Wed | Apr 8, 2020

Garth Rattray | Who protects consumers?

Published:Monday | February 10, 2020 | 12:06 AM

Last year, the Honourable Fayval Williams, minister of science, energy and technology, encouraged consumers to contact the Office of Utilities Regulation when faced with problems such as reimbursements. However, from my personal experience, we are often ignored.

I was a customer of Dekal because there was no other Internet service where I was located in Oracabessa (St Mary). Dekal’s service was atrocious. Their Internet service was often down, technicians frequented my home, my service was repeatedly suspended because of their accounting errors, and the service was so slow that routine Internet necessities could not be met.

Getting rid of them was a rigmarole. After I terminated their service, I began receiving monthly statements with a negative balance of $14,900; this lasted for two years. I asked many accountants, auditors, lawyers and business people what -$14,900 meant. Everyone agreed that Dekal owed me $14,900. With their history of incompetence, I anticipated problems to receive what they said was owed to me. I left it alone but eventually decided to collect.

I visited the Half-Way-Tree Road telecommunications office and spent several hours in line. I presented one of the monthly notices and a member of staff telephoned a Dekal representative, who acknowledged that I was owed the sum and instructed me to return in two weeks time for the cheque. I did that, but after waiting for over an hour, I was told that the cheque was not ready and to return in another two weeks. I obeyed and waited a long time, only to be told that Dekal said that they don’t owe me anything!

When I went home, I contacted Dekal and received a mixture of opinions regarding whether or not I was owed the money, so I told them that the $14,900 was not worth the time and stress. However, to my shock, a short while thereafter, Dekal sent eight text messages threatening me with legal action if I did not pay them $14,900 … the money that they owed me!

It was then that, on a matter of principle and to protect myself from a lawsuit, I decided to write to them for the $14,900 that their two years of monthly statements clearly stated that they owed me. I copied my letter to the Consumer Affairs Commission, the Office of Utilities Regulation, and to Dekal’s umbrella organisation.

That was mid-June 2019. The only thing that happened was that Dekal stopped sending the monthly statements (with the negative balance), but I got no letter acknowledging receipt of my correspondence from anyone. In September, I sent another letter to everyone requesting a reply. To this blessed day, there has been nothing from anybody.

Citizens are being treated with scant regard. The utility/communications companies want your money; other than that, you mean little to them. Because they know that consumers are often not protected, as long as you pay your bills, they don’t care how terrible you find their service.

DISGRACEFUL SERVICE

I have to have a dual-Sim phone because both phone services are notorious for dropping calls, not connecting calls, and even announcing that the number that you are accustomed to calling does not exist! The Internet plays a part in everything from death to taxes, yet over the years, it has remained iffy at best.

Many businesses must use unreliable Internet and phone lines for communication, information, business transactions and security. Sometimes they resort to using data service on cellular telephones as hotspots to access the Internet on their PCs for matters essential to their livelihood.

Jamaicans have been subjected to disgraceful service for many years and, in spite of all the hype and promises, we are often not protected. The average Jamaican is extremely vulnerable and helpless to abuse from utility/communications companies.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.