Thursday, September 16, 2010

Neither of Either

Teach a man to fish rather than give him fish. That's the kind of principle I use regularly when I drive up to a red traffic light and wave away the beggar that rocks up to my window with his grubby hands and filthy attire. The light turns green, I engage the accelerator and pull away. I do neither of either.

I want to look briefly today at a legitimate concern raised at conservatives, of which I am one. It seems that every time some kind of crisis occurs in the world, small or large, the liberals want to drive in some new legislation, some new safety by-law or some new disaster relief fund. Whenever a new flood occurs in Bangladesh, there are massive cries for emergency funds, without ever questioning why the Bangladeshis seem to never learn from their experiences. The conservative counter to the constant band-aid approach of the liberals is to use catch-phrases like the one I alluded to earlier.

The question is: do the conservatives really stick to their suggestion of teaching a man to fish instead of giving him fish? Or do they simply do neither of either? As an example, instead of dishing out millions in aid to Bangladeshi flood victims, is there a group of strategic thinkers drawing up plans to avert future flood disasters, and then presenting these in an aggressive "sort it out now" fashion to the Bangladeshi authorities? Or do the detractors simply carry on living their comfortable Western lifestyles, safe in the knowledge that their cute catch-phrase alleviated them of responsibility?

Let's take another look at the culture of education. In Western society, for example, it is considered standard duty for parents to take responsibility of their children up to about 18 years of age. When a child wanders into the road and gets hit by a car, it's not the child who is blamed, but the parent. The child grows up to follow the example set by the parents, and in turn takes care of their offspring. There's a cycle that continues here.

Now you might argue that the nurturing behaviour of a parent is purely instinctual and received genetically at birth. I'm not convinced. Either way, why am I bringing this up? Well, by the same logical deduction, you might want to reason that the Bangladeshis should genetically have been born to avert the consequences of their future disasters. If they keep dying from the same floods and don't learn from their experiences, whose fault is it? It's a very interesting point. Let me ask the harsh question because it has to be asked: are they stupid?

Perhaps some roleplayers in the Bangladeshi administration are stupid. There are enough stupid administrators in Western bureaucracies not to discount an equivalent in Bangladesh, but there are more issues here. For one, spiritual bondage, such as the spirit of gaya that teaches reverence for a mother earth, instead of the dominion which God gave as a specific instruction to Adam and Eve. Look for example at the Dutch approach to dealing with low-lying land - that's taking dominion of the land. Secondly, I pull back to my earlier point that there is a cycle of education that needs to start turning in a society. At some stage, parents take on a culture of problem solving, and children adopt that culture and perpetrate it themselves.

When does that cycle kick off? In my mind many of the disaster recovery programs don't help in this regard, because they seem to prevent the benefactors from being forced to review their situation. Why bother to redress your situation when help from the West is on its way? Now I'm not suggesting that we never help, but as the West we need to recognise when we're helping and when we're keeping the needy locked in a cycle. I remember social workers instructing Cape Town residents not to give money to the beggars on the streets, because you keep them trapped. It's true - desparation is so often the first step towards the cure.

While you administer sufficient help, there needs to be a long-term focus on the bigger problem, and more than that, a culture of medium and long term problem solving. There is a cycle of education, and it is taught as much as inherited.

But are we doing that? If we have been given knowledge and problem-solving knowledge by our parents and our teachers, do we pass it on? Do we look at the problems, use cute catch-phrases and then get back to the golf course or the pub? Do we acknowledge that one solution is better than the other, but then still do neither of either?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Strikes: Who Is To Blame?

On a typical sunny South African day, a group of citizens don bright coloured clothing with logos and banners in hand and go enjoy some song and dance on the streets of their city. What brings them there and is it work or play? What is the driving factor? Is it a sense of the collective achieving something or is it a desperation with their personal circumstance that drives them here as something of a last chance saloon? Is it a patriotic duty or a distinctively selfish pursuit?

