Saturday 28 November 2015

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Why am I listed?

I am writing this letter to you so you guide and help me as I have been owing a store P7,800 and they took me to their sherrifs but I then paid the amount in cash on the 20 October and asked for certificate of clearance, When i checked with ITC I found my name is there but when I asked them to update my profile at ITC but they say it is going to take time, so my query is how long does somebody’s profile be updated at ITC according to law as I have paid last month and is already a month now. What can I do?

The process when someone owes an institution money is straightforward. The company will send the debtor a series of letters or make a series of phone calls reminding them that they owe money. If that doesn’t work then it’s likely that a debt collector will become involved. These are professionals whose main job is hassling people until they cough up the money they owe. This is the beginning of the dangerous stage. The problem is that (as far as I know, please correct me if I’m wrong) the debt collection industry is unregulated. Anyone can set himself or herself up as a debt collector and it’s an area that has its share of dubious characters.

If the debt collector doesn’t make any progress, and sometimes even if they do, the next stage will be to “list” you with a credit reference agency such as Transunion (which used to be called ITC). Companies like TransUnion hold records on everyone who has ever had any financial transactions, showing how good we are as payers. Some of us have records full of defaults and missed payments, others have records of being good payers. Most of us are somewhere in between.

Once you clear a debt you are entitled to have your record with TransUnion updated to show that. However some of these agencies have told me that this isn’t something that happens quickly. It should normally happen within about 30 days but I’ve known it take a lot longer than that. I suggest that you contact the store and the debt collector and ask them to confirm that they’ve told TransUnion that you’ve now paid the debt. Then keep checking to make sure they’ve done it.

Meanwhile we’ll get in touch with the store to see how far they’ve got.

Who withdrew my money?
Ok here we go. Some months back I posted on Facebook regarding a bank transaction of 500 pula that was done 45 minutes after I had withdrawn 500 pula from an ATM. The bank after all these months finally called me and lo and behold they will not be refunding me my money because after their " findings", they believe my pin number was used so it could have just as easily been me!!! I have only one question how did this occur when I had my ATM card in my possession at the time the sms of that transaction came through and i was halfway to Kanye. Please help!!!.

You need to see the evidence that the bank has on which is based it’s conclusion that your PIN was used.

The general rule is that if your PIN is used, the bank assumes that they’re not to blame for any misuse of your account. In that situation they’ll say that you either used the card yourself or that you somehow disclosed your card details and PIN to someone else.

The bad news is that this might actually be true. It’s possible that your card was “skimmed”. This is when a device attached to an ATM copies your card details while simultaneously a hidden camera records you entering the PIN. With the card details and your PIN the crooks can produce a replica of your card within minutes and can be withdrawing money from your account moments later.

We heard months ago of a situation like this when someone’s card details were copied and just a few minutes later her money was being withdrawn from an ATM in Peru.

The lesson is always to be vigilant. Every time you use an ATM take a good look to see if there is anything strange about the slot where you enter your card. Then you MUST cover your hand as you enter the PIN. Don’t give the crook’s hidden camera a chance to see the numbers you press.

We’ve contacted the bank in question about your case but I’m afraid I’m not very optimistic.

Sunday 22 November 2015

A Service Stimulus Package

With all this talk about an economic stimulus package (and no, I still don’t understand it either) I thought that we could all benefit from a customer service stimulus package as well.

What might this service stimulus package include? What can be done to stimulate the companies that sell us things to do so in a way that grows customer loyalty and contentment?

It can start from within. I have a rather old-fashioned view that the single, most important thing that affects the quality of service and then the success of a company is the quality of its leadership. If you have an inspirational leader at the top of a company, someone who invests his or her time in making the organisation work, and placing the customer’s needs at the same level as the shareholders, then the organisation will succeed, I guarantee it. However if you have a CEO or MD who sees their main role as attending conferences, pompously ignoring the staff and massaging their ego then the organisation will fail. I guarantee it.

The bad news is that, in my experience, the latter type of manager is more common than the former. There are tremendously good leaders in business in Botswana but there are also plenty who are not, people who’ve been hired because of their longevity, their connections or simply because the organisation can’t find anyone better.

