Who will tame Zimbabwe’s CABS and ECONET and Others from fleecing citizens through bad services?

27 Feb

It can be challenging to distinguish whether it is a company providing sub – standard services or the bad service is a result of the general comatose economic situation in Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, it is also challenging to continue with silence when one’s hard earned money is fleeced by corporations in scandalous ways and they remain quiet about it. For now I will raise my issues with two corporations: the bank: Central Africa Building Society (Commonly known as CABS) and the cellphone network provider: ECONET. At the least one would expect the Zimbabwean government and its power wielding regulatory bodies to look into these matters as a matter of regular monitoring and provide much needed protection to consumers. I have been into contact with a number of service providers and have found their service provision sub – standard. In instances, where there have been apologies, this has become so regular to be ridiculous. I am of the view that while most companies would plead other excuses, the general conditions are scandalous to the extent that at least they are deliberate and at most ignored in a bid to fleece unassuming Zimbabwean consumers of their hard earned money.

Central Africa Building Society (CABS)
In the month of February 2016 alone, I have been to several Central Africa Building Society (CABS) ATMs in Avondale, Westgate, Bond – Mt Pleasant and the city center and have found the machines “out of order”. This can be quite distressing especially if this is on a weekend when the bank halls are closed and there is “nowhere else” to get cash. One has to end up making phone calls to look for cash from other people or having to cancel whatever plans one had that particular day. I don’t even want to imagine what happens to those people who have to buy medication or pay for goods in the highly cash operated economy in Zimbabwe. The inconveniences are just too much.

But that is beside the point. My argument and observation is that the bank in this instance (CABS) is benefitting unfairly from such a situation where its ATMs are perennially “out of order”. Firstly, when an ATM is “out of order” one is either forced to go back home or use other banks’ ATMS. The use of “other” ATMs automatically attracts a service charge. Secondly, when the ATM is “out of order” one has the option to wait until its working or go into the bank where a set service fee will be charged. On both occasions, the customer has to pay for these charges and also endure any other connected inconveniences. I do not think that this is tenable in a situation where the bank’s ATMs and their systems are always out of order.

I contend that the CABS is making a hell lot of undeserved money and the “out of order” ATMs have actually become a source of revenue for them. The amounts involved can be very small depending on who is talking and affected but a mere crunching of the numbers of people who go through the banks’ counters when ATMs are “out of order” will reveal that the banks are earning more than they deserve. This is pure fraud and a sort of “organized” fleecing of clients by the banks. Either the Minister of Finance and or the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe needs to note such anomalies and crack the whip on the banking industry.

Recommendation:
My recommendation would be that if the ATMs are not working, banks should be forced to serve their clients free of charge inside the banks until they restore services or their systems. The argument by banks that they are not responsible for power cuts or the internet fluctuations cannot hold water. Zimbabwe has experienced power cuts for so long and internet services have never been that good anyway. By now the banks should have invested in companies that offer better services for their internet services to work and to push that power is guaranteed so that the internet grid is always working. This situation is untenable and should now be seen as corporate fraud of some sort.

ECONET
Besides the internet and calling costs on the mobile networks being so expensive in Zimbabwe, the service is fraught with numerous problems ranging from poor connectivity to not being accessible at all in a number of instances.

The experience with ECONET over the past few weeks has been hellish to say the least. On a number of occasions I have had tried to use the WhatsApp calling service with little luck at all. The network always tries to “reconnect” after 7 seconds of initiating a WhatsApp call to wherever I will be calling.

To put all this into perspective, ECONET has a number of promotions for their internet services and one of them expires on a daily basis. Now, considering that most Zimbabweans use this particular service it is important to note that the company is unfairly benefitting from such a service/product. When a customer buys for example, the data service for a $1/day the time starts ticking as soon as the purchase and confirmation is made. This is devoid of whether the internet service is good/bad; connected/unconnected and unavailable/available.

The experience with this ECONET service has been that the data is so slow that it takes time to open browsing pages; the WhatsApp calls never go through as the network is always “reconnecting” and even just refuses completely to even download emails.

So even after this “terms and conditions apply” $1/day service has been purchased, ECONET still enjoys the pleasure of taking one’s money even when the service paid for is not performing up to standard. I’m sure it would be difficult to measure when and for how long the service would be down however I also believe that a serious investigation by government regulators or even the company itself would reveal other information useful to inform how they can tackle such problems.

Recommendation:
I am thinking that the ECONET technicians can see on a daily basis how much data has been purchased and how much is used and also be able to gauge when their internet is down or performing slowly. The Post and Telecommunications Minister/Ministry should also be monitor and receive complaints about such issues. It cannot be that such big corporations operate in a vacuum and there is no one to watch how they operate.
In such instances where customers make genuine complaints the company should be able to reinstate or compensate what has been lost by the customer.

Conclusion:
The need for corporate responsibility and making sure that private corporations do not benefit unfairly in Zimbabwe is important. Big corporations cannot continue to riding on the back of monopolies, weak government inspections, government regulatory inaction and or poor customer agitation unabated.

Where services are deemed to be poor corporations must acknowledge and be able to compensate customers. The profiteering attitude exhibited thus far by most corporate service providers in Zimbabwe cannot continue unabated.

They must just do the right thing and provide good services!

NB: Just to note as well that I have complained on several occasions verbally and with CABS, the bank tellers at the Westgate Branch apologized and noted that there was nothing she could about the “out of order” ATM but I still had to pay for the charges incurred for transacting in the banking hall. One bank teller at the Avondale branch told me that if I could not afford the “bank hall charges” I had to wait until the ATMs were repaired and she was not in control of how long that would take.

With ECONET, the attendant at the Westgate shop noted at first that there was something wrong with my handset, but after a while noting that the handset has worked well in the past she then said she would call their technicians to fix the problem. The internet problem persists. I am sure I can get another service provider but that is not the point. ECONET just needs to provide a good service worth the money paid for by its customers.

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