Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Famous Grouse: March 26

Apologies for late posting, but herewith latest Weekend Argus column, as submitted. -- AD

HERE at the Mahogany Ridge we tend to punch above our weight when it comes to making sense of the world around us. A couple of jars, say, and there we all are, experts on current affairs and well-seasoned, if not entirely credible commentators on matters of state.

Even so, it did take us a while to finally grasp the logic behind the decision by the Treasury to turn down the popular proposal for a zero-rating of valued added tax on books.

This week, the chief director for tax policy, Cecil Morden, stated that a zero-rating would only benefit book suppliers and middle and upper classes -- and not the poor.

As Morden blithely told the standing committee on finance in Parliament: “Many analysts have demonstrated that in absolute monetary terms the middle and higher income earners benefit more from zero-rating than the poor. One would hope most of the benefit will be passed on to the consumer. In reality it won’t happen.”

This is really muddled thinking. One on hand, it will benefit only the middle and upper classes, and on the other, “in reality” it won’t? Come now, which is it? It can’t be both, can it?

Confusing as it may be, this is not a new line from government. When he was finance minister, Trevor Manuel, was forever saying much the same thing, and often with some churlishness. Appeals to do away with duties on books were usually swept aside with snide braying about those who live in “the leafy suburbs” -- this being the Manuel take on the old adage that nothing succeeds like address.

I am not aware if people like Manuel and Morden actually buy books, but I happen to do so, and on a regular basis. In fact, I bought two on Thursday evening. Now, and unless I’m getting this hopelessly wrong, I rather suspect that I would have paid less for these books if they were exempt from VAT.
Perhaps these analysts that Morden spoke of could now explain why being charged less for books would not be of some benefit to me, the consumer.

In the meantime, here at the Ridge, we believe we have worked out why the poor won’t benefit from zero-rated books. It’s because they don’t buy books. They can’t afford them. They have no money. That’s why they’re poor.

Okay, that’s one reason. There are others -- chief among them being that most South Africans are aliterate. We can read, but we see no point in doing so. Who knows why -- maybe it was apartheid, maybe it came afterwards -- but we are not a nation that places great importance on a culture of reading, of books and of intelligence. This, of course, is of enormous advantage to government. A doofus electorate is one that invariably never fails the ruling party. And, call me a conspiracy theorist, but given the woeful condition of our education system, I suspect that the authorities are actively engaged in preserving the status quo.

That said, it should be noted that, thankfully, we are at least not complete morons. We know, for example, that no good can come from plans by petrochemical giants Royal Dutch Shell, Bundu Oil and Falcon Oil to explore the Karoo for shale gas.

And here I think we cannot protest too loudly about the controversial hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technique that will be used in that exploration should Mineral Resources minister Susan Shabangu give these companies the go-ahead.

Simply put, fracking first tears apart the earth -- and then poisons it. Think of it as countrycide. Shell’s application alone covers some 90 000 square kilometres. That’s nearly half the Karoo, Bundu and Falcon’s applications cover another 110 000 square kilometres. That’s about the other half.

That’s a lot of territory to frack up -- and make no mistake, if fracking’s miserable record in the United States is anything to go by, fracked up is putting it mildly.

Given the environmental devastation wrought by the search for fossil fuels, it still astounds me why we don’t just opt for nuclear energy instead. It seems far more safer.

I know that’s not quite fashionable, given the hysteria surrounding the Fukushima nuclear accident, but some common sense is needed here.

What happened in Japan was catastrophic. The country faces an epic struggle as it copes with the aftermath of a record earthquake and a massive tsunami. Whole towns have vanished. More than 13000 people are feared dead.

But, judging by some news reports, the gravest threat the country faced was a reactor meltdown which, in fact, has not yet happened.

And because of this we question the safety of nuclear power everywhere? Silly us. We should read more.

No comments:

Post a Comment