Honestly, I can't say. Coming from my white Western background, the whole idea of marching down the street, burning with anger like that is not part of my culture. In fact, I don't like it at all. I don't like the idea of people mouthing off about what the world owes them and how their state of victimisation requires the world to level up the scores without the victims playing a significant part in their own recover. And yes, whites can be equally guilty in this regard.

Let me explain briefly where my thinking comes from. A big part of Christianity is personal responsibility for your own decisions. Despite being put under grievous personal circumstances, each person has ownership of the choices they make within those circumstances. It's this kind of thinking that drives the free market system against which these strikers are protesting.

Let me explain. When you begin training to be a teacher, do you do it because the paycheque will guarantee a Mercedes Benz and bi-annual holiday to Hawaii and Maldives? Of course not. You know that, I know that. If you want those luxuries, you know you'll need to be a doctor, a CEO, a successful enterpreneur or a Premiership footballer. If you say it's not fair that teachers don't get paid the same as doctors, then you're saying that a 5th division footballer should get paid the same as Lionel Messi. That's absurd. By logical deduction, if you believe the former, you must believe the latter, to the cent.

The key is incentive. If you're getting paid R20,000 per month as a street sweeper, why would you put yourself through 7 years of study and exams to become a dentist and smell people's breath the whole day? If teacher's salaries are too low and teachers are being lost to other sectors of the industry, it leads to parents paying higher school fees in order to guarantee a good education, thus re-balancing the game. This is exactly what is happening with private education, and there's no significant reason why the same principle can't work for all.

So how did we get here and who's fault is it? It's the ANC's fault! I accept that the government are resisting many of the wage demands and I give them credit for it. In addition, I recognise that strikes are not necessarily a government initiative (is Cosatu government?), and it would appear that this is a case of the people against the government. However, I believe that this kind of militant strike action is the ANC's fault on two parts.

Firstly, the ANC have continuously made unrealistic promises. The blacks could have looked at white lifestyles in 1994 and imagined that driving a BMW is a normal life they would have lived had they not been denied by apartheid. The ANC rocked up promising housing, services and jobs as though it was normally a government duty to provide these and not the fruit of personal endeavour. With each new election we have the ANC repeating their service delivery pledges, giving people fish and not teaching them to fish, as the saying goes (and in fact giving them neither much of the time).

Secondly, the ANC are particularly proud of their "struggle" past, especially as the spirit of that struggle was not a passive activism in the Gandhi mould, but a militant one enshrined by events like June 16 and Andrew Zondo's supermarket bombing. What you plant is what you sow, and here we see the fruit. Union leaders might distance themselves from stories of rioting, property distruction and shambock-wielding activists, but these fringes are the fruit of the organisations' group-think.

You could counter-argue that the ANC is the product of the cultures of the voters, who are now the strikers. That would be a point worth considering and worth debate. In other words, you would be arguing that the ANC is simply a front for the strikers themselves, dissatisfied with their own state of affairs. Basically the voters created a party to create a perfect world for them, and then became angry when the perfect world continues to elude them. Once again, unrealistic expectations.

Is there a place in the world for strikes? I would say so. The Bible does warn in several places about the wages of workers and about the rights of the poor and I struggle to see how you can get redress without some form of strong-handedness. The trouble is that the current strike action is chasing a financial platform that isn't warranted. The economy and tax base cannot carry the claims of the strikers, and what they are asking requires sacrifice of other services or the broadening of the tax base, which will reduce incentive for investment and contribute to further job loss.

Yes, my approach is hard-line. I believe that the spirit of ubuntu does not always serve the people that it tolerates. Genuine progress does require ubuntu, but in a sense where each pulls their weight to improve the situation, not in demands on a government to cure the victim's problems.

