There is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Part II

In my last post Is a Basic Income Grant Stealing from the Rich I referenced an article There is a problem with the way we define inequality.

This article made a number of interesting assertions about attitudes on inequality, the principle one to my mind being that we should stop obsessing with the rich and super rich and start obsessing with eliminating poverty, and also, importantly, the assertion that peoples’ attitudes were less angry about wealth and more angry about unfairness. As was stated the public perception of wealth inequality itself being aversive to most people is incorrect, and that instead, what people are truly concerned about is unfairness” and also that “People typically prefer fair inequality to unfair equality”, and, as we are beginning to see in South Africa, what really gets folk going is unfair inequality, a la the Zuptas state capture and wealth grabs.

So we all need the right to work harder and earn more and be wealthier than our neighbours, that is fair and acceptable. Just reward for just gainful employment is acceptable. But if you cheat in order to be wealthier, that is just not on.

This got me thinking about the Fees Must Fall movement and protests (see here) because it really is unfair that certain sectors of our society perhaps have little or no access to higher education. Let me be very clear, it is not the access of those who have access that is unfair, but the lack of access by those who don’t have access that is unfair. This is a major argument in the article There is a problem, the issue of unfairness.

A major conclusion of the article is that “the solution lies in addressing the fact that poverty and unfairness exist.”

This set me to thinking about the conflicting unfairness inherent in the fees must fall campaign; the unfairness of the poor being unable to access higher education just because they were poor, and the unfairness of the same poor, expecting those who do not benefit from higher education, to have to pay for the higher education of the same poor. Something simply does not add up.

You cannot fix a wrong inflicted on anyone or group by inflicting another wrong on another one or group. That is simply wrong and unfair and will be perceived as wrong and unfair and is probably why most people object to paying for the education of others who are seen to be unwilling to pay for their own education.

To reiterate, at the risk of being boring, “what people are truly concerned about is unfairness” and “People typically prefer fair inequality to unfair equality”.

So the problem is how to fix one wrong without creating another wrong?

The Direct Democracy Forum (DDF) believe that the Universal Basic Income Grant goes a long way to relieving poverty in a fair and equitable way, Thus all in society contribute to the system in an equally proportional manner and all benefit from the system equally. Is this fair and equitable? Some would say no and others, the DDF included, would argue that imperfect as it may be, it is fair and equitable, and is a lot better than what we have.

But, and here is the big BUT, could all higher education students afford to pay for their education (fees and accommodation) exclusively with a BIG? Of course, students can supplement their income by working full and part-time in internships or apprenticeships or articles, and there is nothing wrong about that, in fact many qualifications require it of you in order to qualify you as a professional fit to administer to (for example) your patients if you are a doctor or your clients if you are an accountant or lawyer. But what if a Basic Income Grant simply isn’t enough because fees and or accommodation have escalated out of all proportions.

Education throughout the world is becoming almost prohibitively expensive. Privatisation of funding is making it even more unaffordable and the level of debt that graduates are left with is making them wonder if education is even worth it, and some of the schemes are just there to make finance providers rich at the expense of society in general and the graduate population in particular. And yes, there are calls all over the world for fee free education, so South Africa is not alone. Indeed there are countries where tertiary education is free, but the much lauded fee free system of Germany is branded by some as being unsustainable. Others are saying the opposite, that fees are becoming, like the dinosaur, extinct, So everyone has a point of view and is looking for a solution.

Maybe then we need a different mechanism

The DDF believe that such a mechanism could exist which may be imperfect, but might none the less be better than what we have. But again there is the question of fairness..

But to address the issue of fairness, it would need to be a mechanism that benefits all equally, maybe a universal education grant. But what about those to whom a higher education is unsuited. How would they benefit from such a scheme? The short answer is that they would not benefit, and we would be back to a situation of unfairness.

Perhaps, as has been suggested about wealth and income inequalities taking our attention away from the real issue of poverty (see There is a problem), we are focussing on the wrong thing. Instead of just focussing on education for the poor we should instead be focussing on the bigger issue of how to better the lot of all. So what the DDF are now considering is the possibility of a once in a lifetime “Universal Advancement Grant”. I can hear the groans – “not another grant!” and “this is a slippery slope?” and “What a daft idea!” – I can just imagine the moans and groans and yes, you have a right to be sceptical. Indeed the DDF still rest on their assertion that there is no such thing as a free lunch so the means to pay for this needs to be found.