But the good ones do exist. Honestly, they do. I’ve been lucky enough to know a few of them and even to work with them. Yes, I do mean here in Botswana.

So what makes them so stimulating?

The right leaders do the obvious things like set budgets and objectives and they hire people with the right skills (and fire those without) but they also do the things that actually matter even more.

They start by setting an example. That’s perhaps the most stimulating thing that any manager can do. They start by showing that they’re prepared to work at least as hard as anyone else in the organisation. They come in early, leave late and there are no tasks to good for them to do. I’ve seen restaurant owners clearing tables, preparing food and doing the washing up because someone is off sick and the place is particularly busy. They don’t see themselves as too important to do menial tasks. I’ve seen one of the most senior managers of a bank serving customers because the queues were long that day. I know two MDs of companies here in Botswana who insist on being personally involved in every complaint we receive about their companies.

Stimulating leaders also show passion. They show a real commitment to the products and services their companies offer, products and services they’ve often helped to design and develop. Think of the passion shown by that most complicated of business leaders, Steve Jobs. It’s fair to say that he lived and breathed his products, even the ones that weren’t successes (can you even remember which they were?). Why can’t other managers show the same passion?

They also show that they care. They don’t just pretend, they genuinely do care that their colleagues are performing at their best, that they’re are supported by the best training and technology and even that they’re as happy as can be.

That’s what a leader can do internally to make things better but what about the “demand” side? What about the customers? What can we do to improve the service we receive? Is it even possible for us to have any effect on it?

Yes, of course it is. And it’s actually very simple.

The best way for consumers to stimulate a company into delivering better service is to be demanding, to be difficult, to be challenging. In other words, to be the best thing that could happen to them. Some companies still don’t get it and many consumers simply don’t know this: that the politely critical consumer is the best possible customer. He or she is the customer that is offering you an entirely free consultancy service. They’re making observations and recommendations that other companies pay consultants huge amounts of money to make and they’re doing it not because they think it’ll make them rich or famous but because they want (even if they don’t realise it) your company to be more successful. They want your store to be the one they visit over and over again because the products and service are better than those from the competitors. They want you to make more profits so you can expand and enhance your service. They are the best possible stimulus you could get.

As well as being a challenging and assertive customer you can also do one other thing. Be nice. In fact be very nice.

We hear all the time about shop staff who are grumpy and miserable and who don’t seem to be enjoying life. So my response is to ask what you did to fix that? Yes, I’m often told that it’s THEIR job to greet customers with a smile, not our job. But who cares? Aren’t we a country of nice, courteous people? Aren’t we famous for being the country that spends half its time greeting people? And don’t we realise that it’s infectious? Smiling at someone will almost always stimulate them to smile back at you. And then who knows, maybe they’ll still be smiling when the next customer comes along.

Companies and consumers have a simple choice. Do you like being stimulated? Don’t you like stimulating others?

Get out there tomorrow and start stimulating. I guarantee it’ll excite you.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is it too late to return it?

So last week Friday 06 November I bought a Gamemon FT-31C3 racing wheel (gamepad) for P400 at a store at Game City and they told me it has a 7 day warranty. So yesterday which was the last day of the warranty it stopped working. This morning I took it back and the manager refused to repair or exchange it because I’m off by a day. How can i be helped?

Sorry, I don’t think there’s much you can do. You were a day late taking it back to the store.

Most products from reputable manufacturers come with a warranty that lasts at least a year, some even longer. However some stores are either selling second-hand goods where the warranty has expired or they’re selling what are known as “grey imports” where they items have been sourced overseas and sold outside the region they were meant for. There’s nothing illegal or improper about doing either of these things, so long as the store is honest about it. In particular the store must be honest if they can’t support the warranty that the manufacturer offers because they’ve imported it in a strange way.

Specifically a store can’t disclaim or limit the warranty that might come with a product “unless a disclaimer is clearly and conspicuously disclosed”. They’re also not allowed to say you have no rights, or even just limited rights, unless a waiver was “clearly stated and the consumer has specifically consented to it”.

Unfortunately it seems like you DID waive your rights and you did acknowledge that the warranty was only for seven days when you bought the item. The sad thing in your situation is that although the device stopped working on the seventh day, still within the incredibly short warranty period, you didn’t return it until the following day when the warranty had already expired. So unfortunately you’re out of luck.

