Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Annie Paul | Regulate business processes, not free speech!

Published:Wednesday | May 17, 2017 | 5:00 AM

So the Government, it seems, seeing how highly Jamaica scored on global freedom-of-the-press ratings (eighth in the world), has decided it's time to clip our wings, instead of celebrating this rare achievement. We hear rumbles about 'regulating' social media and online content because there is 'too much' freedom and people might abuse it. Once again, we note the excessive attention paid to freedom-of-speech issues when there are so many other areas crying out for government intervention.

Banks have been in the news recently for their punitive policies towards dormant accounts. But there is much else about the way they function that could do with some government regulation or pressure to improve their services.

Let's take what happened to me last week as an example. On Monday, May 8, I went to the university branch of National Commercial Bank (NCB) and said that I needed to transfer money to the account of a commercial establishment in Ocho Rios with which I had done business. I was instructed by the clerk I dealt with to write a cheque for the amount, which was then deposited to the account in question, also at NCB, but in Ocho Rios. She handled the necessary transaction for me, and said "20 minutes" when I asked her how long it would take for the party in Ocho Rios to receive the money.

Accordingly, an hour later, I called the business to verify that the money had been received and was told there was no sign of it. The next day, and the day after, there was still no sign of it. At this point, I started calling NCB to find out what the problem was and was confronted with their automated response system, which cheerily responded to my voice and then directed me to negotiate the usual maze of numbered selections.

Finally, I reached the point where it asked me to input my Midas card number, after which it painstakingly repeated the string of digits and asked me to press '1' if the number was correct. I dutifully punched '1' and back came the memorable words: "That input is not valid".

After repeating the rigmarole twice and receiving the same answer, I had to sit on my hands to prevent myself from tearing out my hair.

The university branch of NCB once had its own dedicated numbers; I tried them all but was informed that none of them were in service anymore and that I would have to deal with the uncooperative automaton if I needed information, or come into the bank myself. I duly packed myself lunch as well as tea (in-person transactions can take several hours) and set off for the bank cursing under my breath and hoping police Corporal Smart was not within earshot.

 

EASIER SAID THAN DONE

 

This was now Thursday, May 11, and as I made my way, I received a call from the business in Ocho Rios saying that they had been told the delay was because the cheque being held for three days! Keep in mind that this is a transaction involving a transfer of money between two branches of the same bank. The money was removed from my account as soon as I left the bank on Monday, May 8, but did not reach the account in Ocho Rios till Friday, May 12. It was not a small sum.

So that's one example. There are two more. In February, I went to NYC to attend a conference and paid for a package that would allow me to use my FLOW phone there for a little over J$2,000. But be warned, dear readers: When you sign up for that particular service, you might think you're buying said service for a month or a week, as I did, but, in fact, as I found out a couple months later, unless you deactivate it on your return, $2,000 is added to your bill every month. Surely, this should be made clear from the get-go?

Finally, on my return, I obtained a duty-concession form on re-entry because I was importing some blinds from the US through Mailpac. Mailpac requires you to have copies of relevant pages from your passport, date of entry, etc, signed by a justice of the peace and presented to its offices before the items arrive. Finding a JP in office willing and able to sign your documents is easier said than done, but I did so. Some weeks later, the blinds arrived, but Mailpac had neglected to apply the duty concession, and all my trouble was to no avail. @#$?!

Now why can't the goodly Government leave my free speech alone and put in place regulations to prevent such blatant abuse of consumers by businesses? And until it does so, kindly remove that 'indecent language' law from the books, as there is plenty to curse about.

- Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net). Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com or tweet @anniepaul.