Ramaphosa’s bold plan (2): weak on detail, strong on flights of fancy

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Two recent key government speeches gave rise to two important questions:

  • Is the inability of the government to effectively implement its policies & plans (?) worse than its inability to table concrete action plans, underpinned by clear strategies, designs, milestones, budgets and target dates?
  • Why can even Thabo Mbeki see the president is naked whilst organised big business still praises the beauty of his imaginary clothes?

The president’s tabling of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) was lame and lacked detail, whilst the Minister of Finance’s Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) left one with a feeling there is not much grasp within the collective government on how to prevent SA from slipping rapidly, if not tumbling, down the slope.

Instead of rekindling confidence and inspiration, vague and mixed messages fuelled doubt and a disbelief that the government can prevent SA from boarding the proverbial bus to Argentina (debt default). I put the following three arguments to illustrate this assessment:

  • Will the government stand solidly behind Mboweni’s strategy of freezing public sector wages for three years when they cannot deal with the much easier route to stop financing the effectively bankrupt SAA? Recall also how Pravin Gordhan in 2018 (knowing well that Eskom was not only overstaffed, but the personnel besides overpaid) overruled the Eskom Board and management when they had decided on a zero salary increase as part of addressing the Eskom viability issue.
  • Can one rely (trust would be too much to ask) on the government’s undertaking to reign in public expenditure? This, when they had failed multiple times to table a comprehensive plan on how to deal with Eskom’s debt and the growing debt burdens of other State-owned Enterprises (SOEs).
  • How is the “growth through infrastructure roll-out” approach different from numerous previous attempts – since the days of Thabo Mbeki – to strengthen the country’s economic fibre by infrastructure investments announcements, with the emphasis on announcements?

Flipchart notes or a detailed plan?

The Enterprise Observatory of SA reckons four fundamental problems underpin the ERRP and the MTBPS:

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Ramaphosa’s bold plan (1): Is ‘buying local’ BEE disguised by a face mask?

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

If Ramaphosa’s bold plan to restart the economy was a film, the premiere already proved it’s not an ‘out-of-the-box’ blockbuster that will rake in Oscars for economic growth and sustainable job creation. Growth through state-led infrastructure development XXI is a lame sequel fit for an infamous Razzie award.

Like its predecessor – the lengthy National Development Plan – the Economic Reconstruction & Recovery Plan (ERRP) is a sure box office flop.

The ERRP announced by the president after lengthy consultation processes with big business and big labour states “Non-implementation of the ERRP could lead to loss of economic capacity, including collapse of the supply capacity, consumer and business confidence, the labour market and increased vulnerability of the poor. The overall plan aims to mitigate these risks”.

This script suggests its authors live in a make-believe reality: South Africans, whether tax payers or the growing number of unemployed, know consumer and business confidence and employment are not waiting for collapse through the non-implementation of a plan. It has collapsed already and was meticulously crafted by the very same government now purporting to be capable of getting the economy firing on all cylinders again.

There is a hidden sub-text as well: Covid 19 was the excuse to gain more arbitrary power and programs to recover from the lockdown devastation are aimed at cementing these arbitrary powers.

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Is it right to pay tax when clean and safe hands are missing at the till?

Johannes Wessels (@johannesEOSA1)

SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter’s biggest headache is not the gaping R300 billion crater in tax income this financial year or the growing Everest of assessed losses for companies that will impact negatively on CIT for years to come. His biggest problem is how to convince taxpayers to sustain a government that under the pretext of “a better life for all” has served up a toxic mix of corruption, wastage, mismanagement and anti-growth policies.

In addition, the very same government has doggedly pursued a lockdown strategy not underpinned by much logic that could yield any outcome other than a severe economic disaster with long term humanitarian effects. These effects include shortened lifespans, poverty related deaths, and deaths from medical conditions the government deemed non-essential. The toll of this inept strategy will in all likelihood dwarf the real Covid 19 death toll.

Lockdown has mowed down millions of jobs and several hundred thousand businesses. Those that survived have been severely crippled: they have a radically reduced income, have run up losses or have achieved less than half their previous taxable income.

One recalls the words of Saint Augustine, bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa, whose theology and philosophy influenced ancient as well as modern thought: “Without justice, what are kingdoms but great bands of robbers?

Tax compliance in a lockdown context

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Skills more important for the economy than splitting fine or frizzy hair: it’s education, not race, that counts

Johannes Wessels (@johannesEOSA1)

A tumult about a shampoo advertisement diverted attention from the biggest economic decline under the ANC government to date. A quarterly GDP figure that confirmed the country is plunging into poverty got less attention than a Clicks advertisement. The deteriorating economy will entrench the country in the bottom half of the Economic Complexity Index (ECI), making it less and less attractive as a destiny for both skills and capital.

