like they’re at a funeral? We certainly don’t.

[Update: They eventually booked a place. Maybe they DO like fun after all?]

We also do our best to be optimistic and despite what some pessimists and professional complainers will tell you, there is plenty of reason to be positive about service in Botswana. Yes, there remain many challenges and there are plenty of organizations who are bad at customer service but there are also many who are doing their very best to make things better.

Do you need examples?

In just the last year we have received celebrations of around 200 service stars. Thirteen of these were celebrated at this year’s conference as service stars, people who are going places. Of the service stars we celebrated in 2014 almost all of them have gone on to better things in the subsequent year. Several have been promoted, one has opened another store, one even left his employer and started his own company in competition with them. They are all examples of what can happen to you and your company when you offer your customers what they deserve. And then give them even more.

I have a confession to make. I was becoming more and more disillusioned about the talk we constantly hear about “Botho”. It seemed to be the sort of thing that politicians and business leaders spoke about but which might not convert into real actions. But that changed in the last few weeks. I’ve met botho in the people we’ve been celebrating. I’ve also seen it in their bosses who are enormously proud of their staff who have been celebrated. One of the MDs told me that their service star, one who we celebrated, was “family” to him and that they were grooming her for a position at a very high level. Last year two of the happiest people I saw at the conference were the two senior managers from a company seeing one of their most junior staff being celebrated by Former President Mogae and everybody else at the event. This year was the same. Proud managers witnessing the people they had trained and developed being recognized as ambassadors for their companies and their country.

Above all other things, this year the conference had a purpose. To dispel the myth (perhaps even “the lie”) that there is something about Botswana and its people that means we aren’t capable of offering excellent customer service. That there is something in our national bloodstream, our heritage, our culture that means we’re incapable of offering the level of service customer want.

Utter rubbish. Complete nonsense.

I have a very strong belief that some of us use this myth as an excuse. For instance I met a middle-aged woman recently who said it was culturally impossible for her to greet a customer if he was young enough to be her son or nephew. “He should be greeting me”, she said. I was tempted to say something callous like “Get over it, he’s paying your salary” but instead I suggested that she should treat this customer exactly as if he WAS her son or favorite nephew. Smile at him the way you would if your son or nephew walked into the room. He’ll love it. Imagine you were a young guy. Wouldn’t you like a bank cashier or waitress who was like your Mum or favorite Auntie?

The real truth is the complete opposite to this idea that we can’t do service in Botswana. The values we cherish, the ones we say define us as a people, are the very same values that equip us to offer the best service in the world. Maybe not the fastest, perhaps not the most sophisticated but nevertheless the warmest and most courteous.

So the message from the conference was simple. There s nothing stopping us from offering customer service not just “as good” as elsewhere, but better than elsewhere. That’s what we need if our national ambitions are to be realized.

And there’s nothing stopping us.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I get my money back?

I need your assistance. Last month I paid someone a P500 deposit for them to assist me with proposal for CEDA loans but when I did not receive the receipt after a few days I had a bad feeling and asked if it was too late for me to get my money back and they said there was no problem I could get my money back.

He then said he had to wait for payment from other clients before giving me back my money because I had inconvenienced him which I understood. But its been a month now and I am not sure I will be given my money back and I feel my patience is being taken advantage of. Please your advice and assistance will be highly appreciated.

I think you were extremely reasonable to give the guy a chance to repay you once he received money from other customers, even though I think that tells you a lot about how well he runs his business. If he doesn’t have P500 in the bank you have to wonder how reliable he is in other areas?

Frankly I’m a little tired of this excuse. We’ve heard from all sorts of companies making this excuse. “We can’t refund you until other customers come in with cash.” It’s just not acceptable in 2015. Haven’t they heard of internet banking? Haven’t they realized that delaying a refund is simply wrong?

Real, trustworthy companies, the sort that you want to deal with, set aside modest reserves of cash to cope with these situations. I think it’s also fair to say that companies that say they can help you get a loan but who can’t manage their own finances, can’t be trusted.

I tried to contact the guy but he refuses to respond. I suggest that you write him a formal letter giving him 14 days to give you the refund. If he doesn’t pay you back then you should go straight to the Small Claims Court with all your paperwork and get an order against him.

Update: He sent the reader a message saying “if you feel the need to threaten me go na le small claims court not richard. i dont answer to him and wont talk to him”.

He has one week or the gloves come off.

