Saturday 23 December 2017


This is the 605th and final Consumer Watchdog article in Mmegi. After twelve and a half years, we’re calling it a day.

Things change and there are some who don’t like that. They like things always to remain the same, never changing. They don’t enjoy new experiences, they don’t like innovation and they don’t welcome anything that forces them to think about things in new ways.

I’m not one of them.

I’m the exact opposite. I love novelty. I love the fact that almost every day we read of a new invention, a new discovery or learn about a new idea that helps us understand the world and its people in better ways. I loved it when Mmegi invited us to start writing a column in 2005. It was new challenge, it forced us to think differently about the way Consumer Watchdog spoke to consumers and it made us think very carefully about what Consumer Watchdog really was.

Not everyone liked what we did, that’s very clear. The threats of hellfire and damnation we got from certain suppliers after we criticised them were surprising and when some of them became formal legal threats we were shocked. Did they really think that engaging an attorney to threaten us for exposing their shady dealings, poor service delivery and questionable ethics would make us change our minds? Or apologise? Or retract what we’d said? Were they serious?

Some of them really were.

But we didn’t change our minds, retract or apologize and much of the thanks for that was the support we always got from Mmegi editors like Mesh Moeti and Gideon Nkala who saw every time that what we’d said was correct and justifiable. They had our backs and I’ll thank them for that over and over again.

Being with Mmegi also allowed to confront a number of issues that really were threatening our welfare. Before NBFIRA came along uncontrolled loan sharks were a big issue, some charging 30% or more interest every month. The failure of stores selling things on hire purchase to abide by the legal requirement on them to disclose the total cost of purchasing was universal. When we told them about it, some were remarkably cooperative, others less so. The South African chain of stores who told us that it wasn’t relevant to them because they were governed by South African law, even while operating in Botswana, was a surprise but that silliness didn’t last long when we explained that in Botswana our laws apply, not someone else’s.

Then there were perhaps the greatest threats to our safety, the so-called “traditional doctors” who advertised their preposterous potions in various newspapers (obviously never Mmegi though). They had products, or so they claimed, that could enlarge the parts you wanted enlarged, shrink the parts you wanted shrunk, find lost lovers, do away with business rivals and win you tenders. More worryingly, they also claimed that they could cure a variety of diseases, ranging from STIs to cancer, heart disease to epilepsy, hypertension to AIDS. It was one of the crooks selling a AIDS cure that prompted us to write an open letter to the Commissioner of Police about him, describing him as a “clear and present danger” to the health of the nation. I’m not sure whether it was addressing it to the Commissioner or copying it to the President that had him arrested and deported but either way that was a result worth waiting for.

Luckily you hardly see those adverts any longer. Partially it’s because newspaper editors took a lead from Mmegi and saw them as dangerous but it was also due to the most significant change to our lives after better healthcare and education. The rise of social media and the freedom it offered us all to say what we feel, whether it’s good or bad. Nobody knows exactly how many people use Facebook in Botswana but I’d place a bet on it being close to half of the population. And that has changed everything. Those people are now connected to the rest of the world in a way that none of them could have predicted and which many of them don’t even realise.

That’s had an obvious effect on communication, allowing us all to connect with the people that matter, wherever they might be in the world but it’s had an even more dramatic effect on the way business is done. Gone are the days of stores, banks, insurance companies being remote, hard to contact and unaccountable. Now, with a few clicks on your keyboard or your phone you can comment, criticise and celebrate a company for the way they’ve treated you.

And there’s nothing they can do to stop you. Nothing. For the first time in history, the power situation has completely reversed between the companies selling us things and us consumers. We are now the ones that are in charge. If a bank, a cellular network operator, a restaurant or even a government department disappoints or offends us, we can make our complaint public, available for the entire world to see immediately and for free.

That’s also changed the way Consumer Watchdog operates. We get hardly any letters or faxes these days and even the number of emails has dropped noticeably. Facebook is our primary way of communicating with the public. And that’s not going to change. There won’t be another Consumer Watchdog column in Mmegi but our social media presence is just getting bigger and bigger. If you haven’t already, come and join the group and continue the conversation.