The lesson is simple. You can reasonably expect any item you buy to work perfectly for the length of the warranty that is offered but not a moment longer. I don’t think that anything that comes with a seven day warranty can be trusted, do you?

Can I expect the right color?

I am busy renovating a house, and went to a store to buy a new kitchen and I spend about P80,000. To make my story short, the colours of my kitchen I ordered, is not the colour supplied to me. Now they say I have to pay extra to get the right colour and I can keep the old doors.

Have the staff at this store been smoking something illegal? They delivered the wrong colour items and they say you have to pay extra to get what you ordered? Clearly they’re not thinking rationally.

The Consumer Protection Regulations are very clear on this sort of thing (as is basic contract law). Section 13 (1) (a) of the Regulations says that a supplier of a commodity has failed to meet minimum standards if “the commodity sold … does not match any sample or description given to the consumer”. If they said they’d deliver goods that were a particular colour then that’s what they must deliver, it’s as simple as that.

Section 15 (1) (a) says that a supplier must also deliver services “with reasonable care and skill” and delivering the wrong color items is hardly doing that, is it?

I suggest that you write the store a letter saying that they have failed to honor your contract with them by delivering the wrong products. State very clearly that there is no way under the sun that you’ll be paying them even one thebe because of their mistake. Then give them seven days to confirm that they’ll either supply replacements as originally ordered or will suggest some form of discount for delivering the wrong color items.

Make it perfectly clear to them that you expect them to resolve this situation and that if they don’t you’ll take any legal action against that you see fit.

And send me their contact details and we’ll get in touch with them as well!

Friday 13 November 2015


This is the 500th Consumer Watchdog column and you’ll have to forgive us for feeling a little proud of ourselves.

You might think that over the last ten years of writing this column there have been highs as well as lows. In fact it’s been a constant high.

When we started Consumer Watchdog its purpose was simple. It was there to help consumers fix problems and to help them stand up for their rights. Very quickly we realised that was impossible. The vast majority of people in Botswana had no idea what their rights were so how could they stand up for them? So our purpose expanded to include consumer rights education. Then we realised that, despite the many protections consumers in Botswana have, there remain gaps in the legislation. More importantly there was an enormous gap in enforcement of these rights. So we included advocacy into the mix. That’s where we are now. In 2015 and after 500 newspaper columns Consumer Watchdog exists to support consumers in exercising their rights, educating them on what their rights are and advocating for greater protection.

Of course we’ve certainly had some successes. I can’t be precise but we estimate we’ve responded to approximately 10,000 complaints, questions and celebrations over the last decade.

We’ve also been able to encourage certain stores, most notably furniture stores to obey the law. When Consumer Watchdog started stores were happy to advertise their products for sale on hire purchase and were equally to advertise them in breach of the Control Of Goods (Marking Of Goods) Regulations 1974, which requires stores to disclose the full credit price as well as the cash price and the details of the instalments customers must make. To their credit most stores corrected this when we pointed it out to them.

We’ve also had some success with the variety of financial scams that have circulated around Botswana in recent years. There was Stock Market Direct whose founder, Tony Samuels, ended up skipping the country with several million Pula of “investors” money, never to be seen again. Our warnings managed to prevent a lot of people from losing money but not everyone.

The biggest of the financial scams was of course Eurextrade and again, while we couldn’t stop everyone throwing away their hard-earned money hoping for the promised (but obviously impossible) “2.9% daily” return, we managed to prevent many people doing so. Nobody really knows how much money was stolen by this Ponzi scheme but we heard from and of many people who had invested hundreds of thousands so I wouldn’t be surprised if the total amount exceeded P100 million.

Then there were all the pyramid schemes that came to visit. It started with Success University, then there was TVI Express, WorldVentures, 4 Corners Alliance and the laughable Karatbars, the scheme that encourages you to “invest” in gold at a time when the price of gold is falling, not rising. That’s also the scam that claimed it had received a “thumbs up” from us, thus proving how ridiculous the lies told by pyramid scheme recruiters can be.

