If we have to fiddle with the constitution, how about ...

11 March 2018 - 00:00

President Cyril Ramaphosa keeps to himself. Now and then he does something cute like popping into a bookshop in Cape Town and social media gives a happy, collective sigh. Our new president reads books, it tells itself, before moving on to worry about Julius Malema, land grabs, how much of Jacob Zuma's ghost lingers on in government and where the Guptas and Duduzane are.
In fact, Ramaphosa is frantically trying to figure out what to do. It's one thing to want to fix Eskom and another to actually fix Eskom. And SAA just lost another R5-billion-plus and auditors can't find its assets to help build a vaguely factual balance sheet. SAA Technical has no reliable record of its inventory, the parts it should be fitting to the aircraft we fly in.
And oh, the politics. It's one thing to promise harmless changes to the property clauses in the constitution and another to produce them. It's one thing to wait for the law to deal with the remnants of the Zuma cabinet you inherited (and then retained) and another for the law, or commissions of inquiry, to actually do that.
Everything takes so long and what Ramaphosa needs now is quick wins. Economically, easily the quickest and cheapest would be to scrap all existing visa regulations and replace them with visas on arrival. Doing that helped propel Thailand to be the ninth-largest tourist destination in the world, with some 35 million visitors today.When you arrive at immigration in Bangkok, they stamp your passport, give you a piece of paper that amounts to a 30-day visa, and wave you through. Next, please. It's the fiscal equivalent of clubbing seals. I cannot think of a more brutally easy way for a country to make money than by allowing foreigners to come and give it to you.
The current demonic regulations are an economic crime committed under the guise of preventing human trafficking. But if a large group of children can be kept as chattels by a heavily armed family in a church 3km from a police station in Ngcobo (and widely known in the community), then holding the economy to ransom by assuming child abuse is happening through our airports is just insane. Good policing can deal with traffickers. We want those tourists.
Another easy fiscal win would be to bring the National Assembly to Pretoria/Tshwane from Cape Town. It must add a breathtaking amount of money to have one government spread so far apart. And the time wasted on travel is just sickening.
The government needs to be in one place, for crying out loud. A British prime minister can literally walk from 10 Downing Street to parliament to answer questions. Here, it's a convoy to an airport, a huge staff waiting at Tuynhuys in Cape Town, questions in the House and then a flight back to Tshwane. Part of the reason our government is inefficient is because it's too exhausted to think.That might take a constitutional change, but while we're doing land, perhaps a more efficient and cost-effective government should also be thrown into the pot.
Even the provinces could be done. It's crazy that the Eastern Cape should have the same fiscal powers as, say, Gauteng. Competencies should be granted to provinces once they pass a means test to prove they would be capable of running hospitals and schools or building roads.
There's a road I know, a monument to the ineptitude of the Eastern Cape public works department, being built between Elliotdale and a nearby hospital called Madwaleni. We're talking about 25km max. It has taken more than 10 years and it still isn't even nearly done. That province shouldn't have the power to decide which roads to build, let alone try to do the building itself.
But it would need a constitutional amendment to take its powers away and hand control of what the Eastern Cape cannot do to central government. For me, the more central our government, the more efficient it'll be. Ten smart people in one room in Tshwane could get a lot more done than 100 no-hopers scattered around the country.
I remember that under apartheid, the Transkei was run by a commissioner-general. He was a big fat Nat called Hans Abraham and he lived across the road from us. He reported directly to Pretoria and took his orders from there. I was a kid at the time but I clearly remember that the gravel roads in the Transkei were meticulously maintained.
It can't be difficult, surely, to grade a road and to maintain a grader? Today, rural enterprise is throttled by useless provincial governments. Buy yourself a vehicle and the roads will quickly break it for you. It's not fair and it's the fault of the compromises made when Ramaphosa finally finished negotiating our constitution and signed it. If we're going to start fiddling with it, let's fix the other broken parts too.

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