Monday, March 16, 2020

GaxoSmithKline's media liaison nightmare

Dear readers,
This is something Emma
Walmsley CEO of GSK should
be told about. But does she concern
herself with bad public relations
 in the far flung corners of her empire
          GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is a giant London based multinational that is the world’s sixth largest pharmaceutical company. But if my experience is any yardstick its public relations must rank somewhere near the bottom. The way it dealt with my media inquiries was tailor made for getting the wrong end of the stick into print.
          Its Aquafresh toothpaste advertisement on South Africa’s DStv had a cartoon like character in the red, white and blue stripes that is characteristic of this brand tapping the side of a tooth. He told us he could “strengthen the enamel.”
          I found this hard to believe so I tried to get GSK Consumer Healthcare in South Africa to back this claim with scientific evidence. Over a period of about three weeks I phoned its Johannesburg office repeatedly in an attempt to speak to the General Manager Kimberley Hunt. The woman on the switchboard told me I had to go through her PA Marie Visser if I wanted Hunt’s email address.
Kimberley Hunt
          At Visser’s extension I always got an automatic reply and leaving a message was useless because she never came back to me.
          As my efforts to get an explanation to allay my concerns proved fruitless I wrote a post (How true are TV ads) questioning the validity of this ad. I also complained to South Africa’s Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) that GSK was not able to substantiate its claim that Aquafresh “strengthen enamel.”
          My complaint was dismissed because GSK satisfied the Board that Aquafresh contained fluoride which was well known to strengthen teeth.
          Another aspect of GSK’s advertising on DStv that aroused my suspicion was also for toothpaste. Two different United Kingdom dentists appeared in separate ads extolling the virtues of Sensodyne. They were Doctors Hiten Pankhania and Ojo Olumide. Olumide told us that this “actually goes inside the tooth and calms the nerve.”
          As there had been a case of an actor being used in ads of this kind I searched the U.K.’s General Dental Council’s Register and neither of these two appeared to be listed. So this is how my inquiries went from then onwards.
5 Feb 2020: I emailed Marie Visser asking for Hunt’s email address. I told her I was a freelance journalist and I emphasised that I had been taken to task for not getting the correct information from GSK when I wrote my post about Aquafresh so, as I was about to write another one, I wanted to make absolutely sure that I contacted the correct person this time.
10 Feb: I received this email from Virginia Msebenzi GSK’s Legal Director, South and Southern Africa based in the Johannesburg office.“Direct your query to myself and I will request the relevant stakeholders for input. All our rights are fully reserved", was
Virginia Msebenzi
her ominous parting shot. The same day I  replied naming the dentists and asking her if they were perhaps actors as they did not appear to be registered in Britain. "I find it surprising," I told her,"that a company the size of GSK appears to have nobody in its Johannesburg office who is mandated to deal with media inquiries and that mine is of such magnitude that it gets passed to you as the Legal Director."
17 Feb: Msebenzi answered saying that they did have a team that dealt with media inquiries and these should be “channelled through Simphiwe Otto, copied.” She would contact their marketing team about my dentist query and “revert as soon as I receive their response.” I never heard from her again.
27 Feb: Otto, the Communications Co-ordinator, gave me two verbal undertakings on the phone that he would answer my questions by email on specific days and on both 
occasions he failed to do this. Determined to pin him down I sent him an email telling him that if I did not hear from him by the following day I would go ahead with the post I intended writing about the dentists and his company must not complain that I had failed to get its side of the story.
8 March: I received an email from Olesya Leontyeva head of Communications and Government Affairs based in Russia of all places. She began by telling me how “Consumer feedback is a valuable part of our business, and we appreciate your interest and inputs for our advertorials.” She assured me that all the dentists in 
Olesya Leontyeva
the ads were “real dentists speaking in interviews that were not prescribed.” British dentists, she explained, were used because the South Africa Health Professions Council does not allow its members to appear in ads. She then gave me the UK registration number of the dentists concerned. It seems I drew a blank when I entered their names into the register because their names in the ads were not their full names. After outlining the difficulties I had in getting information out of their Johannesburg office I told her that their own staff was making inquiries like mine into dubious mysteries by taking forever to answer the questions.
“Had I been a newspaper journalist I would have had to meet a deadline ages ago,” I told her.  “I’m really sad you had such experience communicating with our office in South Africa,” she replied.
Jon, an exceptionally dogged Consumer Watchdog.
P.S. It obviously can’t do anything to enhance GSK’s reputation to have a Legal Director and a Communication Co-ordinator making undertakings to a journalist which neither of them kept. It also reaches a sky high level of absurdity when a Communications head in Moscow ends up answering a journalist’s questions when nobody in Johannesburg is prepared or allowed to do it. Emma Walmsley this sort of thing is unlikely to reach you in your lofty position as CEO of GSK, but it looks as though you are the only person who can cure this media farce because nobody below you is doing anything about it.

