We need certainty not muddle

Jack Bloom says the state needs to focus on the essentials

The late Piet Koornhof was a jovial chap who seemed to deliberately obscure the contradictions in apartheid policy with convoluted explanations that nobody could understand.

He once said to a journalist who admitted after an interview that he had not understood him: "Well, that's exactly what I want you to convey."

As Sports Minister he complained that when he tried to explain sports policy people thought he was joking, and when he told a joke people thought he was describing the policy.

It was no joke, of course, that black people were discriminated against in sport.

But there are often contradictions even today in the politics of a full democracy.

I am always amused when the proponents of "decent jobs" praise the "work opportunities" of the Expanded Public Works Programme that pay only R1000 a month and last 45 days on average.

These same people attack businesses that hire people, who would otherwise be unemployed, at low wages on a fixed contract.

They also attack labour brokers when many state departments use them for good economic reasons.

Although the term "broad-based" was added to Black Economic Empowerment policies, the same handful of politically connected individuals seem to benefit most.

They claim preference points for tenders in the name of the poor, but often they don't even deliver the promised goods.

Julius Malema is an extreme example as he throws lavish parties, yet the bridges built by his company in Limpopo collapse after the first rains.

The delivery of good services to the poor is surely the broadest and most effective affirmative action, particularly clean water, sanitation, health and education.

While COSATU is vocal about the visible thieving that harms the poor, it is silent when its own members don't teach, or neglect the sick, or generally loaf on the job.

As pointed out by a recent World Bank report, this is also a form of corruption, what it calls "quiet corruption" which is rife in Africa.

According to Shanta Devarajan of the World Bank: "Quiet corruption does not make the headlines the way bribery scandals do, but it is just as corrosive to societies."

The muddle in government's economic policy reminds me of the animal in the Dr Doolittle stories called a "push-me-pull-you", which had a head on either end of its body.

It was hard for it to move as both heads tried to go in opposite directions.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan pushes for a more open economy, including the easing of labour laws to make it easier for young people to get jobs.

In contrast, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel push for trade barriers and even more state involvement in the economy.

Then there is the crazy proposal to nationalise agricultural land, which would mean an amendment to the property rights clause in the constitution.

It may not happen, but along with talk about nationalising the mines it saps investor confidence and harms the economy.

Studies have shown that the secret to economic success world-wide is greater economic freedom with a state that is strong on the essentials - especially property rights and the rule of law.

This should be the laser-like focus of government, rather than our meandering ship of state that is dangerously adrift.

Jack Bloom is a Democratic Alliance member of the Gauteng provincial legislature. This article first appeared in The Citizen.

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