SMS warning
A number of readers have contacted us asking about strange text messages that they’ve received. All of them have originated from overseas and they‘ve all implied that the recipient to should call the number in question.

Several came from number starting with +44701 and said things like “Hello We have important Voice message for you call ‘free’ this number now to hear it”. Other messages arrived from numbers starting with +675 and said things like “I need your love” or "its cold today, I need u to warm me tonight", “its so hot today i need you” and “Hi darling i mis yu a lot”.

There are various things that might be happening here. They could be the beginning of a scam, particularly the ones that are trying to entice you with comments on how loveable you are. However what is perhaps more likely, according to a friend who is a telecoms expert, is that this is an example of “International Revenue Share Fraud”, a long-running scam that exploits the high costs of making international calls to certain countries and the money made by some of the operators you’re calling. The scammers do their best to prolong the time you spend on the phone with lengthy recorded messages. The longer you’re on the phone the more money you’re paying them.

The solution is actually very simple. Don’t ever call an international number unless you know exactly who you’re calling. And even then, why aren’t you using Skype or Facetime?

Saturday 15 August 2015

Insure yourself

Late last year we conducted a public survey on the perceived honesty of twelve different industries. We asked several hundred people on the streets of Gaborone to say whether they felt each industry, including car dealers, banks, attorneys, cellphone network providers and supermarkets, were honest or dishonest.

Given their reputation nobody was surprised that second-hand car dealers were perceived as the least honest, with only 8% of people saying they were honest. They were closely followed by microlenders (18% saying honest) and furniture stores (22% saying honest).

What surprised me most were the scores given to the insurance industry. Only 22% of people said they thought the industry was honest and 60% said they thought the insurance industry was dishonest.

I don’t think that this suggests that the insurance industry IS actually dishonest, I think it means something else. I think it means that the majority of the public simply doesn’t understand what insurance really is. That’s something that we’ve seen at Consumer Watchdog over the last decade. Take this example of a message we received (I’ve removed the name of the funeral parlour).
“There is someone who is part of a union and has a funeral cover which doesn't include a casket and she opened another policy at XXX Funeral Parlour because it has the inclusion of a casket and later on the union policy cover adds casket as part of the funeral cover which meant she had two similar funeral policies. She then writes a letter to XXX to cancel the policy which was successful but was told she will not be able to claim her money or change the policy to another or replace it with another family member. Why can't she be refunded since the policy has never been claimed?”
So is she wrong to think that her friend is entitled to a refund of the premiums because she never made a claim?

Yes, she’s wrong. This isn’t how insurance works. Insurance policies aren’t savings schemes. When you pay insurance premiums, in this case to a funeral parlour, you receive something every day in return: cover against risk. In a sense you’ve paid the company to take the financial risk on your behalf. In return for that small monthly payment they offer you a large payment in the event of a tragedy. If you or one of the people covered by your policy die then they’ll pay out. Even if you’re lucky, nobody dies and you don’t make a claim, you still had the knowledge, the comfort that you were covered if a tragedy had occurred.

We’ve heard this same story many, many times. A lot of people genuinely seem to believe that if they don’t make a claim against an insurance policy then they’re entitled to have their premiums refunded. Then they get angry and that anger is what, I believe, is behind the fact that 60% of people seem to think that the entire insurance industry is dishonest. I suspect that a lot of people have been disappointed when their misunderstandings about insurance have been revealed.

We had another email from a consumer whose wife had a minor car accident. Thankfully nobody was hurt but some damage was done to the other driver’s vehicle. Everyone involved accepted that the collision was her fault. The other driver claimed against his vehicle insurance policy and his car was repaired. However, while the other guy’s insurance covered the repairs there was an “excess” amount of P3,000 that the other driver was required to pay. This is common in insurance policies, there is an amount that the policy doesn’t cover which the insured person has to pay. So the other driver came to the husband, owner of the vehicle, and asked him to pay him back for that sum of P3,000 which he willingly did.

Months later the other driver’s insurance company wrote the husband a letter demanding that he compensate them for the entire cost of the repairs, P10,742. He asked: “Am I legally bound to pay this amount? If so can it be paid in monthly installments?”

The answer is simple. Yes, he IS required to compensate the insurance company. The other driver did nothing wrong, so he deserved to be paid back for his losses and the insurance company didn’t do anything wrong either. They were “innocent parties” and they deserve to get their money back. It’s perfectly normal practice.

