Opinionista Siya Khumalo 17 May 2018

We’ve been voting for the wrong thing

The general discussion up to the National Assembly’s adoption of the Political Party Funding Bill strengthened the impression that voting, stripped of ongoing participation in democracy, is a ritual that makes election campaign promises appear believable when they’re Trojan Horses for the interests of party funders and connected political elites.

At the DA’s Federal Congress in April 2018, Gwen Ngwenya (Head of Policy) said the National Minimum Wage of R20/h should come with an opt-out caveat for potential employees. This was an admission that when the DA fails to deliver an economy defined by the “freeness, fairness and opportunity” it takes to reward hard work, the party will lay the responsibility for its failure to produce “real jobs” (its answer to the ANC’s promise of six million “job opportunities”) at the feet of labourers.

The rationale behind the opt-out proviso was it would protect potential employees’ freedom of choice, as though anyone chooses job insecurity. But critics (some from the DA) pointed out it’s employers who’d be more at choice, and could pressure potential employees into opting out.

Perhaps the DA’s libertarian talk of limited government conceals some stakeholders’ anarchical push for no government. It shows: externalising the cost of a short-sighted policy regime onto the poor has already led to protest action such as seen at Mooi River Plaza, North West hospitals and the marches against retail chain food prices in Kempton Park. Scandals involving the likes of H&M, ABSA and Enterprise have shown how aiming at capital’s short-term benefit always ends badly. The opt-out proposal is the witchcraft you get when economic gatekeepers (who are unable or unwilling to lobby their higher-ups to adopt holistic solutions) collude with their political counterparts (who are just as eager to hang onto their jobs another term) for quick-fix trade-offs they then pass off as policy for economic stability. And it is: their own economic stability, not investors’ or other stakeholders’.

Consider also two bills on the table: land expropriation sans compensation, and the Youth Employment Service (YES) superseding some aspects of the B-BBEE Act. The amendments proposed for both are a tacit admission the ruling party has still to decisively effect economic transformation 24 years after 1994: all the boasting during election season that the ANC has delivered for its people begs the question — why uncompensated expropriation now?

Although it’s collating input on just amendments proposed for B-BBEE, BEE Novation has also questioned whether land expropriation would be as hot a topic if the ruling party hadn’t concentrated its “transformation” efforts into enriching the Guptas.

Yes, YES is a lovely idea. But it wouldn’t be getting added to the pile of initiatives created to bring about further transformation if the political will to address inequality had existed all along,” admitted MD Lee du Preez.

From a business management consultancy perspective, we’ve learned that the credibility of the profession depends on how we empower businesses to make a positive contribution to society within a framework that’s responsive to their efforts. The alternative is making them comply to legislation for its own sake. That’s expensive and demoralising; I’m a businessperson, so I understand. I’d rather empower others by showing that the way forward is collectively ironing out even the possibility of hidden political agendas from laws.”

How do we know that President Ramaphosa’s YES initiative will work unless we’re in the room as its details are being hammered out? Anyone remember the National Youth Development Agency Act of 2008? Or the Employment Tax Incentive Act of 2013? The latter’s critics warned it would inadvertently displace older workers.

If succession isn’t accommodated for, then economically insecure mature labourers — on whom unemployed youth still rely as family breadwinners and children-raisers — will absorb the hidden costs of new policy. This worsens inequality. It should be those already assisted by affirmative action policies who bow gracefully off the beneficiary stage instead of getting richer. This allows a net decrease in people’s reliance on the state, making VAT hikes unnecessary,” Du Preez pointed out.

One hopes President Ramaphosa’s term offers a decisive break from the legislative voodoo that progressively worsened under previous statesman, but we can no longer wait for policy and legislation to be handed down: we must submit responses.

Another example: government cannot ask business to say YES on youth employment when it previously said no to lowering the BEE New Entrant Threshold to accelerate new entrant accession in the private sector. Where are we going to put all these new employees in five years even if businesses say yes to YES today? So, there’s a bigger picture I want us to also fix to allow YES to do what we need it to.”

The DA rightly argued that a B-BBEE New Entrant Threshold of R50-million undermines the empowerment of new entrants. For that contribution, the official opposition deserves credit. But when the reality it promises differs from that anticipated by its policies, when the ANC rolls out laws on paper to roll them back in practice, and when the EFF… never mind… it becomes more crucial to “vote” in the law-making process than during elections.

For political parties may, to quote Mmusi Maimane, be in the “same WhatsApp group” with state capturers. DM

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"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine

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