Unlike a certain colleague, I also think that the various legal threats we’ve had over the last decade have been high points as well. The lesson I’ve learned is that if you’re telling the truth, something that the public benefits from hearing, then a legal threat is a guarantee that you’re doing the right thing.

Of course not one of the threats has ever succeeded. On every occasion we’ve responded to the threat politely suggesting that we’ve done nothing but report the truth and the company has finally seen sense and left us alone, something they probably should have done to begin with.

Perhaps the most interesting threat we ever received was from a company calling itself "Joyce & Nielsen" who claimed to be acting for "Headway University", one of the many fake universities that sold fake degrees to fake graduates with credit cards.

The web site for this company, which described itself as “full-service business law firm” accused us of spreading “defamatory, harmful and malicious content in violation of state, federal and international law (…) with the intent to harm, defame and cause financial damages to our client, Headway University”.

I wasn’t sure at the time how it is possible to defame a fake university that sells fake degrees to fake graduates. Defamation rests on the assumption that the victim has a reputation to protect. Peddlers of bogus qualifications are criminals. They have no reputation to lose.

However the best thing about this threat was that the law firm didn’t actually exist. The crooks behind the fake university had created an entirely fake web site to pretend that the law firm existed, even stealing the text on the web site from other, genuine law firms. We knew we were doing something right that day.

Perhaps the best thing we’ve achieved, certainly one the things I’m proudest of, is something I’ve only noticed in the last couple of years. Since we established our Facebook group in 2010 the membership has grown to over 22,000 people and something magical started happening about two years ago. We found that we’d created a community. These days, if a member posts a question or a complaint dozens of other members will respond with advice, suggestions and support before we even get a chance to do so. It’s almost like a circle of friends, dare I even suggest that it’s a bit like a family?

Writing five hundred newspaper articles isn’t itself a greatest achievement but it has allowed us the time to see the changes that have happened to the consumers of Botswana over that time. Our growing, national level of skepticism and the mutual support are things I think we can all be very proud of.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is my landlord being fair?

I rented a bachelor pad in beginning of June. I paid 2000 security and 2000 rental. On the lease there was somewhere where it stated that "its a 2year lease and if I happen to leave before the 2 year period elapses I will have to look for another tenant or I will be liable for paying the rest of the months left on the lease". I signed the lease anyway because I had a stable job.

My employment term got terminated end of September and I told the landlord that end of November I will be leaving. He didn't have a problem with it but reminded me of the lease agreement. I did my best to look for that tenant to no avail. So I contacted him again to let him know that I couldn't find anybody. And mind you he has some guy he is using as his 'agent'. He is the same guy I contacted after he advertised this house on Facebook. And now the landlord is saying if he uses his "agent" am gonna have to pay that agent half- the rental which is P1000.

Is this fair at all?

I do understand your difficulty. It might not have been your fault that you lost your job but think of it this way. Is it your landlord’s fault either? He rented you his house in good faith and he's sticking to his side of the agreement. He’s done nothing wrong so it’s even more unfair on him if he is disadvantaged as a result of your problem.

I’m sorry but you need to abide by the terms of the lease agreement that you signed. Like any other contract you might sign a lease is a legally binding document. Your lease made it very clear that you would need to find another tenant to take your place if you left before it expired.

Unfortunately you’re either going to need to find another tenant to take over your lease or pay the landlord the P1,000 contribution he’s asking you to make to hiring an agent to do this for him. In fact the landlord is being rather generous. He could have demanded the full P2,000 agent fee from you. Realistically paying the P1,000 might be the cheapest option for you. Sorry I don’t have better news.

Is Kipi a pyramid scheme?

Richard is KIPI some kind of pyramid scheme or what? I hear its very popular in South Africa.

Kipi shows all the signs of being another pyramid or Ponzi scheme. I urge you to be VERY careful before you part with your money.

The people trying to recruit others into Kipi make a number of claims about their business. They include “No monthly payments, No need to recruit (optional), No selling of any products, No buying of any products, No manager or owner in handling of funds, No company or firm to deposit your money to, No company or firm to receive withdrawal from, No LAW against Kipi community practices.”

In fact I can’t see there’s any business there at all. I’m also always suspicious about any business that starts by saying they’re not criminals. Who, other than a criminal, would say that?

