A financial literacy test for politicians

David Bullard says it is time we regulated those aspiring to rule us



Well here we are. We’ve finally arrived at the day that will decide who will shape South Africa’s future over the next five years. If we go by the polls it will be business as usual for the ANC with the possibility of an increase in votes for the EFF and a decrease in votes for the DA. Polls have been spectacularly wrong elsewhere in the world so maybe the news tomorrow morning won’t be as bad as we have been led to expect. Or maybe it will be worse. Either way, the next five years will be interesting but the one certainty is that the economy is going to take at least ten years to dig itself out of the hole it finds itself in at the moment.

There used to be a t-shirt favoured by peripatetic grandparents which read something along the lines of “My granny visited New York and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”. Maybe we could persuade the Chinese to give us a special deal on one that reads “I voted ANC for the last 25 years and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”. For, rest assured, from tomorrow for the next five years the poor will be packed away like Christmas decorations until the dust is blown off them again in 2024 and they suddenly find that they are a politician’s best friend.

Not that you can really blame our politicians can you? After all, pretending to be on the side of the poor and spouting all the rhetoric is one thing but actually mixing with them is something quite different as Cyril shockingly found out not so long ago in Alexandra. The problem with the poor is that they are….well…poor. This means they can’t possibly be of interest to a struggle politician eager to bolster his retirement fund with a kickback from a lucrative tender. For that you need shining lights like the Watson family. These are people who know how to bundle bank notes together and send them to the right people.

I doubt whether the poor would even know who the right people are which is why they are surplus to requirements in the four years and ten months that separate the end of one election from the frenetic activity and extravagant promises of the next. In the intervening period all you need to do to hold on to power is make sure the education system doesn’t produce too many people who ask questions.

An uneducated electorate is a reliable electorate as we have found out over the past quarter century. For example, many think that the government has unlimited supplies of money to spend as it sees fit. Pre 1994 it was the Nats that had all the money and post 1994 it is the ANC and that is why they can keep on promising all sorts of things like free universal health care, free education, free water, free electricity, free housing and lots of jobs.

Unfortunately, in South Africa, it’s not only the uneducated voters who have yet to grasp the rudiments of economics. It’s also the majority of our politicians, some of them at cabinet level. I’ve often thought that there should be a financial literacy test for anybody aspiring to draw a fat monthly salary by pretending to represent the people’s interests. After all, the government are very keen to regulate everything we citizens do and you can’t run any business without satisfying a raft of regulations and paying some government body a few thousand rand for an operating license. So it would be only fair to check whether someone with access to public funds has the slightest clue how the real economy works. Simple questions such as:

1 If a government has R10 billion to spend on new social housing but R9 billion gets stolen by some Indian fellas how many unhappy campers will you have in the country?

2 Would it be a better for the country to own the Reserve Bank and have unlimited access to their money printing machine or to facilitate a competitive economy?

3 Everyone agrees that job creation is a “good thing”. How would you create jobs? a) employ more civil servants b) relax labour laws and introduce tax breaks to encourage employment c) introduce my extended family to people of influence.

4 We all agree that white monopoly capital is a terrible thing. What do you think will replace it when it decides it has outstayed its welcome in SA?

I’m not confident that the ruling party would do terribly well in this test but that’s politics I guess. I won’t be voting in this election and that’s for the simple reason that I was disenfranchised after my vote in 1994. Apparently I got the answer wrong on the ballot paper. However, the government still like me to pay tax so I do have some skin in the game.

On election day I will be at Nossob camp in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier park watching animals hunting other animals in the struggle for survival. I imagine you’ll be doing much the same today.

Good luck.


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