My daughter had her first motor vehicle accident on Wednesday this week. She got a big fright as we all do when in an accident but was quite relieved when, as if with a pantomime puff of smoke, there appeared a friendly A1 Assist Towing truck and driver on the scene within minutes. They would sort everything out for her and with a quick sign-over of the car; the vehicle was whisked away for us to attend to the next day.
I was told by my insurers that the next step in the process was to obtain two quotations for the repair of the vehicle. However, when I called A1 Assist Towing they were emphatic that they would not allow external panel beaters onto their premises to evaluate vehicles and make-up a quotation: Not so friendly now.
So I make arrangements to get a reputable panel beaters to fetch the car from them and call to settle the bill, but when doing so I am informed that the vehicle has been moved to “Sanrose Autobody – Factory Approved Repair Centre” All sounds very credible as they are “A Member of the SFERA Group of Companies” , according to their email signature at least – not that you can find the SEFRA group with a Google search!
All attempts by phone to both A1 Assist Towing and Sanrose to find out who authorized the movement of the vehicle fails; when I ask the name of the person I am speaking to they hang up. When I investigated the towing fee at A1 Assist Towing the day before, the bill was sitting at R1400 but as miraculously as with that puff of smoke, the bill had now magically climbed to a few bucks shy of ten grand.
Yes folks, R10, 000! When I enquired I was referred to the contract that my daughter had signed and, there it was all in black and white in the fine print: exorbitant fees – one to tow the vehicle, one to give you the vehicle back, one for admin fees, one for storage and also if you don’t have the money to pay all of the fees within 60 days, they can sell your vehicle to defray cost; and by signing you have agreed to all of this: And then to add insult to injury when you make the ten grand payment, you have to pay a surcharge to the bank to release the monies immediately, otherwise you have to wait 3 days for it to clear before they are prepared to release the car!!!
So there is no way out basically but to cough up – an expensive lesson for a young girl having her first accident who was in such a state of shock that they wouldn’t have even been able to read the fine print even if she had the savvy to do so. One might expect a higher than normal towing fee for an emergency call-out but ten grand is a monumental rip-off, whatever way you look at it.
Fortunately she has a daddy to bail her out of this one but what if it was someone else without the wherewithal, and there are many I suspect? You only have to look on Hellopeter.com’ a consumer watchdog type of online reporting site that rates customer experiences both good and bad. Before you do business with an organisation that you aren’t quite sure of, you can visit this site and see the experiences which other people have had.
Had my daughter had the knowledge and time, a quick log on and a search of their name would have revealed others’ experiences not dissimilar to this – “biggest crooks and scam artists”, “Crooks out to exploit sufferers of car accidents and rob them of their money and sometimes their vehicle”, “criminal minds” and the words “treacherous” and “unethical” were used a few times too. Apparently, the obvious scam of charging you a fortune for nothing is not enough and they have been known to drain the petrol tank too.
I have to wonder about the people who run businesses like this. Is there no guilt, no shame, no sleepless nights where you think ‘really is this sort of work I want to do?’. There is no authenticity or morality about it – it is all designed to get money in the most unethical manner from vulnerable people in a state of shock and confusion.
I am a regular reader of the local Consumer Watchdog column which appears on the Friday Mmegi. I enjoy reading about the scams which take place, even though I am often gob smacked at the gullibility of people…and here I am now on the receiving end of just such a rip-off, or at least my daughter is. So I would like to urge Richard and Kate Harriman who do a wonderful job in print and radio and in person bringing people and companies to task for downright unethical and unfair behaviour, to think about setting up our own ‘Hellopeter’.
I am not fully familiar with consumer protection law and do not understand why companies like A1 Roadside assistance are allowed to carry on doing business the way they do. Is there no authority that oversees this avaricious, unpleasant accident recovery trade, no legislation controlling their sharp practices such as hovering like vultures at the side of accident-prone roads, eavesdropping on police radio frequencies to hear about accident reports and then appearing with evil intent but disguised as a benevolent guardian angel coming to the rescue? No consumer clause which allows a grace period in which the victim can rescind an agreement made whilst not in a fit and proper state of mind in which to have done so?
If not, there should be and right now, as a father defending his little girl, I’d like to give A1 Assist Towing, a one they’d never forget.
The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.
The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent. That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.
Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed
Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.
Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.
The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.
In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.
However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.
The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.
The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.
What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.
The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.
Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.
Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.
They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.
There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.
The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.
Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.
Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.
Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.
To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.
The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.