But consider this in the light of fees must fall and the issue of fairness; What if everyone had this once in a lifetime “Advancement Grant” and could use it to pay for their tertiary education or as a down-payment on a house or as a business investment or to travel abroad with, or indeed, just to fritter it away on trivia. What if?

And what if this could be substantially paid for by the savings made from shrinking the size and cost of government? What if?

Wouldn’t that solve the issue of fees must fall and fairness at the same time? It possibly would for this and future generations of beneficiaries, but those of us who have already missed that boat would not think of it as fair and to to pay such a grant to all the rest of the county’s citizens would probably be impossible, but could we compensate them somehow? Perhaps an enhanced BIG granted over time (say over 20 years) to compensate those who didn’t receive the advancement grant might work and be affordable?

So maybe a universal once In a lifetime “Advancement Grant” is not so daft an idea after all, and is worth considering.

The DDF have some pencil sharpening to do to figure out how to pay for it all. But that is part of the process.

Have a look at DDF policy on the Basic Income Grant (BIG) and DDF policy on the Total Economic Activity Levy (TEAL).

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Mental Health Subsidy Crises? Dial BIG for Help!

Remember the Esidimeni crises when a mental health care facility was closed and patients transferred willy-nilly to other ill-equipped facilities. A health ombudsman report suggests that as many as 80 (others say more and still counting) patients may have died as a result of that fiasco and not just 36 as originally reported.

Could things get worse? Apparently they can.

The San Michele Home, a flagship facility for mental health care, faces being closed because the Gauteng Health Department is withdrawing the R3400.00 per patient per month subsidy, because, the department claims, the facility does not comply with the regulations for such an establishment. These regulations were recently changed and, it is claimed, are excessively stringent and, in any event, the home has not been given a reasonable opportunity to comply with the new regulations.

Forget the San Michele Home for a moment. It appears that as many as 160 (one hundred and sixty) mental care facilities face closure for the same reasons. San Michele Home has about 200 patients in its care, so let us assume that each of the 160 homes have on average100 patients in their care. That means that some 16 000 patients (or more) are at risk, something that reduces the Esidimeni crises to a level of insignificance that is truly frightening.

It seems that the Gauteng Health Department are trying to discard their subsidy obligations to the mentally ill community and, quite callously, do not care much about the risk of a few more deaths here and there.

One would have thought that they would have learned from the Esidimeni fiasco, but apparently not.

But the Direct Democracy Forum (DDF) are not here to berate the Gauteng Health Department for whatever their lapses may be, merely to observe that if a Basic Income Grant of R5000 per month for every adult South African were in place, all sixteen thousand or so patients would not be at risk, because they could provide for their own medical subsidy at the facility of their choice, and would not need to be subsidised by a reluctant province or even an unwilling national government.

For those who would ridicule the idea of a Basic Income Grant, see how to pay for a basic income grant and take a look at DDF policy on the Basic Income Grant (BIG) and DDF policy on the Total Economic Activity Levy (TEAL).

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Recession? Dial BIG for help

Recession? Car sales down? No problem. Dial BIG for help:

South Africa slipped into recession with two successive quarters of negative growth in the GDP and car sales shrinking 13% to 34 956 units, year on year to April 2017.

Imagine there is in place a Basic Income Grant (BIG) of R5000 per month given to every adult South Africa citizen (see here) in 2017, and 0.1% of that population, say 34 400 of them, decided that they would like to buy new cars in 2017 because with the R5000 BIG they could afford to buy a car and pay it off over say the next three years. That would almost double new car sales for 2017 and boost new car sales by maybe R6.2 Billion, or more, in 2017.

I wonder what effect that would have on the motor industry and on SA’s latest recession?

I wonder too, if the remaining R1.5 Trillion pa additional spend by BIG recipients in 2017 (see here) would have any effect on the rest of the economy? I would guess that yes, it would have an enormous and positive effect on the economy.

Bye bye recession. Hello prosperity!