Splitting “frizzy and dull” hairs from “fine and flat”, however, is apparently for South Africans far more important than worrying about an additional three million unemployed or thousands of businesses pushed into the abyss of loss and debt. Reading Figure 1 (ECI data) reminds of the typical good-news, bad-news joke: the bad news is that SA has slipped from the top third of countries to the middle third. The good news is that this ranking is far better than where the country is heading for. The ECI, developed by Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard and Cesar Hidalgo of MIT, measures the productive capabilities of large economic systems, whether cities, regions, or countries and is based on the knowledge accumulated in a population that gives expression to the diversity and complexity of economic activities. 

Almost simultaneously with the DA’s embrace of non-racialism as a pillar of their redress strategy that will not use race as a yardstick to address inequality, the 2020 Q2 GDP demolition figure was released. The throttling of the economy by the government’s lockdown strategy made far less ripples than what TREsemmé claims to smoothen out in frizzy hair.

The commentariat treated the DA like TREsemme

It was not only the Twitterati that underplayed the economic news: the same sentiments dominated in serious opinion pieces and radio and TV talk shows. And the commentariat effectively placed the DA in the same box as TREsemmé:

  • Carol Paton, editor at large of Business Live, reckons race will matter forever and lamented the DA’s policy removal of race-based redress “since that will affirm suspicions that the DA is a party whose real agenda is to defend white privilege by denying that such privilege exists at all”. 
  • Stephen Grootes, radio presenter and Maverick columnist, echoed that “firm evidence and the lived experience of South Africans” indicate whites are rich and blacks are poor.

A Coalition of the Offended encompassing inter alia Julius Malema, the Daily Maverick, Justice Malala and Twitters’ @BiancavanWyk16 emerged: all deeply shocked and emotionally wounded, found Clicks’ sacking of an executive and suspension of selling TREsemmé insufficient.

Some called for “attacks” on Clicks stores and the malls that provide rental space for Clicks. Others demanded a sort of #BlackHairMatters kneeling, some were just happy to find something to be unhappy about and some considered the actions of others in the coalition either overboard or underwhelming.

Whilst one can understand that the EFF, the ANC and a plethora of beneficiaries or wannabe-beneficiaries of BEE, are obsessed with affirmative action, expropriation without compensation and preferential procurement mechanisms enabling hiked prices, it remains amazing that leading commentators such as Paton and Grootes ignore the hard evidence that race is not the best proxy for measuring inequality and that the application of race fails to target those really at the bottom of the pit. 

Way back, Census 2011 already provided evidence that education is a far more reliable marker.

Race as a marker for household income inequality weighed and found wanting

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Business for Ending Lockdown (B4EL) rejects continued state of disaster

Business for Ending Lockdown (B4EL) notes President Ramaphosa’s announcement of a move to lockdown level 2 commencing 17 August. While the further relaxing of restrictions is an improvement compared to remaining at level 3, B4EL will not thank the government for giving back to the people of South Africa that which belongs to them.

B4EL is a campaign to completely end lockdown. The campaign was founded this week (The Enterprise Observatory of SA is one of the founding members). It is supported by several of the most well-known and largest business organisations, already counting almost 60 000 businesses. For more information, see www.endlockdown.co.za.

The president’s announcement only underscores the fact that the lockdown remains unnecessary, arbitrary, and, by the president’s own admission, fraught with corruption.

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Lock-down is international “worst practice” but Ramaphosa (and key business leaders) maintain it’s the solution

Day 132 after registering the first 100 Covid infections in SA made it clear how unsuccessful the lock-down has been: South Africa’s number of Covid infections/ 10 000 of the population despite the world’s harshest lock-down with a curfew, mandatory face masks and an alcohol ban passed that of a country that has never implemented lock-down, never made face masks mandatory and would have continued to buy South African wines were it not for the SA government that had banned the transport (and therefore export) of wine. (Figure 1)

Like that legendary village in Gaul ( home of Asterix and Obelix) held out against the might of Caesar’s Rome to maintain local culture, Sweden kept the constitutionally protected rights of its citizens intact (freedom to move, associate and work) whilst most of the world capitulated with lock-down measures before the might of fear brought about by flawed modelling of the Covid threat.

South Africa’s government early on sacrificed these rights, transforming its citizens to subjects, all “to ensure that the infection curve would be flattened to get ready for the Covid storm”. Figure 1 clearly shows how the curve was flattened, but today we know that it was not utilised to ensure Covid-ready hospitals with well-motivated staff serving sufficient beds in ICUs and care centres equipped with ventilators and required equipment.

The BBC had shown the world that the “flattening of the curve” was not used for that, at least not in the Eastern Cape.  The Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, however disputed the BBC findings, stating that, apart from the fact that the EC hospitals:

  • should follow medical waste protocols;
  • require more beds;
  • needed more nursing staff;
  • had to procure more ventilators, and
  • should get rid of blood on the floor and the rats,

the province was ready for the Covid crisis.

Easier to exterminate hospital rats than tender rats?

Mkhize made no mention that these problems were probably linked to the government’s continued feeding of the tender rats.

Quicker than what a minibus taxi can skip a traffic light, Andile Ramaphosa of Bosasa fame had convinced FNB to sponsor a R6 million contract to install Perspex shields and sanitise equipment in Gauteng taxis. He claims he is not personally benefiting from the contract awarded to SDI Force (an NGO).

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