Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

The beer has expired!

There is a bar in Mochudi next to the Engen filling station that is it selling expired Black Label beer. The words on the bottle say the beer Best before 09 Feb 18. I asked the cashiers why they sell the expired product and they told me the owner doesn't want them to remove it from the stock.

Please assist us.

Actually, the bar isn't doing anything illegal. That's because the bottle has a "Best before" date, not an "Expiry" date but you're not the first person who has confused the two different dates and what they mean.

The most important date you might see is the "Expiry date", sometimes shown as the "Use By" date. Any store that sells something after these dates is going to be in big trouble with the authorities because that's illegal, contrary to the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods Regulations. No store wants to do that.

However, what you saw was something different. The juice you bought showed a "Best Before" date. These dates are less strictly controlled because they're just advisory, informing the customer when the goods will be in their best condition. There's no suggestion that goods consumed after this date are harmful or dangerous. However, I still think it's a bad practice even if it's not actually illegal for a store to sell an item after the Best Before date. Who wants to drink beer that is no longer in the best condition?

I think you should speak to the bar owner and politely suggest that he or she needs to find a better way to manage their stock so that their customers don't have to drink old beer. I suspect there's no shortage of bars in Mochudi and you and your friends can easily choose a bar where they sell best quality beer rather than the old stuff. The bar owner needs to know that!

Enerprise corned meats
Source: Wikipedia

Readers of The Voice will probably have seen reports of the dreadful outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa. It looks like the outbreak which was traced to a Tiger Brands production plant in Polokwane caused at least 180 deaths and nearly a thousand other people severe food poisoning. Tragically it seems that many of the deaths were young children which is a common thing with listeriosis which often hits hardest amongst children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.

The good news for us is that there's no suggestion that there have been any cases in Botswana but that's probably because we were lucky. Our Ministry of Health and Wellness quickly instructed all stores to remove the affected products (processed meat products such as polony, russians and viennas) from shelves. Consumers were also warned not to consume any of these products from the affected companies and if they had any, to return them to the stores for a full refund.

Meanwhile, just in case any store has missed it, or if there are some that don't care, please be vigilant. Until further notice please don't eat any prepared meat products from Tiger Brands, Enterprise Food or Rainbow Chicken. But you need to take a step further. Don't eat ANY polony, russions or viennas unless you can be certain they didn't come from these suppliers. That means any places where you can't see the original packaging and in particular it means street food vendors. For now, hotdogs are off the menu, ok?

However, there are some enormously important lessons we all need to learn from this tragedy. Firstly, we need to learn a lot more about food hygiene and safety. The scary fact is that one of the most dangerous stages in the route food takes from farm to table is the consumer. Yes, you and me, we're often the source of food poisoning, either because we don't refrigerate risky products adequately or because we don't know how to safely prepare the food we eat and that we give to the people who matter most to us.

And there's a final lesson, one that might make me very unpopular. We must take a critical look at the food we eat. Have you ever taken a moment to discover how products like polony are made? If you're feeling brave, search the web or YouTube for "mechanically separated meat". You might never eat it again.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Why can't I get a refund?

Hi. I kindly plead with you to assist me getting back my money from my insurance company. I had a policy with them which I terminated last month so they are saying they can't refund me my money back but they have never handled any claim for me.

Can you please help?

I'm sorry but I suspect I won't be able to help. That's because this is how insurance works. When you open a policy with an insurance company, whether it's to cover your funeral, your life, your vehicle or your household contents what you're actually doing is paying the insurance company to take on the risk of these things being damaged instead of you having that risk. During the life of that policy, if something terrible happens then the insurance company pays to put it right instead of you. If someone passes away, if you have a car accident, if there's a break-in at your house or even if you die, the insurance company will cover the costs so you don't have to.

We're often asked by consumer the question you're asking. But what if I never had to claim? Doesn't that mean I should get my money back? No, because you got something during the lifetime of your policy. You got the absence of risk. The insurance gave you cover during that period. Ask yourself this. If you owned a house and rented it to a tenant for a year but at the end of the year they told you that they'd never actually moved in, would you refund them the rent they'd paid during the year? No, you wouldn't and it's the same with the insurance company. It wouldn't be your fault that the tenant didn't move in and it's not the fault of the insurance company that you were lucky not to need to claim. Would you rather there'd been a disaster?

Is this award genuine?