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How to pay for a Basic Income Grant

How can one pay for a Basic Income Grant (BIG)?

The short answer is that a TEAL (a Total Economic Activity Levy) would pay for a BIG. Later, the role of TEAL as a source for a BIG may be taken over by a Sovereign Wealth Fund, in part or in full, depending on the success of the SWF project (see SWF)

Let us explain how:

First what should a basic income grant be set at?

In the UK people who typically use food banks earn less than £320.00 (at R17/£ = R5440) per month and in the US they are thinking of $10 000 pa or about $800 BIG per month (at R13:50/$ = R10 800) while Finland are talking about €800 BIG per month (at R15.50 = R12 400), so the Direct Democracy Forum’s (DDF’s) suggestion of R5 000 BIG per month is quite modest when compared to other countries’ needs and suggestions. But let’s stick with R5 000 per month as a starting point.

What would the monthly and annual BIG bill be at R5 000 per month?

Our best guestimate is that the adult South African population is about 34,4m. That would mean a monthly BIG bill of R5 000 X 34.4m equals R172 Billion or an annual BIG of 12 times that amount (no thirteenth cheque) or R2.064 Trillion.

That’s frightening. Where on earth do we get R2.1 Trillion Rand a year, an amount rising along with the population as we go on in time? That is almost the value of the current GDP (our estimate at R2.8T for 2017).

The DDF reasons as follows.

If there is a relationship of 30 times the GDP to the amount of money flowing through the banking system (a relationship we observed in an earlier TEAL exercise in 2011) , a GDP of R2.8T would equate to R84T passing through the banking system, per year, We call that the TEA or Total Economic Activity. But each Rand of TEA represents a deposit into one bank account and a withdrawal from another bank account (we call this the doubling factor). So the TEALable amount is the TEA doubled, or R84T doubled to R168T.

Suddenly, 2.1 Trillion Rand seems quite small. In fact a 1.2% levy on the Tealable amount of R168T would deliver R2.1 Trillion. Not cheap but also not that expensive when you consider that the R2.1 Trillion will go back into the economy and effect the money velocity and the GDP (more about that later) and generally increase the size of the pie that we are all eating from.

Is a BIG just a thinly disguised wealth redistribution?  Does it not steal from the rich to give to the poor?  

This is not the topic of this post but for those who are thinking along those lines and do not at first see beyond the wealth redistribution element (yes, there is such an element) then we suggest you consider the effect on the economy of boosting the potential spend of the population by a net R1.5 T a year (remember the social welfare grant offset).  That has to boost the demand side of the economy enormously and provide the suply side of the economy with numerous wealth making opportunities, not just for the existing industrial and commercial powerhouses but also for the small trader and industrialists (the SMEs that everyone says should be the backbone of our economic revival) and individuals at large. In addition the socio-economic benefits for the population as a whole probably make it worthwhile.  But this is discussed more fully here and elsewhere in DDF’s current affairs posts,

Are there dangers? Yes, there are:

Will a BIG effect inflation?

Yes, it probably will, but that would need to be countered by 1) easing into a R5 000 BIG over time (say over 5 years) to ease the inflationary pressures on the economy, and 2)  dropping existing social welfare benefits (for example old age pensions) as the BIG matches or betters them (you won’t receive both an old age pension and a BIG together) and 3) increasing the GDP, in short increasing the supply of goods and services to match the increased availability of the R2.1T of BIG money.

Will a BIG effect the money supply and won’t that in itself be inflationary?

The answer to that is probably not a simple yes or no. Yes a BIG of R2.1 will effect the availability of money but not to the extent of R2.1 T.  Remember the social welfare offsets and that TEAL does not create money.  The economy may become more liquid.  A BIG will probably make existing money more accessible, particularly for the poor, and make money circulate more quickly and more often and that could be inflationary (see above on counter measures).  The No side to that is that TEAL does not in itself create money, print money or borrow money.  So the money supply per se should not be effected by a TEAL funded BIG, and that in itself should restrain inflationary tendencies.

Will a BIG of R2.1 Trillion lift the GDP to R4.9 Trillion?

No, probably not: 1) the BIG will substitute for existing social welfare grants, so there will be an offset factor, and 2) any increased demand trend will probably be met by a trend to import more, not produce more (remember we are in a post industrial phase in South Africa and are more a nation of consumers than producers, and I squarely blame the ANC for that).

