Friday, July 24, 2009

Let's play "Spot the Fool"

Looking at the ANC comrades wantonly spending taxpayers money on luxury homes and cars, iAfrica waded into the foray with a debate.

Should politicians be entitled to excessive luxury?

Recent reports on the taxpayer-funded spending habits of various politicians have raised the debate of whether or not politicians should be automatically entitled to excessive luxury. Ebrahim Moolla takes on Rebekah Kendal.

Ebrahim Moolla reckons that as monarchs by mass consent and the frothy cream of society, politicians should be entitled to an ostentatious show of wealth.

"A strife of interests, masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of private affairs for private advantage."

That might be the wrong side of cynical for some. Let's try that again.

"Who gets what, when and how"

I think most people reading this would agree that power is intrinsically linked to politics. And in this capitalist, consumerist society money is power. So it must follow that spending money, more so than a toyi-toyi or necklacing is a political action.

One just has to look to the examples of billionaire Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi, the New York mayoral face-off between super-entrepreneurs, mega-budget election campaigns. In a society where financial success is the success, brimming coffers and Rolexes become much more than props.

It may apply more to the poor than those with internet access, but the 'big man in Africa' is still very much alive and money is still very much a measure of authority, a cousin of the master-slave dynamic. Being a man of the people may win a politician plaudits in the run-up to the elections but it is the player with the luxury marques in his hand who holds all the cards when it comes to staying in the driving seat.

In these times of dark recession, it's a patriotic duty to disregard your private economy to the benefit of the greater good. Who better to bring this home to the public, than the elected role models of government?

Working on the premise that any publicity is good publicity, the politician who is able to play the media like a finely tuned instrument and grab the headlines, whether it's for petty mudslinging, polygamy or a R35k rear seat entertainment system, is a man who understands power. Julius Malema will be president.

While the wealth of other race groups, may be a symptom of privilege, a black man with a loaded wallet in 2009 South Africa, is a sign of progress and how far we have come as a nation. Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment are powerful spurs towards the emancipation of the masses from poverty.

National pride is at stake here. South Africa must spare no expense to present a strong front to the world. As in Jacob Zuma's R75m inauguration, the importance of a global marketing exercise cannot be underestimated. How far have we stooped, when we want our elders, the fathers and mothers of our country to run around using public transport, to begrudge them a good meal and a decent expense account? As monarchs by mass consent and the frothy cream of society they should be entitled to an ostentatious show of wealth.

Whoever said that politics was a game got it wrong. It is a business. But if ever you needed proof that opulence is a prerequisite for power, Helen Zille drives a Prius.

- - -

Rebekah Kendal started laughing when Ebrahim suggested that debate this topic.


This shouldn't really be a debate. Seriously, there can only be three possible categories of people who think that politicians are entitled to absurd luxury purely by dint of the fact that they are in power: politicians; wannabe politicians; and Ebrahim.

Yip, Ebrahim has his own category; it is occasionally inhabited by the devil's advocate.

But (and this is an important but), as tempting as it is to dismiss what Ebrahim has to say as drivel, albeit highly diverting drivel, he happens to be on the winning side. Sure, I may be right, but there is a reason why we are having this debate. Politicians are currently entitled to absurd excess.

They earn more in one year than the majority of South Africans make in twenty. But because as all South Africans know, it is hard to make ends meet, they are also provided with accommodation, luxury vehicles and bodyguards.

For what, exactly?

Snoozing through parliamentary sessions; voting along party lines; causing traffic accidents; and showing up twice a year in truly hideous hats. As an 'employer', the taxpayer is being shafted. Big time.

Here's the problem: because our politicians earn ludicrous sums of money and have more job-related perks than Hugh Hefner, they're not about to change the status quo any time soon. And, sure, in five years time, we could vote this batch out. But do you really think that the next batch would be any better?

The Greek philosopher Plato argued that democracy fails because the leaders elected to lead democracies are, more often than not, not fit for office. He argued that political power (and all the trappings that come with it) attracts individuals who lack the necessary prerequisite qualities for good leadership: intelligence, integrity and selfless concern for the welfare of the governed.

As long as people are attracted to politics and leadership because of the potential for self-enrichment and the prestige of the office, the candidates who scratch and claw their way to the top of the political cesspit will always be more concerned about themselves than the people.

This is how it should work: politicians should earn no more than the country's doctors, teachers and police officers. Like these noble civil servants, they should have to pay off their own house and their own car. Perks should not extend beyond office coffee. And if they simply can't get by without that R23 000 rear-seat entertainment system, well, whose children really need a tertiary education anyway?

I can almost guarantee that this would all but clear the benches of Parliament. And the few individuals left behind may very well be fast asleep...

5 Opinion(s):

FishEagle said...

Plato's version of the meritocratic government required that politicians sacrifice all their personal assets for the greater good of society. Politics should be a calling like a religion (but do not mix the two!). I am such an idealist. Hehe.

Viking said...

I think I've spotted the fool!
Ebrahim's argument is ridiculous, which should be evident to anyone. The idea that the excess of politicians are some kind of marketing exercise for the country is insane - it makes the country look bad when these people drive around in luxury cars. In fact, why should any kids in this country even bother to get an education? It's worth nothing when JZ gets to the top of the pile without one, and idiots like Julius consume conspicuously without ever having had a proper career.
Way to cite Plato though!
Could've also mentioned Thomas More's suggestion that those who seek public office should be disqualified from ever holding it..

FishEagle said...

@ Viking, I'm not as well read as you (awsome!) but I can see a good concept when presented with one. I'm going to milk Plato's meritocratic concept for all its worth so brace yourself. I've been hammering on about it for months now. We need stronger leadership and that's how it will be achieved.

Anonymous said...

I think it would be more pertinent to play "spot the wise man" with our current crop of merry brigands posing as MUNISTAHS. "Spot the fool" is WAY to easy.

Simply pick a name...

FishEagle said...

@Anon, lol. Very good!