Of course what he should have done is had his own vehicle insurance policy. That way THEY would have paid his debts for him. They would have taken the risk for him.

Finally another consumer contacted us asking if it was true what an insurance salesman had told her. That if all her family had funeral plans that covered her grandfather only one of them could ever claim when he passed away. Could this be true?

No, of course it’s not. If someone is covered by multiple policies then multiple claims can be made. The insurance company confirmed this to us, saying that: “This is definitely incorrect. We pay benefits based on whether or not all premiums are up to date and not based on how many people had covered the deceased.”

I’m a big believer in insurance. It protects you against the financial threats offered by all manner of events. It can save you a fortune if a disaster occurs. The problem is that I don’t think we’re being educated enough about it by insurance companies. The stories we hear seem to confirm that. The fact that 60% of people don’t trust the entire insurance industry seems to confirm that as well. They are seen as only slightly more trustworthy than second-hand car dealers and loan sharks.

So insurance industry, what are you going to do about that?

Friday 14 August 2015

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must I pay them?

Can you please advise me on my rights regarding the letter of demand that I have received from the insurance company of a driver that my wife had an accident with.

The gentleman concerned reported the accident to his insurance company as his car was under an HP agreement when the accident occurred. He duly notified me of the cost to repair (I thought was exceptionally high) and told me that I would have to pay the excess to repair his car (P3,000) this was duly done and the damage was repaired, I have now received the letter of demand from the insurance company. It says that “it appears that you/your driver was responsible for the collision and we are therefore holding you liable for the damages to our insured’s vehicle. The relevant amount is P10,742 and we hereby demand payment of the aforesaid amount within seven days, failing which we shall have no alternative but to commence legal proceedings against you for the recovery thereof.”

Am I legally bound to pay this amount? If so can it be paid in monthly installments?

Please advise as they have given me seven days to pay or they intend instigating legal action.

Yes, you probably ARE required to pay this if your wife was responsible for the accident. The other guy’s insurance company is entitled to recover the costs they incurred when paying for the repair to their client’s vehicle. Remember that neither the other driver nor his insurance company have done anything wrong. Why should they be out of pocket?

Was your wife insured at the time of the accident? If she was then it’ll be her insurance company that pays up. If she wasn’t then I’m afraid that you or she will have to foot the bill.

The lesson is that insurance is worth it. Yes, it might seem expensive but it’s not nearly as expensive as NOT having insurance.

Where are my bricks?

On the 25th October 2014 we paid P1,100 to a company for delivery of 200 bricks at a cost of P5.50 per brick, and since then there was no delivery done. We contacted the person who helped us regarding the delivery only to be given false promises. We phoned him again on the 2nd January 2015 to demand our money back as they failed to deliver and the response we got from him was that he was fired by the owner of the company and referred us to him for further clarity. We called the owner he gave us a negative answer that he doesn’t have a deal with us and he has never seen any receipt with regards to delivery of the bricks.

A tricky one. Normally I would suggest you chase the company because they are the ones with whom you had an agreement. However from what you say, and if the owner is to be believed, you’re the victim of a crime. You had your money stolen. You need to involve the Police.

I suggest that you ask the company for a statement confirming that they had no knowledge of this purchase and that they have dismissed the guy who took your money. Then visits our friends in blue and lay a charge of stealing or of obtaining by false pretense against him.

Saturday 8 August 2015

HP questions

We recently received an email recently from someone who had a number of questions about hire purchase. I think it’s worth answering them in public. These are questions that are facing many, MANY people who feel the need to buy things on what the law refers to as “deferred payments”.

Q1. If you have purchased an item from a furniture shop A at hire purchase to meet a specific need, let's say high level programming or CAD Engineering, but you later find out that the machine you brought does not meet system requirements for that software, are you not entitles to cancel that hire purchase contract and return the tool back to the retailer?

For instance, let's say I walk into Furniture shop to buy a computer to do drafting and design, but do not know which computer is the best. I talk to the sales person, who recommends a Toshiba Satellite with AMD E1 Processor and I buy it on hire purchase. After only two days I find out that the computer cannot run AUTO CAD, and I find another one elsewhere at computer shop B, same price but with capabilities. As a consumer, don't I have the right to return the computer since it does not satisfy my needs, cancel the contract and buy a rather better one from shop B?

No. You have no rights that can help you in this situation. Well, probably not.