So farewell, readers of Mmegi and fare well. Remember that consumers have rights but that those rights only matter, are only worth the paper they’re written on, if they are enforced. And the only way to have them enforced is to make noise when they are ignored or abused. It’s up to you and me to stand up for ourselves and for those we care about.

A luta continua.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

What price should I pay?

I want to bring up the subject of irregular pricing, where prices at the shelves are found to be different from prices at the till. I was in a supermarket and picked Extra Virgin Olive oil priced at P76.65. Upon paying at the counter, the price turned out to be P81.80.

When I discussed the issue with the store managers, they explained that the issue arises from price increases made in South Africa, and the manual labeling found at some of their shops isn’t updated. They explained that when this happens, price controllers are able to pick new price changes upon queries from customers, apart from price checks done twice a week.

Are shops in Botswana taking advantage of the loophole by delaying price adjustments at shelves to influence clients to buy? Would their Head Office still be unaware of this irregularity by this time, affecting shops with manually printed prices after so many complaints raised? What should clients do when they encounter these issues, apart from demanding to pay the price they see at the shelves?

Obviously noting price irregularities by clients is not entirely effective because we miss some of them; the store must solve the problem. With my case, I made the management give me the olive oil at the shelve price but this is not adequate.

You’re my Christmas hero! Well done to you for standing up for your rights and for refusing to allow a store to abuse you.

Section 13 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations requires a store like this one to sell goods as they are “advertised or represented”. If it says P76.65 on the shelf or in the advertisement then that’s the price you are entitled to pay. No arguments, no silly excuses about labels being printed in South Africa, nothing like that, just the price that was advertised or represented please. Like you I find it hard to believe that, in 2017, the expensive computer systems at their Head Office don’t notice that when an item is sold the price in the pricing system is not the same as the price that was printed. Either they’re ignoring the difference and keeping the extra money or they need to employ some better system architects.

What should we do about it? We should do exactly what you did. Stand firm, accept no excuses and demand to have our rights respected instead of ignored and abused. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Is it a pyramid scheme?

My girlfriend yesterday was called by a number and she was invited to a business seminar of some kind, so today I called the number just to find out what it's all about and had a chat with the chap but still didn't understand what their business is. It sounds to me like a pyramid scheme because you have to invite people to join in order to get paid. First he talked about travelling and when I asked what they will be selling or doing during the travel he changed the story and started talking about recruiting members. I'm not saying they are not legit, I'm just taking precautions. Apparently they are running business seminars.

I later found out that the company is named World Ventures and is said to be an international company. Do you know about it?

You’re right, it’s a pyramid scheme. The authorities in Norway announced a few years ago that they were certain that World Ventures is a pyramid scheme because 95% of all the money paid out to recruits was for the recruitment of other people, not from actually selling things. That’s a pyramid scheme.

Like other schemes World Ventures are required by some countries to publish income statements that show what their distributors actually earn from their business. With World Ventures the latest figures show that three-quarters of all people who join make nothing from the business. Of the rest, almost all of the money was earned by the few people at the top of the pyramid. Everyone else had to share the minimal leftovers. And those figures were income, not profit. They exclude all the costs associated with running the business like transport, phone and internet bills. With the exception of those few people at the top, everyone else loses money.

So please warn your girlfriend not to waste her time on this pyramid scheme! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday 15 December 2017

Everything has changed

Things have changed. Massively. Irreversibly.

Frankly it doesn’t matter whether you approve or not, the entire customer service landscape has been overturned by an earthquake. An earthquake called Facebook.

A member of our Facebook group recently commented that when consumers have a complaint about the service they have received, instead of posting their complaint on Facebook, they should:
“first consult people who are working in that place rather than rushing to this portal. How will we learn to correct our mistakes as service providers or as we serve you as customers? I have also realised that most people who rush to report, are those that are stressed with different stresses, eg money, being dumped. Know that where your rights end, someone’s rights start.”
To some extent I agree with this person. When we get bad service we probably should raise it with the people at the store, business or office where we feel we were abused or mistreated. But that’s not always possible, is it? If we bought a pizza or chicken meal and only realised it was sub-standard when we got home, must we really drive all the way back to the restaurant to complain? Must we really find the right phone number and stay on hold to speak to the right person to lodge our issue? Must someone who is naturally meek and reserved really summon up the courage to confront a store manager they find intimidating?

