Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “privatization”

Bathed in the coloured vomit

Last night I travelled along this stretch of road, perhaps for the last time — the N1 highway going north. I’ve travelled along it quite frequently, taking our son Simon home from work, with his bicycle. He cycles to work in the day, but at night we try to fetch him, because it’s harder for motorists to see cyclists in the dark.

N1 highway with e-toll gantry

N1 highway with e-toll gantry

It’s just on at one intersection at Atterbury Road, and off at the next, the N4 interchange, but in between is one of those toll gantries with its ominous blue lights. And today the toll gantries started operating, or so they said, so I probably won’t be going down that stretch of road again in my lifetime.

Toll roads were introduced in South Africa in the 1970s. Up till then roads had been paid for by the roads fund, which was financed by a fuel levy. It was a good system, and worked on the “user pays” principle — the more you used the roads, the more fuel you would use, and the more you would pay. Heavy vehicles, which caused more wear to the roads, also used more fuel, and so paid more.

But the National Party government wanted to finance the invasion of Angola in 1975, and so it diverted money from the Road Fund for that, and introduced toll roads. When the ANC government came in in 1994, we hoped that the privatisation of infrastructure like public roads would stop, and perhaps be reversed, but the ANC government seems even more eager to expand the toll road system.

But the decision to introduce tolls on the busy urban freeway system of Gauteng has sparked unprecedented resistance. Zwelinzima Vavi, the trade union leader, said yesterday on Twitter ‘let’s unite & teach SANRAL & Govt the real meaning of “The People Shall Govern”‘ He was the leader of Cosatu, the biggest trade union federation in South Africa, and was recently suspended, many suspect because of his opposition to toll roads.

Many other influential people have said they will not register or pay etolls, including a number of church leaders:

Church leaders vowed on Monday to refuse to pay to use Gauteng freeways and called on others to do the same.

“We… church leaders, have therefore decided to publicly declare our intention to refuse to buy e-tags and to refuse to pay this unjust e-toll,” they said in a statement.

“… We call on all other church leaders, members of our churches and all South Africans who support democracy to do the same.”

The leaders, including SA Council of Churches president Bishop Jo Seoka, the Central Methodist Mission’s Bishop Paul Verryn, and Methodist Church of Southern Africa presiding Bishop Zipho Siwa, said the decision had not been easy.

However, it had to be made as the government was not listening to the people.

They said they were shocked and disappointed to hear the government ignore the people’s protests and push ahead with e-tolls.

And I don’t think this will be the end of it, it’s only the beginning.

To paraphrase a poem by John Betjeman:

When all our roads are lighted
By glowing monsters sited
Like gallows overhead
Bathed in the coloured vomit
Each monster belches from it
We’ll know that we are dead.

Nationalising mines… and roads

There has been some discussion in Twitter about nationalising mines, and today Olwethu Sipuka (@osipuka) tweeted “In the 1980’s, the Dep of Public Work could build world class roads etc. What stops us from nationalising mines?”

And my immediate thought was, What stops us from nationalising the roads?

It is true that the Department of Public Works built some excellent roads in the 1980s, but many of them were military roads, intended to get troops to “the border” as quickly as possible. They were little used by the public, and some of them are now in poor repair.

Also in the 1980s, many of the roads that were used by the public were privatised, and turned into toll roads. That was because the National Party government robbed the road fund to pay for its military adventures in Angola. Since we no longer see any need to invade Angola and destabilise our neighbours, it’s high time we nationalised the roads that were privatised back then. But instead, the ANC government is continuing the National Party’s policy of privatisation, and is converting more and more roads into toll roads.

I can think of several reasons why nationalising the roads would be a good idea.

But I can also think of several reasons why nationalising mines would be a bad idea, a very bad idea.

Here are some of them:

  • Mines are a wasting asset. Many mines are nearing the end of their useful life. so taking them over would just be an additional burden to taxpayers. Mining companies amortise the profits over the expected life of the mine, but the profits, for the most part, have long since gone.
  • Mines are becoming a liability. Many mines have caused a lot of pollution, which is becoming worse as they are mined out and no longer work. For example there is acid underground water that needs to be treated. It is only fair that the companies that made the profits should pay to clean up the mess. But if the mines are nationalised, it is the taxpayers who become responsible for paying to clean up the mess that others have profited from.
  • Dying mines will need to lay off workers. If dying mines are nationalised, the government will have to reduce the workforce, and lay off workers. This will set workers against the government.