When you buy something on hire purchase you are throwing yourself out of a plane without a parachute. Yes, you might fall on a huge pile of feathers but it’s very, VERY unlikely.

Firstly the Hire Purchase Act almost certainly offers you no protection because it only covers purchases up to a total value of P4,000 and I bet the total credit price of what you bought was more than that.

Secondly you signed an agreement that commits you to paying for the item you selected. Unless you specifically stated that you wanted a device that could run AutoCAD then you now have no right to demand that. There’s a fundamental rule that says that when an agreement is put in writing, then no other verbal, informal agreements matter. It’s only what’s in writing that matters. The hire purchase agreement you signed is the only thing that is relevant. The lesson is to make specific requirements very clear before you buy something. And then get it in writing.

Q2. If I purchase a computer from furniture shop A, hire purchase and, just two days later, realise that the computer was overpriced for it's performance and see a cheaper one at shop B. Do I not have the right to kindly return the computer back to shop A, request the manager to cancel the contract, and go for shop B even though I will not be getting my installment back?

For instance, let's say I walk into Furniture Shop A to buy a good computer. Mr. Assistant B convinces me to buy an HP 255 HD 250GB, 2GB RAM for P4500.00. After hire purchase, and initial installment of say P300.00. After one day, I find out that the computer is annoyingly slower and slowing down my progress. I walk into computer shop B, and find a Toshiba Satellite HD 750GB, 3GB RAM for P4100. That means better performance for less. In that case, don't I have the right to return the computer back to shop A in kind, and go for shop B with the loss of my installment?

Again, the problem is that you agreed to buy that computer. You didn’t agree to buy that computer subject to certain conditions, such as it being the best computer you could buy. You only have a right to return the computer if there’s a manufacturing fault with it or if it’s not “of merchantable quality” which the Consumer Protection Regulations defines as meaning it’s not “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased, as it is reasonable to expect in light of the relevant circumstances”.

In short, you have no right to change your mind. The lessons are. Do your research to identify the best things to buy. Then shop around to get the best deal. And NEVER buy on impulse.

Q3. I buy a computer from furniture shop A on hire purchase, and I have a job. Within a month I lose my job and can no longer keep up with the payments. Can I not be entitled to return the computer back to the furniture shop and have the contract terminated without any complications?

Sorry, it’s too late. Again, you signed an agreement and (correct me if I’m wrong) but nobody held a gun against your head when you did so, did they?

I’m sorry to sound unsympathetic but is it the store’s fault that you lost you job? You signed an agreement that got you a computer and which said you would make a series of payments to the store. Have they broken the agreement or have you?

Yes, you can return the computer to the store but you must expect there to be complications. Lots of them. You’ll no longer have a computer but once they’ve auctioned the now second-hand item for a fraction of it’s original price, you’ll probably still owe the store more than the original cash price of the item. Don’t forget that the total hire purchase cost of the computer was at least double the cash price of the device.

I’ve seen all of these scenarios before. The lesson is always the same. Instead of buying something on hire purchase, either buy something second-hand or save up for it instead. Do almost anything instead of buying on hire purchase.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Wedding blues

This communication serves to request your help to help follow up a company who I paid P2,000 in part payment to start media coverage my wedding celebration on dates and venues as stipulated in the agreement contract letter. The company covered the wedding celebration as per contract however they did not finish me two DVDs, one photo book digital photos on CD and 20 printed photos?

I have tried in vain to get our package from the company and I truly believe that this is a breach of contract and therefore kindly request your office to follow up on my behalf.

Please find a copy of our agreement contract. I appreciate in advance your well renowned services.

Here we go again. What is it with the people that offer wedding services? People say that second-hand car dealers are unreliable and untrustworthy but in my experience they’re saints compared to people offering wedding services. We’ve heard of caterers, jewelers, videographers, furnishers and photographers who have all let people down badly on what is supposed to be an enormously important day. I’m sure there are plenty of them who are honest and decent but it’s an industry with more than its fair share of crooks.

You’re lucky in that you signed a contract with this company that explained what they would deliver and it’s exactly as you describe.

I suggest that you contact the company and give them 14 days to deliver exactly what they agreed or that you’ll take them to the Small Claims Court asking for an order against them. Meanwhile we’ll get in touch with them and see if they can’t do the decent thing and offer you either the items you’re owed or at least a partial refund.