The solution is not increased wages and better workplace legislation. The solution lies in the strikers recognising that their lifestyle comfort depends on their personal endeavours. If they want to be paid more, they need to study harder, work harder, change jobs, start their own businesses or be more intelligent with how they spend their money. My mom is a teacher, and she's been doing fine on her paycheque, and that's a product of making quality personal choices.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Criticism is a Dirty Sport

I've been perusing Zapiro's cartoons. It felt dirty, like viewing a hideous, twisted soul. To get a better picture, imagine those dark horror movies, or even the all-action blockbusters, where the character development starts and you're given a clear indication of the bad guy. They have certain features that mark them out, a twitch, a limp, lip-licking, shifty eyes or an elitist pet that they stroke. At any rate, they're designed with a feature that makes you feel dirty being around them, as though their mind is so dark that you dare not soften in its presence lest you become corrupted.

I paged through Zapiro's latest cartoons, one at a time. Inevitably there are aspects that draw you in - you say to yourself: "Yes, he's so right about Zuma" or "Oh, I understand the shower head he's drawn permanently pertruding from his head". For a while you afford yourself a smile, but the further you go, the more you begin to realise ... this guy doesn't let up. His drawings of Zuma are hideous, everybody gets the sledgehammer, it feels like you're caught in a deathtrap and there's never a softening in his spirit.

I didn't write this peace to slate Zapiro, but rather to illustrate what it's like to be a permanent critic. For a long time the DA have worn the opposition party badge and the feeling has been growing stronger and stronger that they believe their only job is to oppose. Too often you listen to the DA in a debate, and while you agree with their criticisms, you stop at the end and try to recall what solutions they had suggested.

In truth, the ACDP can also be guilty of being constantly critical. It gets tiresome, and moreover, it becomes depressing. I've experienced those branch meetings where you talk about nothing but the evils that are overtaking us. You come out depressed and you find less energy to return.

But what then is the opposite of criticism? Approval? Sometimes. Sometimes you have to summon the extraordinary courage to admire what your enemies have achieved. There are things I admire about the ANC. I respect that they managed to get 66% of the vote - that they could pull together a huge majority spread across 9 different ethnicities. Think about the Rwandan conflicts and you'll understand that kind of significance.

There is another alternative ... to provide a viable alternative. In other words, for every "don't", provide a feasible "do". I've talked about "criticism" in a negative vein, but we also talk about "constructive criticism" in a positive way. The one diminishes and the other enhances, at least potentially, depending on how well you receive it.

My guess is that the ACDP has been better positioned than the DA to be a critic, because the ACDP's approach has been to measure the ANC up against the Bible. If the Bible says that theft is wrong, then the DA can criticise for the sake of criticism. But by having a reference to work against, the ACDP can say theft is wrong, but also has the manual that provides the solution. The Bible has plenty to say about what good morals look like and what kind of life the righteous lead. Do the DA have a manual they work against?

Either way, we have to train ourselves to be solution-minded. People who solve problems become likeable. They also become good candidates to win elections. The ANC won in 1994 because they were the solution to apartheid (at least in the voters' minds), and the ACDP must gear itself to win elections by being the solution to the ANC.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Wise As Serpents, Tame As Doves

A great man once said: "Be wise as serpents and tame as doves." When you put it into practice, you understand how remarkably perceptive it is.

To be honest, the ACDP is a meeting point of some potentially divergent views. Some of the views could be regarded as conflicting, but in truth, when you bring them together, they form a more complete picture of the kind of government I believe God expects. Let me explain.

Some ACDP members join the party because of its hardline values. End abortion, bring in the death penalty, punish criminals. Others join the party because they believe it cares for the community, that it will all alleviate poverty and help the needy. A study of politics usually finds these two fields of thought on opposite sides of the fence. Not so with the church, and not so with the ACDP.

The same Bible that tells us to kick divisive people out of the church, tells us that true religion is feeding the widows and orphans. The same Bible that tells of Annanias and Saphira being struck dead instantly for lying (in the New Testament don't forget) also reminds us that Jesus saved the adulteress who knew her actions would require her life.

The truth is both simple and complex. There is a time to be moved by anger over the sin of your country, and there is a time to be moved with compassion as you see the suffering. And very often the two work hand in hand, where the very suffering that moves you is caused by the corruption that angers you. The obvious complexity is to know the time for compassion and the time for wrath, and so often parties like the ANC get both wrong.

