The Scamdemic: Lock-down the bricks to raise the bed for the Covid-Tokoloshe

Johannes Wessels (@johannesEOSA1)

Like an infant caught red-handed when breaking a precious antique Grecian vase, the Ramaphosa government tries to escape accountability for the economic havoc caused by its lock-down strategy. It vehemently denies that that strategy has caused, and is continuing to cause, immense economic damage, joblessness, bankruptcy and hunger, blaming the naughty Covid-pandemon for toppling the “vase” (i.e. the economy) without government having a hand in the tragedy.

In child-like fashion it is spinning endless stories of how it miraculously prevented a larger tragedy by ensuring the vase did not fall on the Persian carpet.

Just in case that defence may not work, it also seeks safety in numbers, arguing every other country is in the same boat, having implemented lock-downs and suffering similar economic shrinkage. To make sure it will escape accountability, it also hides behind “scientific advice” that only they can see.

In the July 23 version of “my fellow South Africans”, the president said (t)he coronavirus pandemic continues to cause our economy great damage, threatening the viability of many businesses, leading to job losses and badly affecting the income of those that can least afford it.

And Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma (National Council of Provinces, 23 June) stressed government was absolutely convinced the Covid pandemic” – and not the lock-down measures – was causing the economic damage.

This is not smoke and mirrors, it’s either a blatant lie, or an overwhelming manifestation of a lack of basic economic insight, or both. Here is the evidence.

If Covid harms the economy, pensioners must be the most productive group

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Covid 19: Folly to correct mistakes when heading the wrong way

Johannes Wessels (@johannesEOSA1) & Mike Schüssler (@mikeschussler)

When president Ramaphosa in his path-forward-to-lockdown-level-3-address-about-announcements-that-would-be-announced-when-central-command-will-be-ready-to-announce-these acknowledged some mistakes and promised that the government would rectify these, it invoked the fear of Russel Ackoff’s f-laws: correcting mistakes whilst pursuing the wrong strategy takes one further away from one’s goal.

Following a build-up of criticism that the severe lock-down was causing havoc to the economy with a GDP contraction in excess of 12% increasingly probable, Ramaphosa announced on 24 May the whole country would move on June 1 to Lock-down Level 3. 

The python of state control is still crushing our freedoms

Voila! Progress? The economy could now reboot. Rather déjà vu.

Instead of opening, the python of state control is not releasing its crushing coils around the economy and continues to squeeze the life out of our constitutional freedoms. Jogging on a beach or a family drive in a vehicle through the Kruger National Park is still considered as a far greater danger of spreading the virus than a church gathering of 50 people.

Marianne Merten’s assessment in the Daily Maverick

The management of the Covid 19-strategy has deteriorated to the level of a farcical comedy, comprising announcements by the president that are then (partially) revoked by members of cabinet.

Add the illogical utterances by Cele and Mbalula, the promotion of syndicate smuggling through prohibition measures on alcohol and cigarettes and the prescriptive diktats by Ebrahim Patel on what kind of clothing may be manufactured by textile factories and displayed and sold by stores, and it looks like another performance of the circus of incompetence.

True to form the new show revealed that the ban on cigarettes remains a key strategy in protecting the citizens from the voracious Covid 19 beast. Should the SAPS find at a roadblock (and Cele promised many of these) discover cigarettes, there will be problems: “if it is illegal to sell cigarettes, it is illegal to buy them“, he stated, adding that SAPS has the right to search for such invoices.

And whilst domestic air travel for business purposes appear to be allowed, the hotels or guest houses where business travellers would overnight, remain closed.

Is Covid 19 this government’s Vietnam?

No reshuffling of cabinet by the president, rather a confirmation of the collective nature of the decisions and more calls on the citizenry to obey the lock-down regulations and to persevere in unity that lives can be protected.   It reminds of the US leadership that had called for more commitment and perseverance whilst muddling on with the Vietnam war which they knew they could not win.

Is the government treating the citizens like mushrooms on “the Covid 19 pandemic” just as the US government had misled the American population about that war? 

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GDP shrinkage of 12%: It’s not the virus, but the lock-down, stupid!

Johannes Wessels (@johannesEOSA1) & Mike Schüssler (@mikeschussler)

At the end of the initial 3 weeks lock-down a GDP decline of about 5% was considered as quite a catastrophic outcome. Even at that level, it was considered worth the price since delaying the spread of the Covid 19 virus would give a window of opportunity for the health sector to get beds, ventilators and care protocols in place for the spike that would inevitably come.

The minister of trade and industry (dti), Ebrahim Patel, however dismissed the negative projections of economic shrinkage as mere “thumb-sucking”.

After prolonging the hard lock-down with just a gradual easing to level 4 to end May, the growing queues of the hungry waiting for food parcels, the increase in the claims from the unemployment insurance fund and the drastic shrinking of the state’s purse, would make a 5% decline in GDP a dream outcome.

