(This first appeared in the New Era of 14 January 2015)
THERE is a quote I like to use when giving consumers advice, “He who buys what he does not need steals from himself.” This advice is normally given before the festive season to remind others (and my own family) that no matter how tempting the advertisement is of a product, always ask yourself whether the product has any use in your life.
I can show you more than a cupboard full of things that I have bought over the years that I have never used. This advice is of course only usable if you are the one doing the buying – sometimes you receive a gift and you smile and say thank you without knowing whether you will ever use the gift in question. I still have a Bart Simpson tie that I will never wear.
When I became a consumer activist I noticed how consumers are misled through advertising (or the savvier word “promotion”) to purchase something they do not need and then have no recourse to getting their money refunded. This has led to many countries introducing a “cooling-off period” – a period of time during which the consumer may cancel a purchase. In this way the purchase of (especially) expensive items like houses and vehicles can be cancelled if the buyer becomes aware that they may have bitten off more than they can chew. This is also often the case when in the shop and the salesperson convinces you of the product they are selling rather than of the product you need.
Last month I did not buy SuperAweh airtime from MTC as I usually do when at work. My week of special phone call prices had expired but then I received a message from MTC that I was being charged N$2.00 for “future data usage”. I do not need data for my cellular as I have a laptop and unlimited 4G access and I thought this is rather presumptuous. I was rather angry, as “I had just bought what I do not need” and was stealing from myself.
Rather than steal from myself, I activated the SuperAweh package and thought nothing more about it. A week later, MTC sent another SMS informing me that my SuperAweh would expire and I should renew it. However, this expiry happened at midnight of the day indicated and, lo and behold, I found myself stealing another N$2.00 from myself at exactly 2 seconds past midnight.
Upon enquiry on social media I became aware that I was not the only consumer stealing from themselves. The worst case was a company that owned a fleet of cars that were using tracking devices over the cellular network. These devices were installed securely within the vehicles and this was done purposefully to prevent thieves from being able to remove the devices.
This company with a fleet of over 50 trackers now find themselves stealing over a N$100.00 a day for data usage – because MTC has made it the responsibility of the user to opt out of the promotion.
The regulator, the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN), received numerous consumer complaints during this period and reacted very quickly. In the press release CRAN clearly states that “the mandatory imposition of this promotional tariff and placing an obligation on the consumer to cancel the participation in a promotion, which the consumer has not initially subscribed to, is not in line with the provisions of Section 79 of the Communications Act and can therefore not be supported by CRAN”.
Aha! I was not buying something I did not need, but rather MTC was charging me for a service I did not need.