Government: Don't flash your cash

2014-09-21 15:00

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Don’t flaunt your wealth, says the government.

This directive is contained in its latest five-year development plan and suggests that keeping your fine clothes, fast cars and fancy footwear on the down-low will help “build a socially cohesive society that is balanced”.

In its Medium-Term Strategic Framework 2014-2019 (MTSF), the government has lambasted as “offensive” those who show off their wealth in the face of high levels of inequality and unemployment.

This echoes concerns initially raised in the National Development Plan (NDP).

Josephilda Nhlapo-Hlophe, outcomes facilitator for the presidency’s department of planning, performance monitoring and evaluation, said: “This criticism is meant for everyone. That is why government has led the way with Treasury introducing austerity measures to curb unnecessary spending by the executive and government. That statement is meant to help transform society and build a socially cohesive society that is balanced.”

Nhlapo-Hlophe wrote the social cohesion section of the MTSF document.

But she had especially harsh words for those whose fancy cars, designer clothes, luxury watches and other visible signs of wealth seem to come from nowhere.

“Many times we see people who we know do not work or have any access to income and suddenly, the person is driving a flashy car. The question people will ask is: ‘Where does that person get this money from?’

“This person might not be a good role model for young kids who think getting flashy things is more important than hard work and the contributions they are making to society. We are trying to build a citizen who knows you get rewarded for working hard.

“To do that, you need a society grounded in proper constitutional values, which is conscious and aware of the differences of others.”

Former minister in the presidency Trevor Manuel, who chaired the National Planning Commission that first slated the flaunting of wealth as a “growing scourge in South African society”, said it was important for those who show off their wealth to show how they acquired it.

He said there was huge concern about low-income workers unnecessarily borrowing money to pay for over-the-top funerals and weddings.

“We’ve observed a serious situation?...?where people who have high incomes live with debt. Poor people follow suit and find they borrow at significantly increased rates compared with the rich.

“The poor have been extensively overcharged. There’s very open exploitation of poor people in society and the [inequality] gap grows in leaps and bounds. Even when there are negotiations and settlements on wage increases, a lot of that goes to [servicing] debt.

“I don’t believe government can pass laws on these things, but I think we need to rethink our common purpose as a country,” said Manuel.

Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said trashing displays of wealth and borrowing by the poor was “scandalous” and filled with “contradictions”.

“The objective of any national plan is to get rid of poverty. It’s scandalous that people can blame the poor who are ruthlessly exploited by the capitalist economy because they are borrowing money for essentials, not luxuries.” He said Cosatu was fiercely opposed to large sections of the NDP.

“The fundamental problem is that you can’t have a socially cohesive society when you have a grossly unjust economic system. You have to change the economic policies which are divisive and defend and reinforce the high levels of inequalities that are at the core of the issues. The flaunting of wealth is merely a symptom of the flawed distribution of wealth, which is a problem because workers do not get the share of what the country produces,” said Craven.

Get back to basics

At the presidential local government summit held on Thursday, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Pravin Gordhan again called on all municipalities to return to the basics.

The concept of the campaign aims to establish a minimum level of acceptable performance for all municipalities.

He said municipalities must:

» Put people and their concerns first and ensure constant contact with communities through effective public participation platforms.

» Create conditions for decent living by consistently delivering municipal services to the right quality and standard.

»?Be well governed and demonstrate good governance and administration?–?cut wastage, spend public funds prudently, hire competent staff, ensure transparency and accountability.

»?Ensure sound financial management and accounting and prudently manage resources to sustainably deliver services and bring development to communities.

» Build and maintain sound institutional and administrative capabilities, administered and managed by dedicated and skilled personnel at all levels.

He added that changing strategic orientation requires bold leadership and political will. “We will support and educate those willing to change as we clamp down on illegal and improper behaviour and ultimately name and shame those who are not willing to change.”

He said there had to be a targeted and vigorous response to corruption and fraud and a zero tolerance approach to ensure that these practices are rooted out.

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