So how do we move the supply trend to produce more and import less?

This will need a concerted and coordinated effort of the private and public sectors to boost production, maybe even engaging in targeted programs of import substitution and production benefaction, particularly by engaging as many of the BIG recipients as possible to invest as much of their BIG in production capacity, either of their own or through the JSE by investing in corporations which can expand their capacity to compete for the expanding markets for their goods and services, and of course, investments by the Sovereign Wealth Fund in South Africa’s production capacity.

Would a DDF administration have an overarching socio-economic-industrial strategy?

Yes, there would have to be such a strategy. In short, all the damage that successive ANC governments have done and in particular the damage the most recent (2014-19) ANC government has done, would have to be reversed. This is a tall order but when South Africans can stop hating one-another and when even the poorest of the poor has a stake in the economy and has some security and hope for the future, we believe that a united and determined South Africa can do just that, and in fact must do it, because the alternative is an ever downward spiral toward abject misery for most of our population.

So that is how a Total Economic Activity Levy will pay for a Basic Income Grant.

Capisce?

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Unpacking State Capture:

The Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) have produced a report which unpacks the Capture of the South African State by Zupta Inc in a very clear and dispassionate manner that makes sense of and expands on, Thuli Madonsela’s (our ex Public Protector) State of Capture report and details very succinctly the manner in which Denel, Eskom, Transnet, Prassa, to name a few SOEs (State Owned Enterprises) and Treasury were taken over by Gupta surrogates and then milked.

Page 42 of the PARI report Betrayal of The Promise details the modus operandi for milking an SOE. We paraphrase:

New minister (say for energy) changes the SOE board composition

SOE embarks on new capital expenditure projects

The new board support radical economic transformation or has close personal links to bidders

Tender is awarded in circumstances of clear conflict of interest.

This is a process that can take years to put in place and clearly is part of a systemic process of looting compliant state coffers and public and private purses (for example, how much do you pay versus how much should you pay, for electricity?).

To add insult to injury, the DA’s Natasha Mazzone suspects that Eskom engineered the rolling blackouts (remember them?) in order to create a panic filled and compliant market place to ensure that the coal deals of Eskom’s choice and terms and conditions were met, as part of the milking process. Well, the Direct Democracy Forum (DDF) pretty much suspected that was behind the rolling blackouts, and it wouldn’t be the first time that Big Power (here and elsewhere) manipulated the market place to their profit. Wherever there is a monopoly these behaviours are pretty much a given.

Then came the email exposé about the extent of the state capture and President Zuma’s planned retirement bolt-hole in Dubai, and further still, the role Bell Pottinger had, (also see here) a UK PR firm contracted by the Gupta’s to run a disinformation campaign aimed at the South African public, duping the nation and creating red herrings to detract from the looting that was happening in front of our very eyes.

It is all pretty sickening, particularly given the state of the economy, wide-spread poverty and the terrible need for social, economic and administrative justice in South Africa.

South Africa is not entirely alone in this sense. If you haven’t heard of Operation Car Wash, a Brazilian equivalent to Zupta-Gate, read all about it, it is very informative. There are lessons to be learned from Brazil’s experience.

There is not much you or I or the DDF can do at the moment but they say that truth is stranger than fiction and there are upcoming elections and, while the DDF having the necessary political clout to do anything substantial about this is unlikely, sometimes the unlikely happens against all odds. We also think that the members of Zupta Inc should contemplate the fact that many in South Africa will be looking forward to seeing justice done when a government of integrity takes power from the ANC.

So, our message to them is, “You can run but you cannot hide”.

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Molefe Eskom-Tegeta Scam

 

An analysis of the State Capture Timeline of the events from 1st November 2011, when Glencore et al purchased Optimum Coal Holdings (OCH) and Optimum Coal Mines (OCM) to 1st January 2017, when Brain Molefe resigned from Eskom in disgrace, shows four clearly distinct sub-sets.

These are the periods 1) 1st November 2011 to 1st March 2015 2) 1st April 2015 to 8th April 2016 3) from 11th April 2016 to 14th April 2016 and finally 4) from 23rd May 2016 to 5th September 2016.

