Monday, April 18, 2011

Condomise, but don't Bank on it.

Dear South African Bank Clients,
          The Government keeps telling us not to have sex without a condom. Protect, protect they’re always saying but it thinks nothing of allowing us to put our hard earned cash for safe keeping in places that give us the minimum protection.
          Banking is Royal game in South Africa. So don't think you can rely on the newly implemented Consumer Protection Act if you have a complaint against these guardians of your money.
          It’s hard to believe that while a host of other industries are having to put up with the onerous provisions of the Act its net has been so poorly made that some of the very big fish like the banks have been allowed to swim away unhindered. They can now go on running their own banking protection society as they have been doing for years.
          The reason why they got this deplorable exemption is that they have their own Ombudsman in the form of Advocate Clive Pillay and what's more he is employed by the banks themselves.
          Not surprisingly the banks that belong to his employer, the Banking Council have compiled a rule book that is extremely bank friendly. It has hogtied him well and truly.
          Banks don’t have to belong to the Council but all the major ones do.
          As I understand it the Ombudsman operates according to the Code of Banking Practice which stipulates how the Banking Council relates to you.  But how confusing is this?
          One minute the Code states that the member banks 'accept 
the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman to making binding
determinations which may be made an order of court.'
Elsewhere it says, 'None of the provisions of the Code will be legally binding in any court of law.'
          Then there are these other gems like:
'the Ombudsman doesn't have the authority to deal 
with a matter that would more appropriately be dealt 
with by a court or other dispute resolution process; 
a recommendation is not binding on the bank and
simply indicates how the matter should
be resolved' and so on.
          And the best one of all is if you don't like the Ombudsman's decision and the Panel, whoever they are, decides that your case warrants a review you can't produce new evidence and nor can you appear in person before the Panel.
          What kind of justice is that? Can anybody tell me?
          My complaint to Advocate Pillay didn’t even get off the ground. I asked him to do something about a long standing practice that particularly affects the poor(See Bank sanctioned robbery ) Anybody who has somebody’s bank account number can raise a debit order against it without the bank concerned requiring the client’s permission.
         Brian Joss News Editor of Cape Community Newspapers has also written about this in his consumer column, Off My Trolley and so have many other journalists but the high and mighty banks take absolutely no notice. It only affects their clients so why should they worry.
          All I got back from the Ombudsman’s office was a curt reply from receptionist Cylvia Rapodile. She said that according to the agreement they had with the banks I first had to give the bank the opportunity to resolve
the complaint before raising it with the Ombudsman.
          I protested that as this concerned all banks it would be ridiculous for me to have to contact all of them to which she replied, 'The Ombudsman can't deal with general
queries or offer advice.'
          That’s Great; it’s what you call brush off service with little interest. I was given this answer in spite of the fact that the Code the banks are so proud of says they are there 'to provide reliable banking and payment systems and take care to make these safe and secure.'
          How does the rejection of my complaint comply with another section of the Code that says, 'You can submit complaints and suggestions concerning the general operation of the code in writing to the Banking Council.'
       Perhaps it was rejected by the Splitting Hairs Department because the Code doesn’t mention debit orders and I sent my complaint to the Ombudsman and not to the Banking Council.

          Disappointedly yours,
          Jon, the Consumer Watchdog for the Voiceless.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bank sanctioned Bank Robbery

Dear Advocated Pillay, the Banking Ombudsman,

      Did you know that the banks in South Africa have one enormous security hole?  It's so huge that nobody wants to do anything about it.
        The result is that unscrupulous and inefficient businesses and other rip off artists are taking advantage of the situation to take money illegitimately from people’s accounts with the help of the banks.
        The banks are turning a blind eye to this BANK ROBBERY. And it’s made worse because the crime particularly affects the less sophisticated members of the population.       
        Anybody who has somebody’s current account number can raise an open ended debit order against it and the bank doesn’t need the client’s permission to implement it. And if they want to stop it there’s no point in asking their bank to do it because they’ll be told that the only person who can is the person who originated it.
        Sharp operators phone people claiming to sell some service or other and in the process they get hold of bank account details. And the next thing the people know is that an amount is being deducted from their account each month.
        At my bank they tell me they often get clients, who are usually the poorer ones, coming in to get debit orders stopped and the only way this can be done from the bank’s side is for the person concerned to close their account and open a new one.
        With such a dubious system presumably it’s possible to have your entire account cleaned out in one go with a debit in favour of some crook with the right insider information.
       And if that were to happen no doubt the bank would say, Don't blame us. That was done through a debit order and we have no  control over those.
Advocate Pillay
          Disgustedly yours,
          Jon, the Consumer Watchdog