The end result of the ACDP's melting pot is that we cater remarkably well for both sides of the equation. We are very strong in the area of tough action and we're very strong in the area of compassionate care. Of course our moral stance has never been in doubt, but a brief visit to the ACDP's website will reveal how intensely the party has campaigned to defend the weak, coupled with its continuous emphasis on community projects. It's a rare combination, but then the ACDP is a special party.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Criminal Proceedings: The Parliamentary Hotlist

There's admittedly a lot of fictitious junk mail that goes around, but I did like this one. I'm not sure how accurate these stats are - if they are true then some serious research has been done with access to detail that the general public probably can't see. Either way, there is a lot of truth here, and while some details are possibly exaggerated, no doubt many are guilty.

29 have been accused of spousal abuse
7 have been arrested for fraud
19 have been accused of writing bad cheques
117 have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least 2 businesses
3 have done time for assault
71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit
14 have been arrested on drug-related charges
8 have been arrested for shoplifting
21 are currently defendants in lawsuits
84 have been arrested for drunk driving in the last year

That's 373 in total or approximately 70% of the 535 South African parliamentarians. Nobody in South Africa is perfect, including ACDP politicians, but some are certainly more honest than others. If politicians have a bad name, then look no further for reason.

The question is: what do politicians measure themselves up against? Without a moral framework, you could argue that the number of votes you get justifies your actions. Similar excuses might do, but at the ACDP we keep measuring ourselves against the Bible, which has been a worldwide authority on moral values for millenia. We regularly fall short, but at least the standard hasn't moved when we pick ourselves up again.

With a liberal party like the DA, the moral fibre of society keeps getting stretched and worn thinner. If it's not abortion, then it's gay marriage. If it's not disarming of parents, then it's disarming of churches. Very often the ACDP is painted as a group of far-right extremists. The truth is that the ACDP has simply held firm to its values, while the non-value-based parties have drifted so far by now that the difference is scary. And if you don't think the DA are that liberal, do your homework.

Monday, February 16, 2009

"Grant" is a Bad Word

My involvement with the Department of Health has exposed me to many of the shenanigans that circulate through the social welfare circles. The current problem I'm dealing with involves the forgery of documents that show HIV test results. But get this: the perpetrators are trying to prove that they're HIV positive so they can get the grant.

My understanding has always been that a grant is meant to serve as a "compensation", but here it clearly works as an "incentive". I was aware of the same problem in Britain, another showcase for handouts. In Scotland, young single women were deliberatly getting pregnant so they could get the single mother grant. The outcome is very much opposite to the intent. I don't doubt the department's good intentions, but they seem to misunderstand human nature.

The Basic Income Grant (BIG) is a hot topic ahead of the elections. Parties are going around promising free money for everyone, effectively, and no doubt those promises are worth some votes. The ACDP investigated the BIG and found a very sizeable problem: the cost of administration was the same as the grant itself. Not only that, but the system is open to huge amounts of fraud. In the end the BIG comes back full circle to where it started, because it requires additional tax income (by "creative" means, as the ANC puts it), so the citizens are simply getting back what they paid in, and forking out for a whole lot of lousy administration in-between.

Grants are nothing more than a plaster. The economy is in trouble, and while most of the other parties go around promising more band-aids, the ACDP is promising to target the source of the problem itself: a bleeding economy. The ANC Minister of Labour spoke on SABC's Interface about sticking with "tried and tested" formulas used by the current government. It's a pity he stopped in the middle of his sentence - he meant to say "tried, tested and failed". History and research show undeniably that socialist and communist economic policies kill off economies, while the ACDP promises the "tried, tested and successful" principles of free market economy, with deregulation, less bureaucracy and smaller government.