Sunday, March 8, 2020


Dear Readers,

          Thanks to anti-ponzi scheme activist Rowena James and a group of other like minded Coin-It investors this dubious scheme has been provisionally liquidated. But the battle that just might see the duped investors get some of their money back is far from over.
          Coin-It was the brain child of the Dundee, KwaZulu-Natal based De Beer family headed by Malcolm. It is estimated to have taken some 27 000 investors for a very expensive R2.5 billion ride. They were promised huge returns in a truck buying scheme that, it turned out, involve fictitious vehicles. Rowena was relatively lucky. As one of the early investors she was only R60 000 out of pocket when the scheme was shut down by the Financial Service Conduct Authority.
           Rowena and her group paid R350 each to start the ball rolling to get justice for investors against the De Beers. The money was use for the High Court action to liquidate Coin-It. Their task is huge because on the face of it the De Beers have all the money in the world to fight court cases on every front.
          This is her story:
“Against the odds, us Coin-It investors finally caught a break after months of plugging on and seemingly getting nowhere. After the first two court days we were really beginning to feel defeated, and as you may well know, High court fees do not come cheap. So between comforting victims of this scheme and sharing the truth about the De Beers from Dundee, I have also been encouraging investors to join our liquidation cause. The day before the hearing Coin-it's management issued this memo:
Dear Coin it Clients,
Tomorrow we will again be in Pietermaritzburg High Court in defense of the liquidation of Coin it. Your support and presence in defense of the liquidation will be highly appreciated. Should you be unable to attend please can you send someone to represent you?
All those who wish to attend kindly respond to this message with your T-shirt size as there will be T-shirts available for the first clients that arrive.
NB: Kindly share the MAIN Coin it # on all your social media platforms: 
Kind Regards
“The result of this memo was three buses and two minibus taxis full of people protesting against the liquidation application arrived outside the High Court in PMB, with placards saying 'Hands off our boss Mr. De Beer'. 

“The Coin-It staff were opposing the liquidation application because they stood to lose their jobs. Fortunately the judge was not swayed by this. 
          “I don't know how many investors eventually paid their R 350.00 so that we could push through to get a ruling from a judge. It is a question for Linda Mazibuko attorneys. They have done very well. Most especially Tsepo, who I know has gone beyond and above to help us achieve victory. Adv. Boulle presented a clear and concise argument and the Judge ruled in our favour. 
         "This would not have been achieved without a relentless group of prayer warriors who had fasted and prayed. God came through for us. 
“Oh how we celebrated, and with reason too, this was a hard fought victory. But our celebrations were not going to last very long. Coin-it's management, the De Beers, sent an email to all investors:
Good day,
As you are aware we were in court yesterday to defend the potential liquidation of Coin it, unfortunately the proceedings did not go in our favour however this is only provisional and not final. We will be back in court again on the 28th May 2020 in defence against the final order being granted. It is necessary to elect a provisional liquidator until it goes back to court on the 28th May 2020. 
Kindly complete this form and email it to, it needs to be signed and retuned to us before 8am on Monday morning.
The form from the link is a requisition form for a liquidator that Coin it would prefer the court to appoint. 
“So, here I am, convincing investors to join with the liquidator we have chosen, because of his reputation for being excellent at his job as well as a man with integrity.
“We have to get as many of our forms to the liquidator so they can be presented before the Master and hopefully ours are more numerous than those from Coin-It. 
“Wish us well. I will let you know who wins this battle of the liquidators. I thank you kindly, Jon, for opening you blog to allow me to give our fight an audience.”
          Meanwhile the investigation by the *Keystone Hawks plods on. What is supposed to be South Africa’s ace investigative unit the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (The Hawks) made a very disturbing start to its Coin-It inquiry as far as Rowena is concerned. The statement she gave the Hawks was leaked to the very people she was complaining about.
          Coin-It that promoted a profit of up to 200% in three years was not the only De Beer ponzi money spinner. CommEx was another one. In this people were told that various minerals would be bought on their behalf and when they were sold the good hearted De Beers would pass on the substantial profit to the investors. My House was also one of their get-rich-quick offers that involve prefabricated houses.
Keystone Cops
Jon, who wishes the Coin-It investors the best of luck in their endeavours to get money back from this super confidence trick that should have been closed in its early stages had our enforcement agencies not been sound asleep.  
*The Keystone Cops were fictional, humorous, incompetent policemen featured in slapstick, silent comedy films between 1912 and 1920s.
P.S. The pictures of the scenes outside the court are Rowena's.
P.P.S See also:Feisty Rowena James; Heartless Sunday TimesNewspaper behaving badly; Rowena's death threat .