Hire purchase woes

I am writing this letter asking for your help as I always read your letters helping consumers from The Voice newspaper. I bought a deep freezer in March 2015 from a furniture shop in Francistown. I paid a deposit of P1,140 in the same month. I default to pay because of some reasons. On the 15th of July 2015 the furniture sales rep called me notifying about the default and telling me that they are going to collect the deep freezer. I agreed with her to collect it, they went that same day to collect the deep freezer. The following day on the 16th a sales rep from the furniture shop called me again telling me that the deep freezer is damaged inside so I should pay for it or otherwise they will submit my name to ITC. I told the sales rep that I am far away from Francistown. So my concern is, is it the right thing for them to tell me to pay for the repossessed deep freezer while they took it and again they told me that after I pay for it I should take it, so why did they take it in the first place. The charges have increased also.

I hope that my letter will be responded to and u will be able advise me.

I’m very sorry for your trouble but this is how hire purchase works. There is one critical thing that everyone should understand when considering buying something on HP. Until you make the final payment you don’t own the items you think you’ve bought. In fact the store still owns them. That means that if an item you’re buying on HP is damaged then you must repair it. In your case the store are entitled to demand that you do this. It’s not your freezer that’s damaged, it’s theirs.

Just to make matters worse you still owe them the entire hire purchase price minus your deposit and anything they’ll make when they auction your item. That’s after you’ve repaired it.

This is just another example of how dreadful hire purchase can be. Yes, there are plenty of people who buy things on HP and who have no problems at all, they just end up paying double the cash price when they buy something. However we hear from huge numbers of people who end up in severe financial trouble as a direct result of buying things this way. It really is a terrible way to buy things. Before you even think of buying something on hire purchase I beg you to consider buying something second-hand instead or, better still, saving up so you can buy the thing for cash.

Saturday 1 August 2015

Two sides

It’s said that there are often two sides to a story, your side and the other side. In fact there are often three: yours, theirs and the truth.

It’s impossible to be completely impartial and all of us are subject to biases. Most importantly we all think most of the time that we are right and other people are wrong. I’m a good driver, it’s everyone else who’s useless on the road. I’m a much better parent that the other parents I know. I work harder than my colleagues. I bet most of us have felt these things at least occasionally.

The truth is more complicated. None of us is free from error, we’re all wrong sometimes and we all make mistakes. Yes, even me.

This is very often the case with the complaints we receive and investigate. What initially seems like a very simple story of a consumer being abused or mistreated very often turns out to be more complicated.

We heard recently from a guy who complained about his employer in the hospitality business. He said:
“I started working with them on the 18th February 2014 and resigned on the 12th June 2015. For all this time I was being paid a monthly salary of P8500 and when I left work I had accumulated 15 paid leave days. I’m surprised now they have not yet paid me. I send a mail to the HR and the general manager but he is not saying anything which sound helpful.”
Sounds very mean of the employer, doesn’t it? How could they be so heartless?

But it turns out not to be as simple as that. The employer has indeed held on to his leave pay. The reason? He allegedly stole alcohol from the bar and is on the run from the police as a result. He’s now even left the country to get a job overseas. They’ve withheld his leave pay until the investigation is complete and they can calculate the value of the booze he stole.

So it’s not quite as simple as it first seemed.

Another consumer contacted us making a perhaps a much more serious allegation. A store security guard slapped her, so she says.

She’d entered a store carrying a small item that she’d bought in another store a few moments beforehand. When she got to the checkout in the second store she said she alerted the cashier to the item, telling her that she had bought it elsewhere and that she shouldn’t be charged for it. That’s when the trouble started. A security guard was called and she said “he start pulling it from me and I told he will not take my belongings. While we were still arguing he slapped me in a shop full of customers”.

You can imagine how shocked we were. However, our approach in these situations is always to allow the other side to respond. We contacted the store and, to their credit, they took the situation very seriously and promised us an immediate investigation. Within 24 hours they responded with a full report that presented their side of the story. They didn’t deny that the incident had happened but they were able to provide the context within which it had occurred. This is what their report said happened after the argument about the item she had purchased elsewhere.
“The discussion became heated and the customer slapped the security guard in the face, he then got hold of her by her upper arms to try and prevent a further assault . The customer told the guard to let go of her, which he did, she then hit him with the shopping bag which contained her purchases. At this time the security guard retaliated.”
Let’s make one thing clear. Nobody in this situation is defending the actions of the security guard. Security guards should not be slapping customers and the fact that it was a male guard striking a female customer just makes it much worse. His actions constituted an assault. However, if the report is true it does at least explain how the situation happened.

