A FAMOUS GROUSE
THE National Lottery Commission is satisfied there was no foul play involved in Tuesday evening’s Powerball draw that resulted in the winning combination of five, six, seven, eight, nine and 10. It now wants a national education programme to convince sceptical South Africans that the game is not rigged.
Fair enough, I suppose, but a better educational programme would be one that delved into the murky business of the grants dispensed by the commission. An internal report into irregular disbursements has been around for years, but has been routinely ignored until recently.
It has been noted, for example, that one “lottopreneur”, Pretoria attorney Lesley Ramulifho, has been associated with several organisations that have benefitted from lottery largesse. In March last year, it was reported that, since 2017, some R60-million in grants has been allocated to four such “non-profits” for various projects, including a drug rehabilitation centre, a sports development programme and the construction of school toilets.
Cynical South Africans are perhaps in no need of further education here. Bitter experience has taught us that, wherever there is money, it won’t be there for much longer. The ruling elite’s appetite for thieving and profligacy is boundless. The problem, though, is that a severe cash drought is looming. The “public” tom is running out, and the comrades need to top up the squander trough. So they’re going to steal your savings.
One indication of this is the proposed “modernisation” of exchange control as laid out in the Draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill. Tabled in July, the bill, among other things, seeks to “lock in” the retirement funds of financial emigrants for three years. Previously, once the Reserve Bank had approved their financial emigration, South Africans who’d left the country could immediately transfer their savings abroad.
Treasury’s patronising justification for the change, which should come into effect on March 1 next year, is that it’s a “just in case” measure. They want to avoid a situation where emigrants use their savings to fund their new lives abroad and then, some years later, discover that they miss the frisson of runaway crime and violence, wholesale racism, economic uncertainty and so much more besides, and return home – only to discover they have no money; they’ve spent it all.
Now, thanks to a caring Treasury, those homesick expats who return will also discover they have no money; government will have spent it all.
To be honest, it’s not only South Africa that is going to be cash-strapped in the coming year. The wealthier Western countries will be cutting aid to Sub-Saharan Africa by about a third in 2021, according to The Economist. They have problems of their own, it seems.
“The immediate impacts will be bad,” the magazine reported. “Bill Gates, a philanthropist, says Covid-19 and cuts in aid are undermining 25 years of progress in improving health. The World Bank thinks the number of very poor people globally could jump by up to 100 million.”
Cutting aid could, however, have a positive effect in the long term. Remittances – the money sent home by migrants – fell dramatically this year, another grim result of the pandemic. But they’re expected to improve in 2021. Much of these funds are spent on education and housing. “Little is stolen by corrupt officials,” The Economist said. “Many African countries are putting scarce aid money into social safety-nets rather than wasteful grandiose projects. And less aid means many countries will have to raise more in taxes.”
The Receiver, we have learnt over the years, has proved adept at raising taxes. But whatever it collects disappears at a dizzying pace, blown away by corruption and maladministration. It’s not surprising that taxpayers pack up and leave. This is the ultimate in tax rebellion.
News from the darkening bog
I am now urinating in public on an almost daily basis. Such al fresco relief is all part of the rich experience of the gig economy. Having moved on from testing the natives for signs of coronavirus infection, I have hired out my services as a small-scale haulier. I’m a guy in a van, in other words, dropping off parcels at households in the remote, fly-tipped reaches of the muddy shires.
It’s fairly undeveloped out there. The villages are full of rural types who stubbornly cling to the notion that it is quaint and folksy to eschew streetlights and proper street addresses, where houses have numbers. Like 12 High Street or 7 Church Lane. Nothing helpful like that. Instead they have names like Higgledy Piggledy, Bliss Cottage, Tumbledowns, Nookums and Fairy Bramblings – all on tiny faded signs hidden from sight by cascading vegetation. This doesn’t bother the local postie. But then he doesn’t deliver the mail in the utter darkness of 5pm.
All in all, very frustrating. It is at such times that nature shrieks. As a rule, England is piss-poor when it comes to facilities for breaking water. It’s bad enough in the cities, where they don’t consider it an assault on human dignity to charge someone to use a public lavatory. But out in the sticks, there’s nothing. No highway restrooms or shopping malls. Other places to spend a penny, like a tea room or a pub, are all shuttered due to the pandemic.
So I do what I must, and it is at such times, invariably, that a pair of aged duffers will emerge from the darkness, dragging a dog, and demand to know what it is that I damned well think I’m doing. As if they didn’t already know.
