Dotty Davies gets ready to close up shop

Weekend Witness - - Opinion - With WIL­LIAM SAUN­DER­SON-MEYER

POLITI­CIANS and of­fi­cial­dom are not known for their grasp of nu­ance. This makes for in­ad­ver­tently amus­ing acronyms to give us the oc­ca­sional giggle.

We have had such gems as Boss — the apartheid era’s Bureau of State Se­cu­rity, Saps — the hap­less po­lice force that shot 34 peo­ple at Marikana, and Wasps — the Worker and So­cial­ist Party, would-be revo­lu­tion­ar­ies clearly un­aware of the in­sid­i­ous na­ture of God­fear­ing white An­glo­phone cap­i­tal. There is also a dotty cab­i­net min­is­ter, whose law mak­ing makes one won­der whether he has lost his mar­bles.

De­part­ment of Trade and In­dus­try (Doti) Min­is­ter Rob Davies has drafted a Li­cens­ing of Busi­ness Bill. Con­trary to the stated in­ten­tion of “build­ing a sim­ple and en­abling frame­work” for small busi­ness, this bill is go­ing to give en­trepreneurs, SMMEs, and those who are pre­car­i­ously eco­nom­i­cally ac­tive, a hefty kick in the scro­tum. Since the government’s Na­tional Devel­op­ment Plan re­lies on th­ese very groups for eco­nomic growth and em­ploy­ment, it is dotty in­deed.

As busi­nessper­son Rob Wood­ing puts it: “The bill is poorly con­ceived, vague, dra­co­nian, im­prac­ti­cal and fails at a fun­da­men­tal level to meet the motivations listed for it. By ad­versely im­pact­ing on en­tre­pre­neur­ial ac­tiv­ity it will work di­rectly against the cre­ation of new busi­nesses and jobs, and will in­evitably re­sult in wide­spread cor­rup­tion. The draft it­self is rid­dled with con­tra­dic­tions, gram­mat­i­cal er­rors and miss­ing words.”

Firstly, the bill will mean that ev­ery con­ceiv­able ac­tiv­ity, from sell­ing smi­leys at the side of the road to koeksisters at the back door, will re­quire a li­cence from the lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­ity. So, too, will any­one work­ing from home, be it a doc­tor, ar­chi­tect or farmer.

The pre­vi­ous act nar­rowly con­fined li­cens­ing to the sale of per­ish­able food­stuffs, health fa­cil­i­ties and pub­lic en­ter­tain­ment. “A valid case can be made for th­ese and sim­i­lar in­dus­tries as be­ing in the in­ter­ests of the pub­lic,” com­ments Wood­ing. “But by plac­ing the con­duct of ev­ery form of busi­ness es­sen­tially at the whim of a lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­ity, the right to free­dom of trade, oc­cu­pa­tion and pro­fes­sion is sub­stan­tially cur­tailed.”

Se­condly, although the mu­nic­i­pal­ity will be ob­li­gated to rule on a li­cence within 30 days, it is left to the lo­cal author­ity to de­cide the cri­te­ria for is­sue and how any ap­peal process will be con­sti­tuted. Es­sen­tially, the rule maker will also be the ar­bi­tra­tor of any dis­pute, which is patently un­fair.

Given that the penalty for be­ing un­li­censed is an un­spec­i­fied fine and ad­min­is­tra­tive penal­ties, as well as up to 10 years’ im­pris­on­ment, as Wood­ing notes, “it is en­tirely con­ceiv­able that lo­cal per­sonal in­ter­ests will, as they do at present, have a bear­ing on the is­su­ing of li­cences, while party-po­lit­i­cal sup­port and black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment will be­come overt or covert [fac­tors in] the grant­ing of a li­cence.”

Thirdly, un­der the pre­vi­ous act, a li­cens­ing in­spec­tor’s pow­ers were lim­ited to is­su­ing a com­pli­ance or­der. In terms of the bill, an in­spec­tor — any mu­nic­i­pal em­ployee, Cus­toms and Ex­cise of­fi­cial or law of­fi­cer — can de­mand en­try to any­where busi­ness is sus­pected of oc­cur­ring.

He or she can im­pound with­out war­rant any goods (for which the in­spec­tor might or might not choose to give you a re­ceipt), can is­sue spot fines and can ar­bi­trar­ily close your busi­ness with im­me­di­ate ef­fect.

This is out­ra­geous, un­work­able and prob­a­bly un­con­sti­tu­tional. In other words, par for the course. Af­ter all, not only has much of the post-1994 leg­is­la­tion cre­ated per­verse in­cen­tives that neu­tralise the so­cial-en­gi­neer­ing goals that the ANC seeks to achieve, but laws are so poorly drafted that when chal­lenged in the higher courts, vir­tu­ally ev­ery one has been shown to be flawed in con­cept and ex­e­cu­tion.

The gut­tural leit­mo­tif of the Na­tional Party era: “But havya gotta a li­cence, meneer?” is back in play, courtesy of Dotty Davies.

PHOTO: AP

A Filipino pen­i­tent is nailed to a cross dur­ing Good Fri­day rit­u­als held at Cu­tud in Pam­panga province, north­ern Philip­pines, yes­ter­day. Sev­eral Filipino devo­tees had them­selves nailed to crosses to re­mem­ber Je­sus Christ’s suf­fer­ing and death, an an­nual rite re­jected by church lead­ers in this pre­dom­i­nantly Ro­man Catholic coun­try.

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