I received an email saying that my company has been awarded the Gold prize Century International Quality ERA Award from a company called Business Initiative Directions. Do you think this is genuine?

Here it comes again! Every year we're asked the same question by many people like yourself regarding these awards and the story is always the same. Many people had received surprise emails from BID over the last few years, announcing that they'd won an award and inviting them to collect it at gala dinners in exotic places such as Paris, New York and Geneva. This year it's supposed to be in Frankfurt in Germany. In all cases it's not made clear how these winners had been selected and what qualified Business Initiative Directions to award anything to anyone.

So my feeling is that this award scheme is deceptive. I believe that it's no more than a money-making scheme by the organisers.

Last year when I looked into the scheme BID was charging companies €4,200 (about P50,000) to receive the award and that doesn't include the travel costs associated with flying to last year's venue in Geneva, Switzerland. That amount only covered attendance at a gala dinner, a hotel room the winners had to share with colleagues, some certificates, a trophy and some photographs of people accepting these dubious awards. I did the maths and I suspect that BID makes a huge amount of money, last year probably about P30,000 from every "award" they give away and I believe that's what the whole thing is about. Making money.

The bad news is that every year companies fall for this silliness and spend large amounts of money on "awards" that are little more than hugely expensive pieces of paper, awarded effectively at random. Is that really what an award should be?

I can think of many better ways to spend the P75,000 that it would probably cost to receive this so-called award. If you genuinely believe that your company is doing a good job, is a great employer and treats its customer wonderfully then spend just a fraction of the money you'd spend on this bogus award on a huge party to say thanks to your staff and your customers. That would do so much more good than wasting your money with BID. Don't forget to send me an invitation to the party!

Friday, 2 March 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must I pay him extra?

In 2016 I engaged a painter for my house and he gave me a quotation for P30,000 for supplying and fitting. He said I should pay 60% or P18,000 deposit. I also paid the P12,000 balance when he completed the project and invoiced me.

Later on he complained that he used a different material from the one he had quoted initially. He keeps phoning and visiting me demanding extra P10,000. So I want to stop him from following me as I have fulfilled the agreement. How can I stop him from pursuing me?

I think this painter might have been drinking some of the chemicals he uses to strip paint off walls. Either that or he's deluded. He certainly has no idea how business works. Maybe you were his first ever customer?

The simple facts are that unless you agreed to pay him the extra money then you have no obligation to do so. He told you in the quotation that the work would cost P30,000 and I assume the invoice he gave you when he had completed the work was for the remaining P12,000? If that's true then you've paid him the full amount that you both agreed you were meant to pay. You certainly don't need to pay for his lack of competence in estimating the materials he was meant to use.

I suggest that you write him a letter saying this and telling him to stop bothering you. If he doesn't stop then go to your local Police station and lay a charge of intimidation against him. If the Police have forgotten, remind them that his behaviour is contrary to Section 234 of the Penal Code of Botswana. If you think he needs some education, you might want to tell the painter that the maximum sentence for intimidation is three years of free accommodation courtesy of the State.

Must I pay interest?

I need your help please. I had a store credit card back in 2010 while I was still at tertiary. I had a balance of P1,500 when I finished school. Since then I never got anything income generating enough for me to pay them back they took my debt to the debt collectors. Now these guys are on my case telling me that I now owe them P3,000. Since I'm not working I will have to pay at least P100 monthly but then monthly there will be interest of P70 How legal and legit is this?

Unfortunately for you this is completely legal and legit. This is how debt often works. It doesn't matter whether it's a bank loan, a credit card, a hire purchase agreement or in this case a store card, if you don't pay the lender what you owe they're going to start applying interest and penalty charges to the amount you owe. As in your case, you can easily see your debt double over a couple of years if no payments were made.

Eventually they'll hand over the debt to a debt collector who'll chase you down and do their best to reclaim as much as possible from you.

However, the good news is that if you sit down with the debt collector they're likely to agree a repayment plan with you that both satisfies their desire for the money and your ability to afford it. No debt collector wants to take a debtor to court, they want to get their money as easily as possible.

I suggest that you agree a payment plan with the debt collector and then do your very best to stick to it.

And the lesson? Store cards are often marketed to us as something convenient for us, the consumers. In fact, it's just another way for stores to lend us money and then to charge us credit-card like interest rates. Please so your very best to avoid them!