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Water bylaw rip-off & Christina's plumber's crack

Dear South African property owners,
          You are now going to be hit with another open ended penalty if you want to sell. The Cape Town City Council has set the ball rolling but it won’t be long before it’s all over the country.
          Cape Town’s new bylaw makes it compulsory for anybody selling a property to get a compliance certificate issued by a registered plumber before transfer can take place.
          For years now we have had to have something similar for the electrical side. And if my experience is anything to go by the water bylaw will be just as dubious.
         And Christina Aguilera's plumbing crack was not only a good plug for her but it summed up my views completely.
          When we sold our house in Johannesburg we had to pay the first registered electrician R500 up front to have the system tested. He found so many things wrong that it was a miracle that my wife and I, as well as the numerous previous owners of the 10 year old property, had been able to live there without the house exploding into flames on the day it was built.
        It would cost us another R4 500 we were told before he would hand over the certificate. Another registered electrician did the job, complete with certificate for R1 500. So the first one got away with R500 just for visiting the house.
          When we bought our Cape Town home it came with an electrical certificate from another so called registered electrician. Only there were more plugs in the house than the number he was said to have inspected according to his certificate. That was its most obvious defect.
          The transfer of the property had already gone through when we got this worthless bit of paper which fortunately we didn’t pay for. So you can’t rely on the transferring attorneys to check the validity of these documents.
          In any case it’s pointless if the buyer has to employ his own electrician to make sure the seller’s sparky is on the level.
          So far we have been in the house for three years without being electrocuted, which shows just how unnecessary these certificates are anyway even if you can get a legitimate one. I doubt if there are any statistics to show how many people have been preventing from being shocked to death by a system that can be bent more easily than the thinnest of copper wire.
          Now the authorities are forcing us to get registered plumbers to provide the same kind of dubious service. It’s for our own good you understand. Their first priority is to eradicate all those drownings that have occurred in flooded bathrooms and gardens because of houses that were sold with faulty plumbing.
       Just because a plumber or electrician is registered it doesn't make them honest especially in South Africa where policing is so lax and the authorities are so corrupt.
          Plumbers are now being handed the same bonanza as their electrical counterparts. They have to ensure that your property is leak free before you can sell it.
          Every tap that might drip once a year; every pipe that in their opinion is past its life span will have to be replaced even it if means cutting into walls or digging up half the property.
          And as plumbers don’t work on credit you’ll be stuck with the home you possibly can no longer afford unless you can find a Fairy Godmother to help you out.
          Cape Town claims that this is being done because it loses about 80 billion litres of water a year that is wasted.
           Of course that’s all due to leaking taps or pipes in houses and business premises.
          It has nothing to do with billions of litres that go down the drain when a pipe bursts in the street and is fixed by the Municipality a week so later.\
          It has nothing to do with the water that is disappearing all the time without anybody knowing because of poorly maintained Municipal infrastructure. 
          It has nothing to do with the one tap for a 100 families in townships for the poor that nobody bothers to turn off because they are not paying for the water.
          It has nothing to do with the thousands of people who don’t worry about wasting water because they don’t pay their water bills anyway.
          So as usual the lawmakers are knocking the easy targets to deflect attention away from the real problem.
         Cape Town is oblivious to the fact that its new ineffective, plumbing bylaw won't stop us drowning in debt.
         And this can’t be far off if they keep on increasing rates, service delivery charges and forcing costly bylaws like this on us.
          Yours angrily,
          Jon, your Consumer Watchdog.