Regulators and rip offs

In the United Kingdom, GMTV has been fined £2 million (€2.853 million) for “widespread and systematic deception” in premium rate phone-in competitions.

In Ireland, it has been revealed that the Electricity Supply Board has been systematically stealing from its customers for years.

The so called regulator was completely unaware of this theft; it was even ignorant of the billing system used by the ESB.

Only customers who challenge the ESB will be repaid, all others will remain victims.

The regulator has promised an investigation but given the pathetic record of so called regulatory bodies in Ireland it is highly unlikely that those responsible will be held accountable.

SIPO: Powerless and ineffective

Today, I finally received a decision from the Standards in Public Office Commission regarding my complaint about Bertie Ahern.

Dear Mr. Sheridan,

I refer to your email of 10th of October 2006 to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Standards Commission) concerning a complaint about An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.

Having considered your complaint, along with observations on the matter which it received from Mr. Ahern, the Standards Commission has decided that there is no basis on which to initiate an investigation under the Ethics in Public Office Acts 1995 and 2001.

The Standards Commission may examine the matter again if additional evidence emerges from the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments.

Yours sincerely

Not for a moment did I think the decision would be otherwise. Neither does it surprise me that it took a year (short of three weeks) to process what should be a simple matter

As I wrote before concerning a complaint about another dodgy politician, Pat the Cope Gallagher;

Part of the reason for making these complaints is to challenge government agencies, to expose the fact that they are practically powerless (no accident) and the little power they do have is almost never used – Deliberate policy?

Never ending quangos

For decades Irish consumers have been ripped off by rogue businesses because of inadequate protection from the State.

In 2005, in an alleged effort to protect consumers, the National Consumer Agency was set up. Unfortunately, its powers were limited to issuing press releases and highlighting rip offs.

This situation could only have arisen through gross incompetence on the part of civil servants responsible for its establishment, or, it was a deliberate policy to create a toothless tiger.

Two years later, after ‘rip off Ireland’ had become part of our culture, the NCA was (apparently) given;

“Real teeth allowing it to go after the bad guys, investigate suspected offences and refer cases to the DPP.”

(Prime Time).

It was made clear on the same programme that tackling sharp practices in the construction industry would be top of the agenda for the newly empowered NCA. Acting executive chairwoman, Ann Fitzgerald, made her position crystal clear.

“We are been given huge powers and we as a board are not afraid to use them and we will use them.” “Businesses who treat consumers unfairly will be brought to court.”

So called management companies represent one of the greatest rip offs for Irish consumers. Many of these companies are nothing less than ruthless mafia style operations preying on (mostly young) struggling home owners (See analysis here).

When asked about this situation Ms. Fitzgerald said;

“We have set up a forum to address all these issues without needing legislation because the legislation is going to take two or three years and I don’t want to see the half a million people involved left hanging for two or three years.”

Well, here’s news for that half a million people that Ms. Fitzgerald doesn’t want to see left hanging’.

‘Get used to being a victim of these vultures because protection is further away than ever.’

Last Sunday’s Irish Independent reports that yet another quango is being set up with the alleged aim of ‘protecting’ property owners.

So, just when it seemed, after years of waiting; that property owners might get real protection by a regulatory body backed up by tough legislation, the Government decides to start the whole process again.

At this point we can dismiss the NCA as a serious organisation. It’s just the latest in a long line of useless organisation that cannot or will not take real action to protect consumers.

But what about this new government quango with the clumsy title; National Property Services Regulatory Authority (NPSRA)

The first thing that can be said with absolute certainty is that it too will be a completely useless organisation. After all, its principal mission will be to regulate a business closely associated with the government favoured construction industry.

But as an exercise in observing how things are done in our Republic it will be interesting to monitor its progress.

The report tells us that the Law Reform Commission, the Office of the Director for Corporate Enforcement and our old friend the National Consumer Agency have all delivered reports on the property services sector.

Last December the Government approved the drafting of legislation to establish the new regulator. We can safely say, therefore, that it will be many years before the new quango has any real power.

But let’s be generous and predict that NPSRA will be in a position to act in the interest of property owners in, say, five years time. What will happen then? Yes, you’ve guessed. Another quango will be initiated and the whole process will begin again.

In the meantime the NCA has established a “multi-unit development stakeholder forum” (Where do they get these titles). Hilariously, they believe that the ruthless sharks in the management companies sector will actually agree to a voluntary code of practice.

Decade after decade, quango after quango, report after report; promise after promise. There is only one consistent reality – Consumers are still being ripped off.