Curiously they give very little information about how might make money from the scheme. They claim that they’re a community saving scheme, a “stokvel” but then hint that it’s something to do with Bitcoin. Elsewhere they imply that they are a Multi Level Marketing scheme. I smell a rat.

I’m not the only one. According to IOL in South Africa Kipi was “referred to the National Consumer Commission (NCC) for investigation by the Reserve Bank, following an earlier referral by the Financial Services Board (FSB) of the scheme to the Reserve Bank”. Apparently the scheme is operated by someone called Chris Walker who has already had an earlier scheme call Defencex closed by the South African authorities, leaving R352 million that couldn’t be found.

There are many, many reasons to be very suspicious of Kipi. Please don’t waste your time and money investing in this deeply dubious scheme.

Saturday 7 November 2015

What is Consumer Watchdog?

On several occasions in the last few weeks I’ve been asked again, what is Consumer Watchdog? How does it work? Here goes.

What is Consumer Watchdog?

Consumer Watchdog is a division of its privately owned parent company. We’re not registered as a society, a charity, a NGO or even a church, we’re a private company.

Who funds Consumer Watchdog?

Other than being paid for the newspaper columns we write, Consumer Watchdog has no sources of external income. All our costs are covered by the parent company. We’re certainly not funded by any other agencies, not Government, not other consumer groups and not by any international consumer bodies. Most importantly we certainly don’t get anything from consumers. There have been occasions when grateful consumers have offered us gifts but our response has always been the same. If you feel the need to make a donation give it to the Cheshire Foundation instead.

Do you want to be funded?

No, we’re perfectly happy with the way we are. I genuinely like the fact that Consumer Watchdog is financially independent. Not taking money from anyone means we don’t have to take instructions from anyone.

Are you allied with other groups?

No, and we like it that way. There are other consumer organisations out there both in Botswana and elsewhere, and while they do good work but we don’t generally collaborate with them. I wish them the very best of luck but we prefer to do things our way. Independently. That doesn’t mean we won’t appear on the same platforms as them, we talk to them, we might even agree with them. But their business is theirs and ours is ours.

In particular we’re not allied in any way with Consumers International, who describe themselves as “the world federation of consumer groups that, working together with its members, serves as the only independent and authoritative global voice for consumers”. I’m in favour of groups like this as sources of information, research and knowledge but I’m not sure we want to be guided like this or to play by someone else’s rules.

There’s even a consumer body in Botswana that sometimes describes itself as “the mother body for all consumer groups within the country”. Sorry but no, they’re not our Mum, Dad or any other relative. As you can probably tell by now, we don’t like being told what to do.

Don’t you have conflicts of interest with your clients?

Consumer Watchdog’s parent company works for a variety of companies doing market research and helping them to improve the quality of their customer service. Maybe you think this places in a difficult position when we receive a complaint against one of our client companies?

No, it doesn’t. Without exception, every company we work with understands that we keep our commercial work and Consumer Watchdog separate. It’s perfectly possible that we’ll be working with a company on Monday and dealing with a complaint about them on Tuesday. We can keep these issue separate and so can the companies we work with. That’s because they’re mature, grown-up companies that know how to deal with complaints properly. Every single one of them. I know this because we only choose to work with that sort of company. Other companies can keep their money, we won’t take it.

Of course there are companies who aren’t as mature and sensible. There are certain car dealerships and importers, holiday clubs, quacks selling “alternative health” products, multi-level marketing schemes and suspicious “investment” and stock market training institutions that we wouldn’t work with, whatever they offered us. We have standards. And morals.

Don’t you get into trouble sometimes?

Yes and no. We’ve had more than our fair share of legal threats but only from company representatives who’ve forgotten that we live in a country where freedom of expression is enshrined in our Constitution (Section 12, in case any lawyers have forgotten). They’re the same people who’ve forgotten that Section 195 of the Penal Code says that a comment isn’t defamation if “the matter is true and it was for the public benefit that it should be published”. I can’t think of a better case of publishing something for the public benefit than news of consumers being abused.

So far, every legal threat we’ve ever received has suddenly evaporated when we’ve told the lawyers to advise their angry clients that all we’ve done is report the truth. And reminded them of the law. And then published their threats on the Internet.