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

WORLD PANIC is about to destroy millions more lives than the VIRUS itself.

Dear Sensible People,

        President Trump and others of influence around the world
have been telling us not to PANIC about the Corona Virus. But that's exactly what governments everywhere are doing.
        They are busy closing the world so that we don't catch something that is no worse than a bad cold and far less deadly than numerous other illnesses that millions of people get every day.
        This post was written on 3 March 2020 and on 30 March Trump had this to say:
        "We can't have the cure worse than the problem."  
          According to Wikipedia 251 086 people died between 2001 and 2020 in a handful of what could be considered worldwide epidemics. These do not include the current Corona Virus.  2009 was the worst year when flu accounted for 231 318 of us.
          In the last 20 years this kind of deadly scourge has taken the lives of only a total of a mere 0.000096% of the world's population of 7.8 billion people. Now the Corona virus arrives and everybody completely ignores these figures. They go into a tail spin as if this virus is certain to take out huge numbers of people all around the globe unless it is contained urgently.
          Only about 3% of the 90,000 who have got it so far, mainly in China (Population 1.4-billion) where it started, didn’t make it. It’s hardly surprising that the majority of these were the elderly at the end of the line anyway.
It has so far spread to 60 countries with the Panic Reaction galloping ahead of it.
Panic is being revved into top gear in the United Kingdom (Population 66-million) where they are such pessimists that they are planning to extend the existing mortuary facilities to take the bodies of all the people who haven’t even got sick yet – just in case, you understand.
Panic has caused Japan to cancel its April Cherry Blossom Festival that attracts millions of visitors each year. The Olympic Games that is on the horizon there is also in danger.
Panic has put an end to the planned conference in Cape Town that was scheduled to attract 600 accountants and lawyers from around the world to the city soon. Imagine what a loss that is to the area in a country with a depressed economy. These well healed professionals would have given the city a huge boost.
Panic has shut some schools in Britain after a couple of children were diagnosed with the virus.
Panic has cause a State of Emergency to be declared in Florida (Pop. 21-million) in the USA where two patients have been isolated until cleared by officials. This emergency is similar to alerts issued in parts of California, the country’s most populous state with 37-million people and Washington State (Pop.8-million).
Panic has forced Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson to tell the nation that “a mass epidemic is now possible in the UK.”
Panic among airlines is costing them millions in lost revenue as they whittle down the number of destinations they fly to.
Panic is causing people all over the place to cancel their holidays.
Panic buying is emptying shops as people fear food shortages.
Panic has sent stock markets plummeting.
Billionaire Magda is South Africa's richest woman and is co-founder
and CEO of a financial service company
Panic has already brought assembly lines of vehicle manufacturers in various countries to a halt because they can no longer get essential parts from their usual Chinese suppliers.
Panic will put millions out of work and destroy economies. People could  starve to death.
Panic buying cleared pharmacies in South Africa (Pop.60-million) of masks months ago. I phoned branches of Clicks (700 outlets) and Dischem (106) and at both of them I was told the same story: “Sold out ages ago.” 
That’s how prepared South Africa is even before the Virus really gets going on our shores. So far we have been spared. Our Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize is talking as though his department has everything in place to cope with all eventualities on the
Virus front. Apart from the lack of masks how is he going to solve this aspect? I gather that those who suffer badly from the Virus will need to be on respirators and I can’t 
This is precisely my point
imagine that our hospitals have many of these – certainly not enough to have whole wards full of patients on them. And if people get put on them at home there is the added problem of them having to hold their breath when the power goes off during load shedding. Then there is a question over the flu vaccination that people recommend because nobody wants this disease on top of the Corona Virus. But at my chemist, a branch of DisChem nobody knows when it will arrive.
          Bloomberg the financial media company quotes Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at John Hopkins University in the States as saying, “The CoV emergency in China has definitely exposed supply chain vulnerability for the pharmaceutical industry which relies heavily on Chinese manufacturing.”
          James Johnson a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota added to this worrying aspect with this: “Suddenly we could see a big shortage of even boring, old fashioned antibiotics, let alone the new fangled ones.”
          So if the Corona Virus doesn’t kill us, which it won’t, certainly not on anything like a massive scale, Panic could easily do it if we can’t get hold of all kinds of medicines including the run of the mill ones that so many of us take every day just to stay alive.
She can say that again. She was the doctor who dealt with South Africa's first case
          Hopefully this will finally teach the Western world that there is a great deal of truth in that old adage: Never put all your eggs in one basket – China.
Jon, who has for years been studying Panic to see if he can find a cure. However the only conclusion he has come to is that as there is no antidote; the only way to rid the world of it would be to lure humanity to its complete destruction much like the Pied Piper did with rats. “A little drastic I know, but has anybody got a better idea? On second thoughts isn't that exactly what we are doing now?"