The funerary establishment is under investigation by the Competition Authority after grieving mourners and the competition approached Consumer Watchdog about being left in the latch outside a well-appointed cemetery and bullying
The Competition Authority has pounced on Funeral Services Group, a holding company of Lyn’s Funeral Parlour, for several allegations of tormenting mourners, other players in the field and overstepping its business boundaries.
This publication has learnt that in addition to complaints lodged with Consumer Watchdog by aggrieved customers, the Competition Authority has launched an investigation into operations of the FSG following complaints from other quarters.
According to leaked documents, FSG is being probed for several alleged transgressions that range from ill treatment of the bereaved, abuse of its market dominance by blocking access to Phomolong Memorial Park at Phakalane, limiting consumer choice and discriminatory practices in pricing.
“The authority has received a complaint against the above named respondent on 28th January 2020 in relation to the following subject matter: allegations of prohibited conduct infringing Section 31 (1 ) (e) of the Competition Act No. 4 of 2018 through abuse of dominant position by refusal to deal with another enterprise, Section 31 (1) (b) of the Act through tying and bundling conduct and section 31 (l ) (g) of the Act through price discrimination or other trading conditions,” reads a letter of notice from the Competition Authority to FSG dated March 2020.
The letter was signed by the CEO of the Competition Authority, Tebelelo Pule, and was received by the Assurance Manager of FSG, Selala Selala.
The purpose of the preliminary inquiry, according to the Competition Authority, is to ascertain whether Funeral Services Group Limited has engaged in/or is engaging in/or is about to engage in the conduct of abuse of dominance, in contravention of Section 31 (l ) (e) of the Act.
“Is being alleged that the respondent has, as of early 2019, refused to deal with Doves Funeral Parlour by blocking access to Phomolong Memorial Park, which is the only cemetery in Gaborone that medium and high income groups can buy for the burial of their loved ones. It is alleged that FSG refused to grant a bereaved family access to Phomolong since Doves was the service provider and not FSG. They were only allowed to use Doves services up to the cemetery entry and thereafter FSG was to take over and conduct the burial,” a document alleges.
The Competition Authority wants to ascertain whether there has not been contravention of Section 31 (1) (b) of the Act by FSG “limiting consumer choice and exclusionary of competitors by tying and bundling of Funeral Service Group burial services to the use of a cemetery bought at Phomolong.”
According to the Competition Authority, when a client buys a grave at Phomolong, they are allegedly forced to use FSG to conduct the burial despsite there being other service providers.
The Competition Authority is also probing FSG’s alleged discriminatory attitude in pricing for its services. “In January 2020 it increased the prices of crematorium that Doves have to pay, from P5, 500 per body to P 12, 000 per body, whilst FSG customers are to pay P401 7 per body,” reads a letter from the Competition Authority.
According to information reaching The Botswana Gazette, FSG has submitted its defence to the Competition Authority in accordance with a request to that effect.
Sources say the Phomolong incident was embarrassing and left heartbroken mourners and the family of the deceased more sorrowed as undertakers battled to cash in on a corpse instead of the decent sendoff they had planned for.
The Competition Authority says it wants information on whether customers pay FSG for burial services when they use Phomolong. “If so, state the prices charged to different groups of customers (policyholders, non-policyholders and other funeral parlours),” says a document. “State how much revenue FSG makes annually from conducting burials at Phomolong and Information on whether customers have ever requested to use FSG competitors (other funeral parlours) for the provision of the burial service at Phomolong.”
FSG is further requested to provide information about its pricing policy for use of the crematorium, as well as copies of receipts and invoices (proof of payment for the crematorium) issued out to policyholders, non-policyholders and to FSG competitors from January 2018 to-date.
FSG’s head of operations, Duncan Banyatsi, undertook to come back to this publication but never did. For his part, Richard Harriman of Consumer Watchdog says the time has come for Batswana to reconsider how they do funerals and the money they spend on them as a solution to the challenges they face.