The two hot issues on the current agenda are the economic woes of Greece and the power failures of Eskom. If you think about it, these situations are strikingly similar.
Let’s begin here…
It is the modern middle-class nightmare: you bust a gut, working overtime so that you can afford to send your child off to the best private school in the area. After matriculating, he (this is usually a boy thing), goes off to university (more money), and after taking two years to fail first-year, he qualifies, cum laude in partying and missing lectures. You put your foot down and insist that he moves back home, where he promises to pull it all together and to get a job, while studying part-time.
Two years and three unsuccessful jobs later; it is always the fault an unreasonable boss or work that was beneath him. He has now become a specialist in Xbox and Pirate Bay. All funded by mom and dad. On top of that he needs to buy smokes and go out once in a while; at your expense of course.
All the while, you cling to the regular promise that the next big job or business opportunity is just around the corner. Mom and dad just keep on paying, and working harder. From time to time, to lose your temper, you shout, you moan but still you buy the new Xbox game, the toiletries or the smokes. He is your child, after all.
At what stage does the “tough love” begin? How many threats can you issue before you act? How much money do you spend before you say enough? At what point are his problems, his problems?
So now back to Eskom and Greece.
In both cases, they have been given every advantage to succeed. The Eskom of the New South Africa, inherited a national grid which was in good shape thanks to over-investment in the Old South Africa. They also had great technical staff, no debt and, most importantly, they were a state sanctioned monopoly. What could possibly go wrong? Greece was included in the greatest economic experiment of all time, the Euro zone. This meant trading in a massive market, using an acceptable hard currency and access to more financing than they had seen in their long history. What could go wrong?
Well in both cases, they blew it.
Eskom replaced the skilled technical staff with inexperienced and under-qualified people. They then chose not to maintain the grid or buy coal from the best providers and then they paid out obscene bonuses to management who were doing a really poor job.
Greece suffered their own special kind of madness when they refused to modernise their industry, increased the remuneration of a non-productive civil service and then crooked the books when they loaned money from big brother. It is only at this stage that they start behaving like the young man from the earlier story. Having ended up in really bad positions entirely of their own making; Eskom and Greece are now telling the very people whose money they misappropriated in their little misadventures, that if they don’t give them more money they will behave even worse.
The cheek of it all! I think that the time has come to practice a little bit of tough love. I hope that the European Central Bank stands firm with Greece. I hope that the ECB tells them to improve their finances, cut government expenditure or hand over the Parthenon. I hope that the South African government tells Eskom to fix up the broken power stations, buy the cheapest available coal and stop running advertisements which tell us to use less of their product.
I fear that neither will occur and we will still be hoping that Eskom and Greece behave properly a decade from now. It’s just not in their DNA.