I don’t think so.

It surprises me that in 2017, almost in 2018, you still can enter a store, a government office or a bank and still see their framed complaints procedure nailed to the wall. While dictating how your customers were permitted to complain might have worked last century, perhaps even two or three years ago, it doesn’t work today. Complaints procedures have gone. Like carbon paper, floppy disks and smallpox, complaints procedures have been relegated to the past.

Despite this you can still see multiple-stage complaints policies being published. Recently a consumer sent us the complaints procedure she had seen in a public hospital. It had nine steps. The first person to receive your complaint should apparently be the Supervisor in Charge. If that didn’t resolve your problem you should then escalate your complaint to the PR Officer, the Hospital Manager, the Hospital Superintendent, the Ministry HQ toll-free number, the Deputy Permanent Secretary, the Permanent Secretary, the Minister and finally to the Office of the President.

My view is that any complaints procedure with nine steps has at least six steps too many. Until recently we suggested that instead of any complaints procedure like that one, consumers should; adopt the Official Consumer Watchdog Three Step Consumer Complaints Procedure.
  1. Step 1. Complain to the individual who offended you. Whether it was the nurse who ignored your suffering, the rude waiter or the vanishing bank teller, that person is the person to whom you should first complain. If they refuse to accept your complaint or don’t show suitable humility and contrition, go to Step 2.
  2. Step 2. Complain to the most senior person in the building. Their title will be something like “Branch Manager”, “Hospital Manager” or “Restaurant Manager”. Don’t bother with supervisors, administrators or team leaders, only the most senior person will do. If they don’t fix the problem, go to Step 3.
  3. Step 3. Complain to the most senior person in the entire organization. Their job title will be something like “Managing Director”, “Chief Executive Officer” or “Minister”. It must be someone who has the capacity to frighten the person who originally offended you.
But that was in the past. The Official Consumer Watchdog Three Step Consumer Complaints Procedure is now also a thing of the past.

It has now been replaced with the Official Consumer Watchdog ONE Step Consumer Complaints Procedure.
  1. Step 1. Complain however you feel like complaining.
There is no Step 2.

That means if you want to complain on Facebook, you’re entitled to do so, despite what anyone else might tell you. Whether you or suppliers like it, whether you’ve joined or not, whether you think it’s a good or a bad thing, Facebook is here to stay and everyone had better get used to it and if a consumer chooses to post their complaint there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

But there are still some people who are resistant. Some just have an aversion to technology while others seem to have a suspicion that Facebook brings with it threats to their way of life and that it offers nothing more than trivia, obscenity and offence.

I’ve got news for those people. That’s exactly what some people said about the internet. Before that people were saying it about the video recorder and television, before that about the telephone and the radio and going even further back in history, they said the same thing about newspapers, books and having holy books in the vernacular.

And they were right. All of those things did indeed bring greater levels of risk but more importantly they all also brought even greater levels of education, openness, communication and understanding. All progress comes with an upside and a downside. However, almost always the benefits of progress outweigh the risks and that’s particularly true of the internet and Facebook.

Facebook’s critics will say that the content is trivial, bizarre and offensive and again, that’s all true but that’s a bit like everyday life. Not every conversation we have is important. Most conversations are trivial, some are bizarre and others are occasionally offensive.

But think of what Facebook offers us. Never before have the majority of our population been able to converse with one another so easily. Never before has it been so easy to chat to friends, relatives and workmates when they’re far from us. Never before has it been so easy to meet and grow to understand people different from us.

So get on with it. I don’t know if Facebook will still be with us in ten years time but I know this. Something like Facebook will be. There will be an online conversation forum where your customers will be talking about you, sometimes saying nice things but much more often saying nasty things. Your choice is whether you want to listen to them or not. And perhaps even fix some problems and make yourself look good. Get used to it.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can’t I change my mind?

I need your assistance. On the 22 November 2017 I bought 35 pallets of paving bricks from a building supplies company. On the 4th December 2017 we realized that we had overestimated and had 9 pallets remaining and I contacted the supplier to arrange for a return and they flatly refuse to take the pavers and refund.

Where can I seek redress?

I have bad news for you.