The first period 01/11/2011 to 01/03/2015 is an approximate three year and four month period during which Glencore and partners purchased Optimum Coal Holdings and found that the pre-existing twenty year Coal Supply Agreement (CSA) with Eskom was a loss-making deal to the tune of some R100M per month, which needed to be re-negotiated. Around 1st March 2015, a draft addendum to the CSA agreeing to sell coal to Eskom at cost through to 2018, was said to be approved by the Eskom Tender and Procurement Committees.

The second period runs from 1st April 2015 when Brian Molefe joins Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd, through his stewardship until 11th April 2016, when the Loan Consortium approved the business plan which saw OCH and OCM sold to Tegeta (aka Oakbay/Guptas).

During this period Molefe, (who Eskom assures all of us had no influence over board decisions) appears to have intervened to:

  1. force OCH/OCM into Business Rescue by refusing to approve the addendum to the CSA (see above) needed by OCM who were losing up to R120M per month on the Hendrina CSA, as well as having Eskom impose a R2.1765 Billion penalty on OCM,

  2. quash any hopes of sales to bidders other than Tegeta, and there were a few alternative bidders (any sale required Eskom approval, probably in terms of the extant CSA) as no approval was given except for the Tegeta deal,  and

  3. to force upon the sellers the sale of Optimum Coal Holdings and all subsidiary business assets, including the Koornfontein Mine and the Optimum Coal Terminal Concession (very significantly), as well as Optimum Coal Mines, to Tegeta. (see above – any sale required & etc ….. )

Also during this period,

  1. on 4/03/2016, Tegeta obtained a certainty letter from the Bank of Baroda as cover for the purchase of all shares in OCH, viz the Tegeta share of R2.15B as agreed.

  2. on 30/03/2016, Eskom signed a release on the agreement for OCH and

  3. on 8/04/2016 the Loan Consortium approved the underlying business plan (assuring them they would be repaid the outstandings on the revolving loan granted Glencore et al in January of 2011).

On 11th December 2015 an agreement was struck for the sale of OCH (as above) for R2.55B, payable to the Loan Consortium, R2.15B by Tegeta and R400M by Glencore.

Everything sort of looked ok.

The third period ran from 11th April, 2017 to 14th April 2016:

  1. 11th April 2016 Tegeta defaulted on the sale agreement (they were short R600M) and tried to re-negotiate the deal with the Loan Consortium, which effort the Consortium rejected.

  2. 13th April 2016, Eskom prepays to Tegeta a R659.5M pre-payment on a CSA for Arnot power station, supplied by OCM, but paid to Tegeta at a premium of R1.20 / GJ, being a profit to Tegeta which should have been for account of OCM under management of the BRPs,

    1. At that time OCM was still owned by OCH and managed by the BRPs whose mandate only expired 31st August 2016.

  3. 14th April 2016 Tegeta and Glencore settle their full monetary obligations to the Loan Consortium

The 4th period ran from 23rd May 2016 to 5th September 2016: This period can only be described as raiding the honey pot:

  1. 23rd May 2016 Tegeta transfered R280M from the Koornfontein Rehabilitation Fund to the Bank of Baroda.

  2. 21st June 2016 transfered what is variously reported as R1.4612B or R1.4699B from Optimum Mine Rehabilitation Fund Trust to the Bank of Baroda.

    1. The interest on these funds at 7% pa would amount to R122.5M

  3. 5th September 2016 Oakbay/Tegeta/Guptas sold the Optimum Mines coal export allocation at Richards Bay Coal Terminal to Vitol, an international coal trading firm, for a cool US $250M (R3.68B). The allocation was acquired through the purchase of OCH by Tegeta, paid for on 14th April 2016, a 5 month profit of R1.5B, while still retaining all the remaining assets of OCH.

Then of course, only on 31st August 2016 do the BRP’s relinquish responsibility and obligations for OCM. Until that point the BRP’s were still managing OCM.

The final chapter of this saga was Brian Molefe resigning as CEO of Eskom, in disgrace, having had his fraternisation with the Gupta’s publically exposed.

How to summarise this.

