Saturday, 25 February 2017

Bright ideas

I recently asked the members of the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group for ideas. I asked what entirely new services would they like to be offered in Botswana, perhaps things they’d seen in other countries or things they’d thought of themselves. The suggestions were varied and impressive.

One of the most popular was for online shopping services. Many people who’ve lived overseas will have used services like Amazon, Apple online, eBay and if they’ve lived in South Africa they’ll know about bidorbuy. All these services allow you to buy online and have goods delivered to your doorstep. More importantly perhaps, many supermarket chains in Europe and the USA now deliver, following online orders and that’s transformed the way many people live their lives. No longer are they forced to go to the shops when the shops will now come to them. In fact there is one store in Gaborone that does now offer online ordering so there’s been some progress. More would be better though.

Also on the electronic front people said they wanted something like Uber, the cellphone-based taxi-ordering service that operates in many European and American cities, now even in Johannesburg and Cape Town. It was news to me when someone pointed out that a local taxi company already does this, having developed an app for your phone that allows you to order a taxi and then to track its progress towards you. The only difference between that and Uber is that you still have to pay your Gaborone taxi driver with cash, unlike Uber where the payment is done online. But again, it’s a very good beginning.

Some suggestions were slightly more ambitious and perhaps therefore less achievable. A total overhaul of the public transport system in Botswana might be a challenge. New rail systems to the airport and throughout Gaborone might take more effort than we can muster.

Other suggestions were much simpler. Pressure gauges on gas cylinders seems like a good idea to me. I’ve lost count of the number of consumer who’ve complained to us about the gas cylinder they recently purchased running out within weeks, sometimes even days after they bought it. How can we really know that the cylinder just delivered is full or not? A pressure gauge might be the answer. Maybe not a permanent one, but perhaps the delivery companies should have one to show their customer that it’s full when they deliver the cylinder?

Another popular one was for breastfeeding facilities in shopping malls and this is something we feel very strongly about. Despite it being 2017 and everyone knowing that breastfeeding is the best option for mothers and their babies, obstacles are still put in between babies and what’s best for them. I don’t just mean the pharmaceutical companies that consistently break the law and market infant formula contrary to the laws of Botswana but I mean the everyday practical hurdles mothers are forced to leap in order to feed their children. The most obvious is the attitudes of the few dinosaurs that still think it’s somehow unseemly for a woman to breastfeed her baby in public.

A couple of years ago a member of our Facebook group asked whether it was acceptable for a woman to breastfeed in public. Almost everyone said “Of course it is” but a very small number, four to be exact, said it wasn’t. They said it was revolting, impolite, inappropriate, or, in one case, “not African” to breastfeed in public.

Actually, I’m glad these four strange people said these things. At least we know where the clinically stupid can be found if want to entertain our children at the weekend.

The suggestion made was that shopping centers should provide comfortable facilities for mothers to feed their children and I think that’s a very good idea. I have just one plea for any shopping center considering the idea. Don’t place the feeding rooms in the toilets. I’ve heard of women being asked to stop feeding their children in a restaurant and being asked to do it in the toilet instead and frankly that’s revolting. If you can’t see the difference between a baby being fed nutrition, immunity and love by its mother and the normal purpose to which toilets are used then you have issues.

Perhaps the most important suggestion that people made was that financial literacy education needs to be part of our national curriculum, not just in secondary school but across the educational spectrum. A basic understanding of money is necessary, not just for grown-ups like you and me but also for kids from the earliest age.

Another suggestion we endorse is that vehicle insurance should be compulsory, just like in many other countries. It needn’t be full, comprehensive insurance but at least third-party cover would make life a lot better for anyone involved in a car accident. Like the consumer who contacted us a while ago who’d caused an accident on the road and who had been faced with a demand from the other driver’s insurance company for P20,000 towards fixing the damage he’d caused to the other guy’s hugely expensive car. If he’d had third-party insurance his bill would have been a lot lower. My concern was the size of the bill he would have faced if the other vehicle had been completely destroyed. It could easily have been over a million, enough to ruin any of us. Again, with third-party insurance he would have faced no more than a few thousand. Compulsory vehicle insurance would save us all a lot of money.

Finally, a personal suggestion. In a country where we have so much free sunshine why aren’t we investing more in solar power? In New York a few years ago I saw free solar-powered cellphone charging stations dotted around the city, each sponsored by a network provider. While you drink a coffee you can give your cellphone a quick boost, all courtesy of the sponsor and the sun. Why can’t we do the same?

While we have the intelligence and education to transform our country ourselves that doesn’t mean we can’t learn lessons from other countries. So what’s stopping us?

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