You don’t have a right to change your mind and I don’t believe that you have any right to return the goods in this situation. You bought them in good faith and the supplier sold them in good faith. So long as the goods are “of merchantable quality” and there was no deception by the supplier then the deal is concluded. It’s only if the goods fail to be “of merchantable quality” that you have a right to redress, normally one of the three Rs: a refund, replacement or repair. If the bricks you bought had been poorly made, weren’t made in accordance with a standard the supplier had quoted or had been the wrong size or colour then you could have demanded redress but that wasn’t the case here, was it?

Think of it from the supplier’s point of view. Did they do anything wrong? I don’t believe so. They sold you the bricks and you effectively changed your mind about the quantity you wanted. They now have to shoulder the cost of restocking them, updating their systems and checking the bricks you want to return aren’t damaged in any way.

Of course, there are some suppliers who permit a customer to return unused products that are still in perfect condition but that’s a luxury, not a right.

Unless they agreed to accept returns when you bought the bricks… Did they?

My car doesn’t work!

I truly need your help or maybe advice will do. I sent some guy to go buy me a Japanese car in Durban. The car came and we received it on Thursday last week we found out that the radio was not working (fine we let it go) and one tyre had a puncture. We decided to buy all four new tyres. The car was registered on the 24th now on Saturday when I wanted to go out the car refused to lock all doors, the back windows are not working. So it is just here of no use to me coz the guy said they is no way they can help me. I wanted to ask if maybe there is a way I fight this or its my loss. Thank you.

I know that if I was in your position I’d want to fight this one. I understand that when you buy a second-hand car, particularly if it’s an import from a faraway country, things can be a little unpredictable. The obvious difference is that if you buy a second-hand car from a dealer here in Botswana you can test-drive it, ask some serious questions about its history and get your friend the mechanic to check it out for you. Then you can make a rational decision based on evidence.

It’s obviously very different with an imported car. You can’t sit in it, examine it or drive it. It’s much more of a gamble. That’s why it’s incredibly important when you buy a car from overseas that you get a really watertight agreement with the importer that protects your interests. That agreement must describe the condition of the car in some detail. If things go wrong you can then insist on the importer giving you what you paid for.

Your case depends entirely on what was in YOUR sale agreement. Did it say that the car was sold “as is” or “voetstoots”? If so then you might be in trouble. Otherwise I suggest you complain in writing to the dealer and give him something like 7 days to come up with some sort of solution. In your letter mention the obligation he had to offer you a vehicle that was “of merchantable quality”, a test this vehicle clearly fails. If he doesn’t cooperate then take your case to the Consumer Protection Unit and ask them to flex their muscles!

Saturday 9 December 2017


It’s sometimes difficult to see progress. Often things change so slowly that we don’t see the change happening. Like biological evolution, the changes we see in business and customer service are most often very gradual and hardly noticeable from day to day, they only happen over much longer periods. It’s often surprising, if you look back in time at how much things have actually changed.

Many of us will remember those days in the past when things were very different. If you’re old enough, cast your mind back fifteen or twenty years and think of the number of loan sharks that were operating in Botswana. Do you remember how they were charging up to 30% interest per month? Do you remember how they were completely ignoring the “in duplum” rule, the rule that says that when a debt is settled the interest charged cannot exceed the remaining capital amount? Do you remember how they were routinely taking people’s ATM cards and sometimes even their Omang cards as insurance that they would repay their loans? Do you remember how there were loan sharks operating from car parks, fried chicken restaurants and in one case I personally witnessed, from a government office?

Today these offences are rare. That’s because the micro-lending industry is now regulated by NBFIRA, a regulator that actually seems to enjoy getting its hands a bit dirty and exercising the powers they’ve been given. These days hearing about a micro-lender misbehaving is a much rarer event. Not unheard of, but rare. It was a surprise when a few weeks ago we got a message from a consumer who asked:
“Are these cash loans allowed to keep our bank cards and keep on paying themselves every month? I’m shocked right now that my mother who is 70 years a pensioner has been without her bank card It's like it stay there for ever.”
We sent that consumer straight to NBFIRA who no doubt explained to the lender that their conduct was unacceptable and confined them in their dungeons.