Above all this is a remarkably silly reason to start using force. The item this customer was concerned about was of trivial value and she was happy to pay for everything else in her shopping basket. Does that seem like the actions of a criminal to you?

Either way, I suspect that the truth is somewhere in between the two sides of the story.

What about some good news? What about an example of how you deal with a complaint maturely?

A few days ago a customer complained to us about her experience with The Braai Place. It’s a long story but it involved her delivery meal arriving very late and then apparently some rudeness from the driver.

We contacted the management of The Braai Place and this was their response:
“We are only getting wind of this incident through your correspondence and we investigated immediately. Suffice to say the version of events we are receiving is somewhat different, but in cases such as these, where the sequence of events is in dispute, we rely entirely on the customer’s account of events. As such we have instituted immediate disciplinary proceedings against our driver, whose actions we believe were entirely unacceptable. All our drivers have been instructed to refer such matters to the operations manager and not take matters into their own hands. So with that in mind we are ready and willing to offer an unreserved apology to our valued customer, either directly or through Consumer Watchdog.”
THAT is how you deal with a complaint. See the complaint through the eyes of the customer and, unless they’re a psychopath, respect them enough to believe them.

I’m not here to advertise the Braai Place but I think they deserve our respect for dealing with a complaint with such maturity and self-confidence. Good for them.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

What is a grey import?

Please can you explain what grey marketing is. I have seen a new laptop at a fantastic price from a fancy looking store in one of our malls. However on investigation this laptop is not available in Africa. What does this mean for my guarantee? I have been told that the HP warranty centre will not assist me in the event of a problem within the 1 year guarantee period. Is this true and if so why are consumers not being protected or warned?

First things first. There is nothing illegal about these so-called “grey imports” so long as a store selling them doesn’t hide the fact.

Many reputable manufacturers produce items for specific markets such as ours. They vary the items according to local laws and conditions. For instance something produced for southern Africa might need slightly different technology compared to the same item being sold in a colder, wetter environment. A very good example is cars where the rules about headlights and seatbelts can vary in different parts of the world. The same goes for cellphones and computers.

The temptation for suppliers is that often the prices vary as well. They can buy items in bulk somewhere like the Middle East or Asia that are much cheaper than the versions produced for southern Africa and can make a lot more money by selling these items to us. However, in doing so they might be breaching the warranty that the manufacturer offers. That’s why you sometimes see items from reputable manufacturers that come with a much shorter warranty than you would expect. The warranty that comes with your HP laptop might only cover it in the region it was designed for.

You also have to ask yourself whether a warranty center here in Botswana will have the right parts and expertise to service or repair an item not designed for this region. That’s particularly the case with vehicles.

As I said, there’s nothing illegal about selling or buying a grey import but a store must be honest with you about it. The Consumer Protection Regulations make it clear that a store is not allowed to cause “a probability of confusion or misunderstanding as to its source, sponsorship, approval, or certification”. They’ll also get into trouble by “disclaiming or limiting the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for use, unless a disclaimer is clearly and conspicuously disclosed”.

In other words a store must be perfectly honest about a grey import when they sell it to you. Then you can make an informed decision.

A broken sofa
Hi, guys please help. I bought a couch in June and I got a 30% discount because it was dirty. The sales lady told me it was because it was the last one they had. When it got home I noticed it had a tear towards the back and that it was shaking on the arm rests. I notified the shop the following day and I was told that there is nothing they can do as I accepted a discount! I'm so unhappy with it now and lately it has become worse after only two months. Is there really nothing I can do?

I don’t think you’re being fairly treated.

Yes, the 30% discount was a bargain and the store were treating you properly by reducing the price because the couch was dirty. I guess all it needed was a decent clean and you’d have something as good as new. However, unless they specifically mentioned the damage to the couch and you specifically agreed to accepting it in that state the store can’t just say you got a discount and have no rights as a result.

Section 17 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that a store is breaking the rules by “disclaiming or limiting the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for use, unless a disclaimer is clearly and conspicuously disclosed”. Section 17 (1) (f) also forbids them from “entering into a transaction in which the consumer waives or purports to waive a right, benefit or immunity provided by law, unless the waiver is clearly stated and the consumer has specifically consented to it”.

If you signed something saying you accepted the couch and waived all your rights then you’re in trouble. If not, then they are. We’ll contact them for you to find out which it is!