From 1st November 2011 to 1st March 2015 business was amiable between OCM and Eskom with emphasis on securing the coal supply for Eskom to the benefit of both parties.

From 1st April 2015 when Brian Molefe joined Eskom to 8th April 2016, relationships soured and OCM was pushed to the wall by Eskom’s unwillingness to negotiate mutually beneficial business deals with OCM, penalising OCM to the tune of R2.1765 Billion and OCM were forced to sell to the buyers of Eskom’s choice (viz Gupta’s Tegeta) on terms and conditions of Eskom’s choice (the Gupta’s wanted the Coal Concessions at Richards Bay Harbour for a song).

From 11th April 2016 to 14th April 2016 Tegeta tried to re-negotiate the deal as they were short of R600M and having failed to renegotiate, Eskom bailed them out by pre-paying Tegeta R659.5M on a CSA contract that was not even Tegeta’s to have (they had yet to close the OCM/OCH deal).

From 23rd May 2016 to 5th September 2016, even before OCM management had shifted from the Business Rescue Practitioners, the Gupta’s plundered the assets of OCH, including transferring some R1.75 Billion of Rehabilitation Trust Funds into Tegeta business accounts at the Bank of Baroda and selling the Richards Bay Coal Export Concessions at a R1.5 Billion profit.

Was this shrewd business dealings or a monumental multi billion Rand scam involving hundreds of millions of Rands belonging to a state owned public enterprise?

We at the DDF believe Molefe was the Gupta’s inside man at Eskom, and the scam plan from the outset was to defraud Glencore, owners of OCM and OCH, of their assets, in particular the Richards Bay Coal Terminal Concessions, and to profit thereby, because when it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and talks like a duck, that’s what it ducking well is, a duck.  So when a deal looks like a scam, there is no alternative conclusion to arrive at than it’s a scam.

Brian Molefe: This is the same man whom having resigned from Eskom in disgrace for fraternising with the Guptas, was offered an ANC seat in parliament, then offered a R30 Million severance package by the Eskom board after only 18 months of service, and when that last piece of chicanery was overturned, re-established as Eskom’s CEO.

This is the land we live in.

South Africa.

A land of infinite opportunities if you know the right Gupta.

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Fake News

The American presidential election stirred a lot of mud in the USA and internationally. There are theories that Russia interfered in that election by hacking democratic party e-mail accounts and leaking the results through wiki leaks and other compliant avenues in an attempt to discredit the democratic campaign and in order to install a pro-Russia candidate in the White House. Sometimes theories can be concocted to match outcomes but in this case, my guess is that there is some credibility to the theory that Russia did its best to discredit Clinton and the Democrats and install a much more malleable candidate, namely, President Donald Trump of the USA.

Since then, there have been lots of reports of fake news, one for instance dubbed pizzagate, where the Democrats were alleged to be running a paedophile ring out of a Washington DC pizza parlour See here. Crazy? Yup! But apparently some idiot took it very seriously and went in there with a gun to check out the story. See here.

Some fake news is just motivated by greed. The more ludicrous the claims the more they are shared the more advertising revenue they generate for the web site reporting the absurd. To these sites and their owners it is just a money game. Many of the sites reporting fake news are allegedly run by East Europeans. See the transcript of this discussion between Craig Silverman of Buzz Feed and David Davies of NPR (US National Public Radio) Fake News Analysis Transcript. Wherever the site is based, the criteria is how many hits and revenue can a story generate and the truth of the matter is that the truth of the matter is of no concern.

So if a fake news story generates conflict between two nations who live on the brink of mutually assured destruction (only a slight exaggeration) as was reported on here between Pakistan and Israel, so much the better for the story. What is the big deal if some idiot shoots some of the staff at a pizza parlour (it didn’t but could’ve happened) or a nuclear conflict is precipitated (it didn’t but could’ve happened)? So what, they will argue, as the till clangs ‘k-ching’?