Also in the past we had hire purchase. Yes, I know we still have it but we did have one minor success in making the cost of hire purchase easier to understand. You might remember that when items were advertised on “credit”, the stores just advertised how much the deposit would be, the number of instalments you needed to make and how much each one would cost you. The stores were ignoring the legal requirement, as expressed in the Control of Goods (Marking of Goods) Regulations 1974 which says that when “goods are offered for sale on hire-purchase terms or by way of credit-sale or on any other terms as to deferred payment” then the details shown must include “the total amount to be paid by way of deposit and instalments”.

When we first discovered this rule we wrote to the Managing Directors of all the stores that sell things on credit or hire purchase and asked them if they knew about this. To their credit, they almost all came back to us apologetically, saying they weren’t aware of it and would change their advertising as soon as possible. One of them was a little bit less cooperative. It doesn’t matter, they said, we abide by South African law. That’s lovely, we told them, then go back to South Africa. In Botswana the laws of Botswana apply, not the laws of another country that you prefer. They eventually complied with the laws of the country that had welcomed them and allowed them to exploit its people.

Another thing that has changed, although not completely is the number of people with fake degrees. A number of highly publicised cases involving senior managers and academics who were exposed as having purchased degrees from unaccredited so-called “universities” has made us all a lot more aware of how skeptical we need to be about people’s qualifications. Over the last eight years we’ve warned readers about forty-five different establishments that claim to offer qualifications but none of which actually require their “students” to do any coursework, sit any exams, deliver any dissertations or do any actual work. All they’ve ever required is a credit card number and then, as if by magic (or Mrs Mugabe) a degree certificate is in the post.

Not all of these crooks have been pleased to be exposed. Several of them have threatened us with all sorts of consequences once they realised their scam was likely to dry up.

One of them, calling itself “Headway University” even created a web site for a fake law firm calling itself "Joyce & Nielsen" who sent us an email demanding that we retract the accusation that Head way was bogus. They 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 had no reputation to lose.

It didn’t take too much detective work to discover 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.

Unfortunately, despite the crooks behind almost all of those bogus establishments being shut down they seem to be reappearing. Just a couple of weeks ago I chatted online to an “advisor” from “Martinville University” who told me that for $500 I could get a degree in Nursing without sitting any exams. For $500 on top I could get a Masters degree as well and he said he would backdate the Bachelors degree to the pair of degrees looked more convincing to a potential employer.

So maybe things haven’t changed that much after all?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

He owns my car!

Afternoon! I need some advice. Lets say I sell my car to someone and he gives me deposit of P3,000 then I give him the car and change the blue book. Then after some weeks he comes back asking me to refund him so that he can give back the car.

The problem is that the windscreen is broken and the other door does not close properly. I told him that I wont refund him until he repairs every damage. I tried calling the police but they said they can’t help.

What can I do?

Firstly, I think you know that signing over ownership of your vehicle before you received full payment was a mistake, don’t you? You should never hand over the vehicle registration documents (the so-called “blue book”) until you’ve received all the money you’re owed. If that’s cash it’s easy (but make sure you count and check every banknote) and if it’s a cheque or bank transfer make sure you ask your bank to confirm when the money has been credited to your account irreversibly. I’ve heard of items being handed over but at the last minute a crook reverses the transaction leaving the victim without either the goods they bought or their money.

In your case I think you should change the demand you made to him. Tell the guy that he has two choices. Either he pays you everything he agreed to pay or he simply returns the blue book to you and you keep the P3,000. You can then use the P3,000 to repair the damage I assume he caused. If he fails to do either then you should tell him you’re going to the Police to lay a charge of “obtaining by false pretence” against him and that you’re also going to the Small Claims Court to seek an order against him for the outstanding amount he owes you.

You did both sign a written sale agreement, didn’t you? Please tell me you did…

Can’t they clear me?

I had a debt with a store last year and they took my name to ICT. I cleared with them last year December. To my surprise yesterday I applied for a loan but I couldn't get it because the store has not got my name off the ICT list. I need the money by Friday but the loan cannot be processed until they give me a letter which takes about 3 days. Can you help me please?