I don't doubt that some level of social welfare through grants is necessary, but I argue firstly that the size of grants on offer is counter-productive, and secondly, that you can administer grants in more effective ways. Basically, social welfare works far more effectively when you adopt the mindset of "incentive" rather than "compensation", as I alluded to earlier. In this regard, work-for-food schemes, small business incentives and tax breaks for labour-intensive industry spend less on outflow and gain more in inflow. The object of social welfare is to move its recipient towards self dependency, and I'm sure you share my position that cash handouts fail to do that for the most part. In simple terms, the fear of not having enough to live on drives you to find a job, while earning a grant you can live on creates a crowd of unproductive dependents.

In the end, grants are a form of financial enslavement of the people to a bloated, centralist bureaucracy, the king of all "big business". While the throngs have so often voted for parties that offer short term thrills and spills, maybe you've done enough homework to realise that the solution to South Africa's economic woes is less government and more democracy.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Struggle for Finance

Lack of finance is of course an easy excuse for the ACDP. Whenever we're asked why we don't have a bigger share of the vote or why we aren't more visible, we just whip out the excuse like a foreign language phrase book.

The ACDP's struggle for finance has a number of both sound and dubious reasons. There's the obvious reason that the IEC allocation is awarded according to the percentage of votes you receive. While I can't easily see another solution (do you really want to award R5 million to the Soccer Party if all parties get an equal share?) I do also see the benefits of the arrangement. Firstly, the party that does the work to win an election gets its reward. Also, when an opposition party has to work with less for the same election, it provides an impetus - in other words, when they do succeed, you have a hard working party governing your country. Because the reverse is also true, that argument goes out the window! Quite simply, once you're in, you're in - you make money when you have it.

That you need money to win an election is undeniable. While credit must go to the ANC for achieving such an impressive 1994 win, gaining votes across a wide span of ethic groups, their preparation lasted over many decades. In the short term, money pays for a lot of things: TV and radio ads, posters, brochures, hire of public venues, transporting voters and rally attendees, petrol costs for canvassing, staff to run offices, telephone campaigning, stationery costs, and more importantly, labour. It's extremely difficult to win an election with staff who have normal jobs and work in their free time - they need salaries to devote themselves full-time.

I was once asked the question: if you want to run the country, why aren't you confident enough to raise finances? A powerful question indeed. The reality is that fundraising, especially for something notorious as politics, requires a certain amount of thick skin and a kind of carefree attitude that doesn't mind what people think. That style comes easily to politicians, but not to church folk, and the majority of ACDP members and staff are church folk. It truly is easier to stand up for something you believe in, like pro-life, than to knock on someone's door and shake the tin can.

The next big problem is that funding prefers to support a track record, but you can't have a track record until you've been elected. How much of a track record can you build up without funds? And how much zero-cost-based activity can you engage in when you have a job?

What I seem to be painting here is a circular problem that keeps coming back to itself. In other words, it looks like a Catch-22 or a dead end, and if you were a hyper-pragmatist or a cynic, you really would have to throw in the towel and leave politics to the dirty guys.

Personally, I don't lie down like that, so here's my vision of the way forward with regards to improving the ACDP's finances. Firstly, focus 60% of the party effort on a 2-month fundraising drive. Develop a core marketing package: a presentation that you can deliver in a businessman's office, including an impressive brochure, smart slideshow and clinically rehearsed speech, using your best orators. The ACDP does have enough strong points to get support going, but needs to present it well. Deliver these speeches to about 200 businesses with owners who sympathise with the Christian position. I guarantee this will have success, at least with about 10 businesses.

Then set aside 20% of those raised funds to sponsor a business fundraising dinner, where guests are invited to a free meal at a restaurant, where they will be sold the ACDP. The core list of guests will be those who showed interest but did not make a commitment, as well as those who sympathised with the party but did not make time for a presentation. In other words, get the more hesistant supporters in. Take a big offering on the night and sign debit orders.

Once again, set aside 20% to repeat this cycle, but in a new location with a different crowd. Also look at a strategy where the same businessmen can return for another free dinner if they bring a paying guest.

This cycle has to continue, but another 10% of the raised funds must go to partner maintenance, or in other words, marketing brochures and feedback materials that go back to those who have sponsored the party, including possible free functions.

Okay, that's a simple idea which even I could implement. Maybe I should.

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