There are other reasons too, but these are the main one that make me think that we should think twice before nationalising the mines, but that the roads should be nationalised without delay.

The marvels of privatisation

The really good thing about privatisation is that it provides more opportunities for income-generation, as this example shows – U.S. judges admit to jailing children for money | Reuters: (Reuters) –

Two judges pleaded guilty on Thursday to accepting more than $2.6 million from a private youth detention center in Pennsylvania in return for giving hundreds of youths and teenagers long sentences.

Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan of the Court of Common Pleas in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, entered plea agreements in federal court in Scranton admitting that they took payoffs from PA Childcare and a sister company, Western PA Childcare, between 2003 and 2006.

The benefits of privatisation

Since the Reagan/Thatcher era of the 1980s many formerly public services have been privatised, and according to the “free enterprise” ideologists such a change must be welcomed as entirely beneficial. They would prefer that one didn’t look at the drawbacks of unregulated free enterprise.

Why does the Mafia get involved in hauling garbage? – Slate Magazine:

Organized crime appears to have a hand in trash collection all over the world, from Naples to Tony Soprano’s northern New Jersey. Why are gangsters always hauling garbage?

It’s Mob Economics 101: Find a business that’s easy to enter and lucrative to control. Criminal organizations make lots of money from drugs, human trafficking, and counterfeit goods, but creating a monopoly on garbage collection is attractive because the business itself is legal, and public contracts return big profits.

Something similar seems to have happened to things like public transport, for example (dare one say it?) the taxi “industry” in South Africa.

EU bans claim that water can prevent dehydration

It has long been known that bureaucratic language is diseased language, and this is just one of the latest instances of it

EU bans claim that water can prevent dehydration – Telegraph

Brussels bureaucrats were ridiculed yesterday after banning drink manufacturers from claiming that water can prevent dehydration.

NHS health guidelines state clearly that drinking water helps avoid dehydration, and that Britons should drink at least 1.2 litres per day

EU officials concluded that, following a three-year investigation, there was no evidence to prove the previously undisputed fact.

Producers of bottled water are now forbidden by law from making the claim and will face a two-year jail sentence if they defy the edict, which comes into force in the UK next month.

Last night, critics claimed the EU was at odds with both science and common sense. Conservative MEP Roger Helmer said: “This is stupidity writ large.”

The actual text, from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which has been discussed in the alt.usage.english newsgroup is a true masterpiece of bureaucratic obfuscation, a classic example of bureaucratese.

For reduction of disease risk claims, the beneficial physiological effect (which the Regulation requires to be shown for the claim to be permitted) is the reduction (or beneficial alteration) of a risk factor for the development of a human disease (not reduction of the risk of disease). However, undersupply with water would not be considered as a risk factor for dehydration (the disease) in this context as the beneficial alteration of the factor (increased consumption of water) is not a beneficial physiological effect as required by the Regulation.

Can you make sense of that?

I can’t.

But the bigger danger, it seems to me, is that while we are straining at the gnat of bureaucratic jargon, we can overlook the camel of the privatisation of water implied in the term “drink manufacturers”.

The claim that I refuse to accept is not the one complained of by the bureaucrats. It is the claim that there are “drink manufacturers” who are in a position to make such claims in the first place.

The only “drinks manufacturer” I recognise in that sense is God, who makes rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.

Atheists who reject that as naive “creationism” are, of course, free to disagree. Perhaps for them “drinks manufacturers” are a product random evolution. Viva Coca Cola! Viva! Viva capitalism! Viva!

Neil Clark: Why we should nationalise our airports

The privatisation mania of the 1980s keeps coming back to bite us, especially in the matter of public transport and communications.

Neil Clark: Why we should nationalise our airports:

“‘The government’s objective with this bill is to liberate airport management from political interference … to enable airport operators to respond to the needs of their customers, rather than to the shifting priorities of politicians and officials,’ declared the Earl of Caithness as he moved the Thatcher government’s 1986 airports bill in the House of Lords, which was soon to become the 1986 Airports Act. The privatisation of the state-owned British Airports Authority (BAA), we were told, would ensure that ‘better services are provided for all airline passengers’.