And in case you imagine for one moment that we in South Africa are immune to these machinations, may I draw your attention to the likes of Dr Eschel Rhoodie and the Information Scandal of the Apartheid era (he had a real PhD) and the current scandal surrounding Hlaudi Motsoeneng (who has a fake or no Matriculation Certificate at all), who, while in charge of the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation, South Africa’s public broadcaster), decreed that there had to be 70% positive news stories broadcast about South Africa by the SABC, and that there would be no coverage of unrest (of which there is a fair amount), and who decreed that SABC should broadcast 90% local content and who ruled the media department at the SABC in what has been described as a reign of terror, all of which demonstrates the relevance to South Africa of the curse of fake news and manipulation of the news and the media by the powers that be, past, present and future. It gets even more complicated when big business takes over government and the media serves their interests

Take the story of Iqbal Surve. Born in Cape Town in 12th February 1963 in poor circumstances he apparently pulled himself up by his own shoelaces and became a medical doctor (the facts are unclear – Cape Town U, or did someone mention Cambridge U, or does he even have a MBChB degree?) and confidant and medical advisor to Nelson Mandela (apparently while still a junior medical student) and a recipient of multiple awards from organisations who have never heard of him. His life appears to be a fabrication (see much posturing, political favour currying, more incredulity). In fact, he seems a bit of a charlatan who has got into bed with the ANC and who managed to con the Public Investment Corporation (or maybe they were complicit) into parting with R900 000 000 (Nine Hundred Million) of public pension funds apparently to buy the Independent Newspapers, which sum is alleged to be non-repayable, whatever that means. One’s head spins. And this person heads up the not so Independent Newspaper Group. The largest group of English language newspapers in South Africa is headed up by this apology for a media mogul and ANC stooge. And that is the relevance of Iqbal Surve to the topic of fake news.

Surve is not the only worm in the can.  If you only concern is how government departments spend your hard earned money, look no further than the new Nielsen report which highlights the Gupta owned New Age rag (I hesitate to imply it has a better status) having hooks into major government departments and parastatals, sucking them dry of their advertising budgets.  Read all about it here and be as appalled as I am..

As if that were not enough to make the average South African nauseous, the ANC has, apparently for years, run a black ops department, specialising in tailoring news and information for public consumption. One of the Black Ops contractors is now suing the ANC for unpaid fees for fake news activities. The ANC of course are claiming this is fake news, which is sort of the point of this entire blog. Who and what to believe.  See Lies will always out.

So when Putin says with a wink and a nod that no Russian regulars are engaged in military activities in the Ukraine, the media, in an effort to be non biased, print the assertion even though the evidence suggests otherwise.

The point of all this is, who in the world do we trust to keep us informed and not to misinform us. On what do we base our decisions on who to elect as future leaders and what if anything can we do to discredit and maybe punish purveyors of fake news? Is it not, after all, a question of fraud? But if you go after the news fraudsters you are bound to damage genuine media outlets as well, who could in self defence engage in self censorship. Dare we publish this or that story? Kind of self-defeating.

Of course, fake news is nothing new.  Britain used it on China to encourage China to Join against Germany in the first world war, Germany used it  in the second world war against the Jews and other non Aryans and against the Allies, Goering was Nazi Germany’s propaganda wizard. Fake news has always been with us.  What has changed is the method of delivery with media like twitter and Face-book and the news media trying to keep abreast of itself.  Fake news that took months or even years to plan and disseminate before now happens in moments on the Internet and has an avid global audience.

But some of the things we can do to protect against fake news are discussed here, here and here, and a good dose of skepticism will go a long way. You can also read up more here and here.  Sadly this is actually never ending. So let me at least end this now.

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The Capital Punishment Debate

The reality is that there are some crimes that are so heinous and criminals who are so devoid of human conscience, that these criminals are beyond any chance of rehabilitation, redemption or safe detention. Such criminals should be sentenced to the maximum penalty available to the law so society can rid itself of the responsibility of safely imprisoning them for the rest of their lives with the concomitant risk of escape or being inadvertently let loose into society.

In an article “Capital Punishment – …..”, Ruth Hopkins argues in the Daily Maverick, that capital punishment is unacceptable because too many convictions are flawed.

The Direct Democracy Forum (DFF) acknowledge this but, rather than toss out capital punishment as an option for the courts to exercise, would rather introduce meaningful legislation to improve the quality of our judicial system and trial, conviction and penalty processes. This would include the following steps:

1) outlaw admissions of guilt, thus all convictions would need to be evidence based and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

2) eliminate plea bargains or deals between the prosecution and defence admitting guilt to lesser charges in return for lesser sentences, often without a trial

3) all instances of capital punishment would have a statutory three level appeal process, to separately examine a) the trial process for correctness and the evidence for veracity and b) the quality of the defence (was the defence deficient in any way) and c) the appropriateness of the penalty.