We’ve also been lucky with the support we get from Mmegi and our other media partners. Every time there’s been a silly threat from a company they’ve backed us completely.

How much do consumers pay to get our help?

Nothing. Not a single thebe. It’s entirely free. It always has been and it always will be.

Do people believe this?

No, not everyone believes that this is how we operate. On Facebook last week someone posted “I'm suggesting, on good authority, that you are funded by organisations/individuals that pay money for good reviews. How else do you run your business?”

He then continued to allege that we had taken “32,000” to give a positive review to a certain restaurant that he named. The irony is that I did once review the restaurant he named. However my review, which you can see on TripAdvisor, was hardly flattering and I certainly wasn’t paid by anyone to write it.

I’ll overlook that fact that this guy’s suggestion that we are paid to be positive is defamatory. It’s completely, utterly, 100% incorrect so all I’ll do is completely deny it. We have never, not ever, accepted anything to give an organisation a positive review or comment. Not once. And we never will.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is this one of those scams?

Dear Watchdog

I received a mail from the Coca-Cola promotion. The mail states that my mail has been randomly picked by a powered newsletter software operated by a legally registered US freelance tech Coca-Cola rewards prize of 1,000,000 Great British Pounds Sterling in the ongoing Coca-Cola 128th anniversary celebrations promo in UK. It goes on to say for claims, please submit name, age, telephone and address to: Mr Edward Barker through E- mail: From cocacola promo secretary: Skivu Eru

I’m looking forward for your out standing support in educating Batswana Consumers on such issues. Is this real or its a one of those scams?

I think you know already, don’t you? This is undoubtedly a scam. Companies like Coca Cola don’t give enormous prizes to randomly selected strangers whose name they don’t even know. I bet the email you received didn’t use your name, right?

The fact is that there is no Coca-Cola 128th anniversary prize or competition. There never has been and I really doubt that there ever will be. Also, real companies don’t use free email addresses from Yahoo (like this one), Hotmail or Gmail. Don’t you think it’s strange that they emailed you from a Yahoo in Hong Kong when they claim to be offering a prize in “Great British Pounds Sterling”?

As with all the scams we’ve covered before it’s all about an “advance fee”. The scammers will pretend that there’s a legal fee, an attorney to be paid, an account opening fee or some such nonsense and they’ll demand you send it to them (probably using Western Union) before you get the fictitious money they’re promising you. That’s what the whole thing is about, that advance fee. The lesson from this is very simple. If it seems too good to be true then it IS too good to be true. I suggest that you delete the email and, whatever else you do, don’t send them any money. You’ll never see it again because scammers don’t offer refunds!

Are they being fair?

I was in a motshelo with 4 other people at the beginning of this year in January we contributed P600. We took turns to borrow the money which was P3,000. In June and July I couldn't pay my interest as required due to my financial status. Normally contributions are submitted around 5th of every month. So I submitted P1,000 the same time to the secretary. Then a day after I received a call from one of the members that I am removed from motshelo I should come and collect my contribution (P1000). A meeting was then held thereafter and I told the same story by the other 3 members. They told me that I was never present for meetings when in actual fact there was not even a single one called. So when I asked them to at least bring my interest as the money was also borrowed to outsiders they refused again. Please advise on this one whether I will be in a position to claim my money back or not. The society was not even registered.

I’m always a bit suspicious of Motshelo schemes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with informal lending schemes, it’s just that I’ve heard so many stories of them going wrong and people ending up poorer rather than richer because they joined such a scheme.

In principle there’s nothing wrong with a group of people gathering together to save an agreed amount each month and then take loans from the collective pot of money when they have a need. Critically, the borrower pays interest into the pot which boosts the amount the scheme has to lend to its members. These schemes are certainly popular. A recent survey suggested that perhaps 230,000 people in Botswana are currently members of at least one Motshelo scheme.

However the problem is that while these schemes are created with the best intentions they are often established without any rules, without legal paperwork and without any financial expertise. They are often exploited by one unscrupulous person in the group and it’s very easy for the accumulated money to be abused.

Luckily Motshelo schemes are regulated by NBFIRA, the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority and I think they are the best people to advise you about this. Give them a call on 3102595 and explain your situation to them. I’m sure they’ll be helpful.