It’s time politicians faced real job interviews like the rest of us — and we are their bosses
It’s become something of a daily lament by the public that our politicians are hopeless and that parliament itself has become a disgrace, a circus that’s not even funny or entertaining to watch. We bewail the fact without coming up with a solution. We don’t know where to start. What exactly is the cause of this malaise? Is this what democracy is about, people incoherently shouting at one another? Or do we have unreasonable expectations about or understanding of democracy, which after all is new to us? We may have seen how democracy works in other parts of the world, but every country is unique, with its own foibles and idiosyncrasies. One often hears people say: “Look at Australia. Look at New Zealand. Or Singapore.” The fact is we’re not any of those countries.
Some of our people have left, and are still leaving, and they may find that things aren’t that rosier on the other side. There’s no crime, but then boredom gets the better of you with time. It may be the weather, the scenery or even the sound of the waves that makes you miss home.
But how do we make SA work better for everybody? Maybe to say “better” is a bit off the mark, because right now the country doesn’t seem to be working for anybody. Hopes were raised when Zuma’s lot bit the dust at Nasrec in December. This week petrol hit R17/l, a record high. Thuma Mina is clearly not working. In fact it feels as though since taking over, Cyril Ramaphosa has been hellbent on driving us full steam towards a cliff. His handling of the land issue has certainly left one questioning his acumen. Things have got worse. We’re on the edge of the precipice. Just about hanging on by our fingernails. A little nudge and it’s curtains.
I can hear some say: “Don’t blame everything on the politicians.” Don’t believe the spin or the apologia. Politics is everything. If you dispute that, here’s a few statistics: on May 9 2009 when Jacob Zuma, an illiterate comrade, became president, the currency was trading at R8.40/$. It’s now just about hugging R15. The price of petrol on the Reef was R7.52 (it was R4/l in 2004!). Eskom, Sars and even Transnet were world-class organisations. Today they’re gasping for breath. Just about anywhere you look, things have deteriorated, more jobs have been lost, standards of living have plummeted, our schools merrily continue to produce more young people unprepared for the workplace; more people have fallen into poverty and crime has claimed even more victims.
This week the people who caused all these problems convened another talk shop, the Jobs Summit, to solve the problems they have caused. Albert Einstein, the philosopher, described insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We’ve become expert at that.
We are new in this democracy thing and we don’t have much from our past to go by or to compare. The Nats weren’t exactly a model example. But we’ve been at it for 25 years now, and we need to look back at what worked and didn’t. One of the critical things is the quality of the people we sent to parliament and into government. Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message”. We cannot send second-rate people to parliament hoping for first-rate outcomes.
Our politicians are living large. They don’t have to work for anything. Their seats get given to them. They don’t have to campaign or face the wrath or gratitude of the voter. But there they are, sitting in parliament, well paid and having a good time. Which is why we watch parliament when we’re bored. It’s a laughing stock. A circus.
If anybody wants to be a teacher, a doctor, an engineer or beekeeper, first one qualifies and then goes for a job interview before one can be hired. Nothing of the sort happens with our politicians. Everything is decided behind closed doors, away from public scrutiny.
Right now we have state capture coming through our pores. And we’re shocked at what’s been done to us on our behalf. But state capture didn’t happen in Saxonwold. It took place in Polokwane. The moment Zuma, a crime suspect, became leader of the ANC, he started dictating national policy. He took charge of the NPA and killed the Scorpions, the two agencies which were bent on nailing him. The hunted became the hunter. The result, of course, is that he didn’t go to prison, but landed the top job in the land and the damage was done.
The president wields excessive power and that obviously needs to change. But shouldn’t such a powerful person face some sort of job interview? Shouldn’t the mayors, the councillors, the MPs face us, the voters — their employers — so that we can decide whether they are up to the job?
These people literally hold the fate of this country in their clumsy hands and yet there’s no mechanism for voters to hold them to account. The current electoral system doesn’t provide for it. They are selected by their party bosses, which is why, except for a few exceptional cases, MPs especially are overpaid lapdogs.
We need an electoral system in which anybody who holds official office — from the lowliest village councillor to the president — does so by virtue of a direct election by voters. Such a system would also encourage political parties to field their best people, not their laggards, as is often the case now. Those elected would speak with authority for their constituents and become public representatives in the true sense of the word.
There’s no way that the ANC would, for instance, have even dared to put forward a flawed candidate like Zuma if such a system was in place.