These appeals would be heard by higher and separate courts than the trials courts.

4) the state would not defend an accused with public defenders but rather the state would fund the defence by private defence practitioners, selected by the defendant, and deemed competent to mount an adequate and appropriate capital defence. There is in fact an international precedent for this where the defence of Adolf Eichmann was paid for by the state of Israel, to ensure that the defendant was adequately represented, because the defendant could not otherwise afford the counsel of his choice.

5) finally, any verdict involving capital punishment would have to be considered by Parliament, where a statutory bill of clemency would have to be voted on. This would involve all the houses of parliament engaged in the normal legislative process. This would preclude any clemency or concession granted by the State President or any other political figure.

The DDF believe that capital punishment should include sentences exceeding 20 years to life of imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, and of course, the death sentence, but the application of the death sentence would only be administered when the impact of these new prosecutorial limits and the appeal processes were deemed by parliament to have effectively eliminated flawed convictions.

The DDF do not believe that this is all that can be said or should be said about the death penalty and capital crimes and capital punishment, but do however believe, that this is an appropriate position from which to start the debate. The endeavour to ensure that our judicial systems and processes are just and without flaws needs to be an ongoing process of self appraisal and assessment.

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Withdrawal of South Africa from the ICC

South Africa’s and others’ withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) has seriously undermined the ability of the world to bring needed change to the ICC.

In an article “Going Beyond the ICC Hysteria” – SIYABULELA GEBE argues here that while there are legitimate reasons for and against the participation of South Africa in the ICC a compelling argument for involvement is that without the ICC, there is no institution, neither the stillborn African Court of Justice nor the ICC, that can hold African leaders to account for their plundering of Africa’s people and resources.

In another article “Sticking with the ICC is Africa’s best shot at reform” – Allan Ngari for ISS TODAY argues here that while there are imperfections in the ICC’s agenda, based mainly on the ability of the UN Security Council to indicte ICC member states’ heads of government for committing atrocities, an ability seen as unjust because most of the permanent members of the UNSC are not signatories to the Rome convention of the ICC and thence are beyond the reach themselves of the ICC, there are avenues through which the Rome Statute can be amended, and that in fact, the Southern States have sufficient votes to give effect to desired amendments. Given that that is the case, it makes no sense for African states and, in particular, for South Africa, to withdraw from the ICC. Rather they should engage with the ICC and seek a more just means of bringing indictments through arguments for amendments of the Rome Statute.

Yet another article “African states must not waste a golden opportunity” by Solomon Sacco, Senior Legal Adviser and Netsanet Belay, Africa Director of Research and Advocacy at Amnesty International, argue here that the two greatest challenges of the ICC are to also focus its attention on atrocities in other continents than Africa and that the ICC is very much hostage to global politics. Both these failings need to be addressed by an all inclusive ICC and that Amnesty International needs African nations to support their efforts in seeing that these failings are addressed, and that abandoning the ICC in a fit of pique merely weakens the possibilities for meaningful change to the Rome Statute.

The Direct Democracy Forum (DDF) believe that the ANC led government is posturing for the approval of the pan African lobby, saying, “see what great Africans we are”, instead of remaining in the ring and punching above its weight as South Africa has so often done on international stages in the past.

Nothing is gained and everything is lost by this form of grandstanding and is just another example of ANC ineptness.

The DDF are very much in favour of engagement and bringing about change through rational argument amongst equals in the world’s forums.  Abandoning forums like the ICC will never bring about change, instead it will reduce South Africa to the role of an external and helpless observer with no influence on and in world affairs.  The DDF believe that engaging with South Africans and the world at large in a principled manner, will encourage the adoption of principles amongst all in South Africa and in the world, and that conversely, disengaging from the world will encourage the abandonment of principles both nationally and internationally. 

A DDF administration would ensure that South Africa takes its rightful place in international forums and in particular, rejoins the ICC.

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