Friday, 30 September 2016


It will be strange on Monday watching the JSE open without SA Breweries on the board. This company has enjoyed a long and close relationship with every aspect of life in SA. And to end it all is the impact that this world record-setting deal with AB InBev is having on everything from our currency which is holding firm, to the sponsorships where Castle has become conspicuous by its absence. Shareholders and beer drinkers view the future with trepidation. Naturally government, which is spectacularly bereft of any business acumen and skill, has had its say about the deal with instructions about who should dispose of which divisions and brands “in order to protect the interests of the consumer”.  We consumers would also like to be protected from civil servants taking obscene bonuses and payoffs please.
The Competition Commission have also decided that the shipping industry might be operating a cartel and have raided offices to collect evidence. This is deeply ironic action from a state which, because it has a monopoly, operates among the most expensive ports on the planet. The two dozen or more ships loitering in the roadstead offshore Durban are clear testimony to the fact that no skipper wants to tie up in dock before he has to.
Suddenly the wealth-destroying BEE deals are back in the news with companies publishing fiendishly complicated notices about how their particular one will work. There are many objections to this program of political allocation of resources, the biggest of which is that a quarter of a century after SA scrapped racial classification, the state still uses skin colour as a policy tool. Equally damning is that the BEE program has failed to deliver wealth or the promised jobs except to a small number of the usual suspects. Similar official ignorance about how businesses are formed and make money and opportunities for owners and investors is hinted at in the plan to open a stock exchange devoted to help small-business operators in the townships.
But the finest example of ignoring what a financial report from an organisation should contain can be found the current offering from the SABC. Admittedly it is a strange business with income from licence fees, tax-payers and advertisers and a product that is free. But the presentation of the report with whizz-bang graphics more or less obliterates that it spends way more than it receives and is run by rapacious crazies. First prize for crass foolishness in the full page newspaper spread is shared between the league table of how often the accounts have been qualified and the complete absence of any conventional financial schedules beyond the bald statement that the loss was R411m. Like so many of the state owned enterprises this sad institution needs to be flogged off, and quickly.
Virtually every incident involving an official not doing their job seems to end up in a court of law. Very few, even when caught with their hand in the cookie jar or waving a fraudulent certificate depart swiftly and in disgrace. Instead all parties race off to that most colonial of institutions -  the law.  More often than not, both sides of the dispute are state entities or employees and the taxpayer has to pick up both tabs as the wrangling winds its way up through ever higher courts. Rarely does the learned judge at some level dismiss the whole thing as a vexatious waste of court time and send everyone packing with a sharp slap on the wrist and a bill of costs. The state money spent in this way would undoubtedly fund a great many students – with the proviso of course that they read something useful like science or engineering. No soft liberal arts stuff please, the nation already has enough of those.
The Ryder Cup is being played in the USA this time, so the exciting result-determining rounds will be broadcast only late on Sunday evening.  But by then we will be exhausted with our celebrations of wins by the Proteas, the ‘bokke, Ferrari, and the Lions/Sharks (select as appropriate).
James Greener (the optimist)
Friday 30th September 2016