I’m sorry but that’s how things work. TransUnion (formerly known as ITC) keeps records of customer activity that are sent to them by the companies who pay their fees. So long as the facts they supply are truthful, there’s nothing you can do about that. It’s true, isn’t it, that you had a debt with the store and also that you failed to pay your instalments? The store is therefore within its rights to tell TransUnion that and it’s the right of stores and potential lenders to examine your history and see that you had problems repaying your debt. That way they can make a rational decision about the level of risk you might pose if they lend you their money. In fact, let me correct myself. It’s not THEIR money they’re lending you, it’s the money deposited by their other customers. I suspect they would want the lender to take every precaution before risking their money.

As I understand it, it’s the normal rule for TransUnion to hold such records for two years before removing them so you might be out of luck with the loan you are currently seeking. In the meantime I suggest you visit your nearest main Post Office where you can check your TransUnion record for a small fee just to ensure that the data they hold on you is correct. This is something that we should all do occasionally, just to make sure that the information potential lenders can see about us is as correct and up-to-date as possible. It’s in our interests to do that.

Saturday 2 December 2017

The psychology of groups

Nobody really understands Facebook. I don’t even believe that Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues who run Facebook understand it fully. Despite them owning and controlling and the technology underpinning it, they can’t accurately predict what direction Facebook will take next. That’s because all they produce is the vehicle, it’s Facebook users like you and me who drive it.

On a very small scale that’s the case with the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group. Even though I’m one of the moderators of the group, we have no control over what’s posted. Yes, we can remove posts (and we frequently do) that are irrelevant, advertising a product or just hateful, but the direction the conversations go is entirely up to the members of the group, not us.

That’s one of the reasons it’s so wonderful. It’s unpredictable, some might even say chaotic or anarchic and that’s exciting. Even more exciting is that it’s “social” media. It’s not just about you or me posting something, it’s about the conversation that almost inevitably results from each post. A better term might even be “community media” because it’s not just about a two-person conversation, it’s an enormous group of people who can join in the conversation. It’s one of the reasons I describe Facebook as being like a bar on a Friday night. Everyone there is a little noisier than normal, a little bit less inhibited about expressing their thoughts and feelings and a lot more likely to tell someone else what they think of them. Also like a bar, it often happens that people who are normally very kind, charitable and forgiving can suddenly become out of control. Some even become monsters. The Facebook “atmosphere” is intoxicating, just like alcohol.

Another similarity with a bar is how conversations flow on Facebook. In the bar the conversation within a group will jump from sport to politics, from the latest gossip on those unlucky enough to be absent from the bar to former boyfriends and then back to sport, all within moments. The timetable on Facebook is a little longer but you see exactly the same effect.

Just a few weeks ago the most popular topic on the group was the misdemeanours happening at a local water park where it was alleged that some men were apparently molesting young girls, taking their photographs and acting very inappropriately. For a few days it seemed that this was the only subject worthy of discussion. But almost overnight the community moved forward, seemingly having exhausted their justifiable anger. I suspect some people have already completely forgotten their rage. So much for #IShallNotForget.

On another occasion, it was the fair-use policy that a local cellular network provider had adopted that limits the amount of data a user can download in a day. For a few days I wondered whether the company would survive the criticism they received. But they did because something else emerged to divert people’s attention.

More recently it was the turn of a bank to be the focus of everyone’s attention. This was the KYC fiasco. For those who don’t know about this, and I can’t imagine there’s many of us that don’t, the various authorities that have an interest in banking, most notably Bank of Botswana, are forcing all the banks and those companies that provide pseudo-banking products such as insurance companies and the cellular network providers to confirm that they know who their customers are. Hence the “Know Your Customer” exercises that all banks have undertaken. The problem is that this hasn’t always gone well. Despite having provided documentary proof of the three things the banks wanted, proof of identity, residence and source of income, lots of people had their accounts frozen. While this was a massive inconvenience to many of those people, it was a lot more troubling for a minority. People were stranded in filling stations, only discovering that their accounts were frozen after they’d filled their cars, other were trapped in hotels unable to pay their bills, we even heard from one who discovered her account was on hold as she tried to admit herself to hospital an
d was unable to pay her 10% of the treatment cost. Luckily her sister was with her and she was able to pay with cash instead.