The GDP figures for Q1 2020 will only be known end June. Data from other countries indicate that those whose governments had opted for a hard lock-down are in for excessive economic damage.

Change in GDP trend is the difference between growth in 2019 and 2020 1st quarters, implying that the Philippines that experienced a change of -6% went from 5.9% GDP growth in Q1 2019 to -0.1% in Q1 2020. This chart reveals the following:

  • Countries with a hard lock-down that kept only essential services and providers open, saw an average decline of 5,2% in GDP trend.
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Will Cyril be remembered as Nongquase II ? The modern day killing of cattle…

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Just just now (and not “long, long ago!”) there was a man who ordered his people to shut their doors and refrain from going to their places of work. His name: Cyril Matemela Ramaphosa. He told the people of South Africa that there was a way to ensure that the reputedly voracious beast called corona virus would not create havoc in the land.

The Keiskamma Tapestry, Cattle-killing Panel, Detail 3. Copyright Robert Hofmeyr

All his people had to do was to follow the advice of Nongquase as recorded in writing by William Wellington Gqoba who, as teenager, had lived through the infamous cattle killings and the resulting famine amongst the Xhosa:

Shut yourselves in your huts… In order to survive, you are to use many doors to close each hut, fasten every door tightly, and abstain from witchcraft.”

William W Gqoba: The Cause of the Cattle Killing

Substitute the words “abstain from witchcraft” with the phrase “abstain from going out to work and buy only what we allow you to buy”, and one has the contemporary equivalent of a decision that had decimated the livelihoods of tens of thousands of the Xhosa in the mid 19th C with a spiralling death peak caused by the resulting famine.

This is how it is happening in real time now. Cyril called together the many-too-many chiefs that form his cabinet. They talked and they talked and they talked. And they consulted with themselves and they consulted among themselves and they consulted again for themselves.

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Enterprises, unlike bears, don’t hibernate: lockdown will cause the death of firms and people

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Government’s decision for a stringent lockdown has put at least 100,000 formal enterprises – incorporated and sole proprietorships – on death row by effectively freezing the economy. Unlike bears, firms do not hibernate well: without customers and clients buying their goods and services, they starve and die.

Business relief measures by the government and the funds established by the Ruperts, Oppenheimers, Motsepes and others may enable some enterprises to pull through. But a substantial percentage of formal SMEs will not. Not with an economy that is likely to retract by between 6 and 10%.

Enterprises are already in a predicament and have run up more losses than profits since 2014. SARS data shows that the assessed losses exceed the assessed taxable income for the period 2014 to 2018 by R830 billion (Figure 1).

An economy already damaged by anti-growth policies has now been dealt a vicious blow. The damage is systemic and a systemic approach is required to restore a healthy business environment.

Figure 1: The pre-Covid 19 situation of SA firms was dire

The economy doesn’t resemble Eskom’s electricity supply. Load-shedding means no electricity during the power lockdown, but when the switch is thrown on again with the transmission lines conveying electrical current, the lights burn, the fridges cool, the stoves cook and TVs entertain just like before. 

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Lockdown? Or is it perhaps meltdown?

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Halfway into a five-week lockdown it is appropriate to compile a kind of “balance sheet”. When the lockdown was announced, Pres Ramaphosa made it clear that protecting lives against Covid 19 was paramount: a position he reiterated when prolonging the lockdown.

For the ANC Government, all other considerations weigh less and may be sacrificed. Mutating from a supreme commander in military camouflage uniform rallying his troops to “kill the virus” to a pope like appearance during Easter sympathizing with the population for carrying the heavy cross, almost like Simon of Cyrene, Ramaphosa has been lauded all around as “bold” and “presidential”. The few voices that since the beginning have argued that severe restrictions that limit fundamental freedoms would fuel poverty and unemployment, were brushed aside as being both inhumane and wrong.

To date it is uncertain whether the lockdown, the wide application of Bacillus Calmette–Guérin vaccine in SA or any ther factor has contributed to the (still) low infection rate in South Africa. What is dead certain is that the economy (already in a critical condition prior to the appearance of Covid 19) has been rushed into ICU to a position close to the door where the dead are wheeled out to the morgue.

Read EOSA’s proposals on how Government can assist SMEs by cutting CIT and exempting those with a turnover below R2.5 million from VAT.

Government has, as yet, to indicate its estimates of the economic impact of the lockdown measures, e.g.:

  • the decline in VAT receipts;
  • the decline in CIT (and for sole proprietors, the decline in personal income tax);
  • the additional costs of demands on the UIF;
  • the additional costs of deploying the military and the police at the current levels;
  • the cost of measures to support the informal traders, small enterprises and other assistance measures to support businesses;
  • the support measures to assist businesses in the hospitality industry;
  • how these would impact on the budget deficit and what the implications are for government debt.
Continue reading “Lockdown? Or is it perhaps meltdown?”