Ms. Fitzgerald should take herself back on Prime Time, apologise to Irish consumers for giving them false hope and, with her entire board, resign forthwith.

Money,morality – Life,death

Consultant paediatrician and member of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, Dr Kevin Connolly has criticised the delay in recommending whether the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil should be provided under a National Immunisation programme.

The report (5th item) claims that the vaccine coupled with a screening programme could eradicate the disease within a generation.

You would imagine that there could be no objection to such a programme but as always the twin evils of social class and moral righteousness raise their ugly heads.

For those with the money our two tier health system will see their children safe from this deadly disease for a mere €600. Those who cannot afford the vaccine must wait until the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) completes its cost-benefit analysis.

Already the mad mullahs in American and the UK have objected to the vaccine on the grounds that it might promote promiscuity among young girls. No doubt our own home grown religious mullahs are champing at the bit.

What these religious dinosaurs are essentially saying is;

We have no objection to rich people protecting themselves (because we are powerless to stop them) but we are prepared to risk the lives of less well off young women, by putting pressure on governments, in order to protect our moral sensitivities.

Hiding out in Bertie's bunker

There was a long line of angry people on Liveline (Wed/Thu) complaining about being ripped off by a company called New Look Windows. Many of the callers desperately wondered what they could do, who they could turn to for help.

Well, if they’re really optimistic they could try the National Consumer Agency. Speaking on Time Prime last March its executive chairwoman, Ann Fitzgerald said (in a Clint Eastwood, make my day punk, tone).

“We are been given huge powers and we as a board are not afraid to use them and we will use them.” “Business’ who treat consumers unfairly will be brought to court.”

I say optimistically, because when the NCA was faced with its first challenge, the Barbra Streisand concert debacle, it promptly handed over investigation of the disaster to the organisers of the concert, to investigate themselves.

So where is the NCA when these desperate Liveline callers need help? Probably snowed under reading those promised weekly reports from the Streisand investigation committee or perhaps they’re hiding out in that reinforced bombproof bunker with Bertie.

Simple question, straight and courteous answer

I rang the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) yesterday to enquire if they intended taking action against Jim Flavin for insider trading in the Fyffes case.

I was expecting a standard response when dealing with a government agency, either a curt statement that such matters were secret or the beginning of a run around that would last months.

Instead I spoke to a courteous and professional woman who took my number and assured me that somebody would ring back in the afternoon.

I was even more surprised when Paul Appleby, the director of ODCE, rang back and in a friendly and helpful manner informed me that they were examining the High Court and Supreme Court decisions before deciding what action to take and therefore couldn’t make any further comment at this stage.

A simple question that received a straight and courteous answer – Impressive.

(Un)rattled cages

The very serious problems that arose at the Barbra Streisand concert last Saturday night were, according to the promoters MCD, caused by the weather, traffic and the fans themselves. No blame whatsoever, it would seem, lies with MCD.

Consumers, many of whom paid up to €500 for a seat, think otherwise. They believe they have been ripped off big time by the debacle.

Initially, MCD just ignored all the complaints but as consumer anger turned up the heat MCD opted for the ultimate cop out, they formed a committee.

Led by former Garda commissioner Pat Byrne, this committee is expected to deal with the issue ‘effectively and efficiently’ and report – next September – when the heat is off.

Dermot Jewell of the Consumers Association said this committee will take so long it is a further insult to fans (Irish Independent).

But there is an even more serious question here. Why is MCD allowed to set up its own committee to investigate complaints against itself? Where is the National Consumer Agency?

Last March the NCA was given wide ranging powers, with real teeth to go after the bad guys, investigate suspected offences and refer cases to the DPP (Prime Time). Speaking on the same Prime Time programme, the NCAs executive chairwoman, Ann Fitzgerald pulled no punches in her determination to protect the consumer.

“Now there is a recognition that the consumers time has come.” We are been given huge powers and we as a board are not afraid to use them and we will use them.” “Business’ who treat consumers unfairly will be brought to court.”

In the Irish Times (Sub. required) she is quoted as saying “We’re direct and we’re prepared to rattle cages.”

Sadly, like the Financial Regulator, the Financial Ombudsman and the multitude of other so called regulatory/enforcement agencies in Ireland, the NCA is totally ineffective when it comes to protecting consumers interests.

Unlike the Consumers Association who rightly see this self appointed committee as an insult to consumers the NCA has actually welcomed its formation and are happy with a mere once a week update on its progress.

In a further abdication of its duty to protect consumers the NCA has advised complainants to contact MCD first before (bothering) NCA.

“Consumers time has come?” “Rogue businesses brought to court?” Cages rattled? – I don’t think so.