The most recent “trending” issue was the ridiculous Black Friday we had last week. This entirely American invention, a day of discounts offered the day after their Thanksgiving holiday has now spread around the world and it hit us in Botswana very hard last week.

In particular it hit hard at Game in Gaborone where the store announced that it would open its doors at one minute after midnight. The results were, if the pictures and videos I’ve seen were to be believed, mayhem. Doors broken down, property stolen and queues that lasted hours, all just to get some discounts. My suspicion is that nobody at Game had any idea what was likely to happen when they combined the prospect of discounts with large crowds, tiredness and mob psychology. The danger is that in these situations, the moment a crowd becomes excited, reasonable individuals like you and me disappear and are replaced by “a singular mind”. As one theorist put it, an “individual in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will.” It doesn’t matter whether it’s a crowd waiting for a bargain, bystanders administering “mob justice” to a thief or a peaceful demonstration that becomes violent, these are all predictable results of the group psychology of homo sapiens.

That’s where my observation comes full circle. Facebook is a bit like that crowd at Game. It’s wonderfully democratic in that anyone can be part of the excitement. These days someone with even the cheapest of phones can join the conversation and express their feelings. They too can join the crowd at the social media bar and either have a good time or go crazy. The real challenge is preventing that craziness turning nasty.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is this how they should behave?

I need your assistance. I got money from a cash loan but failed to pay them for the first two months. I got a summons last month and I requested to pay half of the money I owed at month end of November as I had no money but before the agreed month end they came to me saying they needed to attach my property and if I fail to pay then they will have to take it. The first man who came had some documents that said my car was security. Later during the day another man came saying they came to collect my car until I pay the full amount I owe. He sent me bank details to deposit the money before end of that day or else in the morning they come for the car. The tricky part is the gentleman who came to collect the did not know about the one who came first but he had all my documents even the registration number for the car.

I owed the cash loan P3,500 but now it’s P7,000 plus P4,800 for legal fees and P2,200 for the sheriff, total around P14,000. I already paid them P6,000 but they still want to take car even though I offered to pay them P1,000 per month.

May I kindly request if this is the procedure if I have been summoned by a cash loan?

I suspect that this very much IS the procedure that a cash loan will follow in this situation. I also suspect that there’s very little you can do about this because you almost certainly agreed to all of this when you signed the loan agreement. A company is also entitled to go to court if someone owes them and to apply for an order to attach property to recover their money.

The starting point is that you do indeed owe them money. You borrowed P3,500 from them and agreed to their terms. This is all governed by the “in duplum” rule which says that the interest charged when a debt like yours is settled cannot exceed the capital amount that remains outstanding. For once this lender is obeying that rule, only demanding P7,000, twice the capital amount you borrowed. Unfortunately, the other costs of recovering the debt such as the attorney and debt collector fees are probably reasonable in the circumstances.

From what you say, it seems that the lender already went to court and was given a court order allowing them to instruct a deputy sheriff to seize your car and then, I assume, to sell it to get their money back. The good news is that any money left over from the sale of the car should be returned to you. However, so long as they get the money they’re owed I suspect they won’t care greatly how much money they sell it for. It’s possible you won’t get very much back from them so I really urge you to contact them one last time to see if you can agree a repayment plan.

Can they behave like this?

Hi Rich. Please help me out. Are these cash loans allowed to keep our bank cards and keep on paying themselves every month? I’m shocked right now that my mother who is 70 years a pensioner has been without her bank card It's like it stay there for ever.

And again if I want to report them where can I go and report.? Thank you.

No, they are certainly NOT allowed to do this. They never have been and they aren’t now either. Those of us who remember the days before the micro-lending industry was regulated can recall the tricks they got up to. They charged enormous levels of interest, took people’s ATM cards regularly and behaved like a bunch of crooks. Things are a lot better now that NBFIRA started to regulate the industry but clearly there are still some crooks out there.

One of the first things NBFIRA did with micro-lenders was to make it clear that it was illegal for them to take and hold someone’s ATM card so I suggest that you contact NBFIRA as soon as possible and register a complaint with them about this obviously very suspicious company. If they’ve taken your mother’s card I suspect they’ve taken other people’s cards as well and they need to be stopped. We need to stop this loan shark from doing this!