I wonder if the Earl of Caithness (or even Margaret Thatcher herself), would have the courage to pop down to Hounslow and tell that to the tens of thousands of holidaymakers stranded at the BAA-owned Heathrow airport for the past three days.

I wrote some other stuff here yesterday, which got lost when my internet connection dies, as it has been doing for the last 10 days. Don’t feel like reconstituting it today.

Private prison industry helped draft Arizona immigration law

I’ve been greatly suspicious of the mania for privatisation that began in the Reagan/Thatcher years, and has continued ever since. But this must surely be one of the most egregious examples. Private prison industry helped draft Arizona immigration law – War Room – Salon.com:

When it comes to creating demand for a previously unnecessary service and making a profit by any means necessary, you can’t beat the private sector. So no one should be surprised that the private prison industry is in part responsible for the Arizona immigration law that requires state law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law (read: lock up anyone suspected of being Hispanic until and unless they can prove their citizenship). NPR investigated the prison industry’s role in drafting and passing SB 1070. It’s pretty depressing.

Time to curb the ‘asset strippers and robbers’ who ruin the financial markets, say archbishops -Times Online

For more than thirty years the ideology of neoliberalism has spread throughout the world. It was enthusiastically propagated in the Reagan-Thatcher years and led to the mania for privatisation, which continues in South Africa and has led to the deterioration of our roads, the quality of our water, and many other things.

Church leaders have been slow to speak out about these things. It takes a well-publicised financial crisis to get people like the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury to start using words like “idolatry” when referring to it in public.

Time to curb the ‘asset strippers and robbers’ who ruin the financial markets, say archbishops -Times Online:

Leaders of the Church of England launched fierce attacks on the world’s stock market traders last night, condemning them as bank robbers and asset strippers and calling for a judicial review into Britain’s financial services.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York demanded stronger regulation and an end to speculation and living on debt.

Dr Rowan Williams spoke out in defence of Karl Marx, defending key aspects of his critique of capitalism and gave a warning that society was running the risk of idolatry in its relationship with wealth.

(Hat-tip to Fr David MacGregor)

The hidden and unintended consequences of the privatisation mania are now beginning to appear. Mutual building societies and insurance cooperatives went commercial, bribing thier members with “windfall” shares (actually, it was only part of their investment received in advance — they were mortgaging their future value to external shareholders). Some of them, like the Old Mutual, continue to use the word “mutual” in their names, to deceive the public. The Old Mutual should actually be called the “New Commercial”. One result of this can be seen in the collapse of Northern Rock in Britain.

Another unintended and unforeseen consequence of the privatisation mania can be seen in the deterioration of the quality of South Africa’s water.

News – Environment: SA water quality is fast deteriorating:

South Africa’s water quality is fast deteriorating but the shrinking scientific and engineering capacity to counter this is emerging as the ‘real crisis’ to strike the country.

This is according to Dr Anthony Turton, a senior water researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who maintains that up to 50 percent of municipalities ‘do not even have one qualified engineer’ on their staff…

“The original work for that was done in the 1980s in massive programmes based at the CSIR,” says Turton. “Those programmes generated many PhD graduates, but also did the primary science on which future management will be based.

“Those programmes are no longer in existence and this is a national crisis of note. We need to recover the bits and pieces we can and then develop new national capacity,” says Turton…

“Nowhere else in the world is this happening so we cannot turn to other countries and say: ‘Please help us’. We as a nation will be required to solve this problem as a nation. This is where national science councils come in. They are national assets, but the current funding models are so restrictive that their potential is being reduced and the capacity they have is being privatised.”

The privatisation of national resources like the CSIR was begun under the National Party government in the 1980s, and has continued under the Thatcherist policies of the ANC. One of the reasons that our water supply has deteriorated under privatisation is that nobody stands to make a lot of money out of water research.

And only when it is actually staring them in the face do Christian leaders publicly speak out, and then mostly against the symptoms, not about the causes of the disease, which has been growing unchecked in the Western world since the 1980s, and metastatising throughout the world through globalisation.

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