Thursday, 7 March 2013

Money to be made in helping consumers

The Namibian 5 Feb 2013

Shortly before Namibia gained its Independence, I was arrested along with around thirty students for a “public gathering without a permit”. We were protesting the establishment of army bases near schools as this was endangering the safety of especially the female learners. Upon our arrest I laughed at one of the police officers and he told me, “Lag vir jou gat en bid vir jou siel” (Laugh at your ass and pray for your soul).
Now you might be wondering what this has to do with consumer affairs. This past week I was enquiring about a consumer complaint regarding a second-hand car purchase. The company representative told me the car was sold “voetstoots” and the buyer should beware. I told the representative that soon we would have a law in place to prevent companies from this kind of business practice. He laughed in my face and told me I will wait a long time before the consumers would take up their rights in this country. I then felt like telling him exactly what that old apartheid era police officer had told me.
Unfortunately, the specific consumer has no recourse under the present law and is stuck with vehicle that is not roadworthy, and even worse, a lease agreement with the bank on this vehicle. However I could advise the consumer (and you the reader) when you purchase a second-hand vehicle you should first ask consumer assistance organisations like the Automobile Association (AA) for assistance. These organisations can assist you in getting a roadworthy test before you purchase your vehicle. The roadworthy test is basic - it involves checking that all major safety features of the vehicle are in working order. These features include the safety belts, brakes, steering, exhaust system, transmission, mirrors and the electrical system. The test also involves checking the vehicle’s documentation and serial numbers – this is to make certain you are not unwittingly purchasing a stolen car.

I was rather disappointed when speaking to the AA that they no longer provide this service themselves, but would be able to provide a referral to a trusted partner in the consumer place of residence throughout the country. And this led me to my brainwave. How many business opportunities are there for companies who can help consumer when they purchase a product, especially like a house or a car. Already, I had identified an opportunity for a potential entrepreneur to provide roadworthiness test and enable them to link with the AA, but what other opportunities might arise.

The idea I wish to share with you is a “house-worthiness” doctor. Many buyers (especially first-time buyers), are so impressed by the house and the fact they got approved for the loan, they do not enquire too deeply on the repairs and maintenance the house might require. As most buyers use their maximum amount they qualify for in payment, they are not able apply for a second mortgage to do these repairs to their property. Many buyers are also fooled into the thinking that the building compliance certificate is sufficient. It is not, The compliance certificate only applies to the building plan, municipal services and certain building codes, and not necessarily to checking the working condition of pipes or even (as I found out to my own detriment) the age of the electrical wiring in the house.
A person with experience in the building industry (perhaps even a retired person) should consider developing such a training institute. We have many artisanal workers who are looking for employment; maybe we can do something about this by providing training in checking the worthiness of the house for the consumer in the country.
By the way, I did have the last laugh on that police officer. We students were released and within six months we won the court case in Bloemfontein for wrongful arrest. And like all good stories go, this one ended happily – I used the money from the wrongful arrest to buy an engagement ring. But that’s another story.

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