GRAVY: Editorials: Edition: March / May 2020

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The way the Zondo commission is going, testimony from the accountants is making even the lawyers look good.

It was back in 1920 that US columnist H L Mencken famously observed: As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron. A century later, it’s proven.

Like a comment attributed to Winston Churchill that democracy is a wonderful system of government until one speaks with the average voter. That’s proven too, perhaps rather close to home.

There are occasions that loadshedding would be really welcome, as during the fracas which preceded the Sona of President Cyril Ramaphosa. When we need load-shedding, we don’t get it. Yet another Eskom failure.

There’re few things more feel-good than making money from promoting social responsibility. Check the Principles for Responsible Investment, the non-non profit organisation backed by the United Nations. In its most recent financial year, fees from some 2 400 signatories (of whom fewer than 500 are asset owners) amounted to £11,4m (an average of £4 750 per signatory). Total income, inclusive of grants, was £13,2m against costs of £12,5m. The hardship for SA signatories, notwithstanding emergingmarket discounts, is to pay in hard currency. As the rand goes down, their fees go up. At least they get a logo for their letterheads to show they’re committed, as the UN PRI says, to “drive real change” for the world to become a “better place for all”. The test isn’t in the logo.

At the Mpati inquiry into the Public Investment Corporation, commissioner Gill Marcus asked about possible conflicts of interest on the part of Abel Sithole (TT July-Sept’19). He’s chief executive of the Government Employees Pension Fund (the PIC’s largest client) and commissioner (or still the acting commissioner) of the Financial Sector Conduct Authority which regulates the PIC. Let’s wait to see what the report of the Mpathi inquiry, completed but yet to be released, has to say about it. Unsaid, except in whispers after the inquiry, is Sithole’s employment in a previous life. It was at Metropolitan, now part of Momentum Metropolitan. The FSCA has effectively fined it a severe R100m for contravention of laws by a Metropolitan Collective Investments unit trust. To be sure, such are the checks and balances at the FSCA, that the one cannot have anything to do with the other. Sithole is now remote from his former employer, and perceptions of interest conflicts can be taken too far.

Not much happiness in the retail trade these days. Asked how he was finding business activity, a Sandton storekeeper replied: “In the morning it’s dead and in the afternoon it quietens down.”

The meaning of ‘opaque’ is obscure.