However, and to the point of all this, my contribution to Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire’s sopping misery is but a drop in the ocean when compared with what’s happening in Kent. The county’s main roads and lay-bys are already littered with plastic bottles filled with truckers’ urine and bags of excrement – and the problem could get much worse after December 31, when the UK formally leaves the European Union.
This weekend, there are more Brexit “crunch talks” between EU and UK officials. It is all very eleventh hour and it’s not unreasonable to describe these as the crunchiest of all possible crunch talks. There is fresh pessimism about a possible trade deal. The Brits blame the French for fouling the waters over fishing rights. EU officials, meanwhile, point out that all this should have been sorted out months ago. And so it goes.
But, whatever happens, there are still going to be massive queues of lorries down in Kent waiting to cross the Channel.
Downing Street has promised banks of portable toilets if thousands of heavy goods vehicles are held up by new customs checks. However, Phil Silkstone, a regional truckers trade union official, said this will not be enough to prevent the fouling of Kent’s hedgerows. “If all the government does is supply a few Portaloos then drivers are likely to take the other options – and that’s use the bushes,” Silkstone said.
“The main concern is the welfare of our drivers, but also the welfare of local residents. It won’t be nice having thousands of lorry drivers potentially using the bushes around lorry parks. All we need is proper toilet and washing facilities. The time to start installing them isn’t in January, it’s now.”
A worst-case scenario suggests that, at 7 000 trucks long, it could take two days to reach the front of the queue. That’s a lot of roadside waste.
A shot in the arm
Further to Brexit, there’s much jingoism about the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, which will be rolled out in the UK on Monday.
According to HuffPost UK, Downing Street’s newly formed “Union Unit” – a group tasked with countering the clamour for a new referendum on Scottish independence – wanted the new vaccine to be patriotically branded with the Union Jack. Downing Street has, however, denied the report and, distancing itself from such chauvinism, has suggested the development of Covid-19 vaccines was due to a global response to the pandemic.
That global community, meanwhile, is criticising the UK for its “hasty” decision to become the first Western nation to approve a vaccine. But, for their part, British ministers are claiming that it was Brexit that had allowed them to approve the vaccine more quickly than “sniffy” European countries. The health secretary Matt Hancock told Times Radio, “We do all the same safety checks and the same processes, but we have been able to speed up how they’re done because of Brexit.” Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons, tweeted, “We could only approve this vaccine so quickly because we have left the EU.”
The most embarrassing outburst came from education secretary Gavin Williamson, who told the radio station, LBC: “I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulators – much better than the French, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have. That doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country than every single one of them.”
No cure just yet for vaccine nationalism, it would seem.
Singapore’s Food Agency has approved for consumption a form of “cultured chicken” produced by Eat Just, a San Fransisco company that develops alternatives to meat from slaughterhouses. This meat, sold in the form of nuggets, is not vegetarian fare. Stem cells are collected from a chicken feather and placed in a nutrient-dense liquid. This mush is then fed into a bioreactor where “cell mass” grows. Various plant extracts can be added to the mixture to influence texture and flavour. “Meat”, containing fat and muscle, is then sort of splodged out. Yum.
This fowl business is no poultry affair. As Frankenchicken production increases, its price will come way down. Smothered in the usual secret herbs and spices and deep-fried in, er, animal fat, they can be passed off as the usual happy meals that are so popular at election rallies.
Respect. Or else
An interesting kerfuffle has broken out over Cambridge University’s proposed new free-speech policy. Voting is underway by some 7 000 academics on the policy, which will require Cambridge’s staff, students and visiting speakers to treat others and their opinions with “respect”. The directive, which has the backing of the vice-chancellor, is seen as move to counter the “cancel culture” that has bedevilled academic life in recent years.
But a group of academics want the term “respectful” to be removed from the policy and replaced with “tolerant”. According to Arif Ahmed, a reader in philosophy at Gonville and Caius college, the new code, if accepted, could be used to stifle views deemed to be “disrespectful” on such issues as transgender rights, anti-vaccination, race and climate change. There are also fears that academics who satirise certain views could be sacked.
Ahmed has a valid point. It wasn’t Voltaire who said it, but the quote is, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” That’s often cited as a defining principle of free speech. Somehow, “I respect what you say, and I will defend to the death your right to say it,” sounds a bit odd.
The actor and author Stephen Fry, a Cambridge alumnus, told the The Sunday Times that the “rather muddled insistence on automatic ‘respect’” is probably being included in the policy “for the best motives”, but added: “A demand for respect is like a demand for a laugh, or demands for love, loyalty and allegiance. They cannot be given if not felt.”
The vote’s result will be announced on Wednesday.