Two high profile public acts were staged this week; the budget speech and the opening of the legal year. The budget speech is all about how our national life will be financed in the coming year.
The opening of the legal year is practically about nothing. I have been in this business for 18 years now, and I have attended almost all legal year opening ceremonies. The BDF bring the same feathered helmets, their Lordships and Ladyships wear the same red gowns, unsmiling faces, and horsehair wigs.
The lawyers wear the same gowns, the chief justice brings the same speech with the paragraphs reordered and the lamentations of the Law Society President remain comfortably the same. The only two things that ever significantly changed in the 18 years were the venue and the Law Society presidents.
I take the view that the Chief Justice should be given a slot on national television to address the nation on the challenges their Lordships face in their line of work and to declare the legal year opening. We can then spend the day and the tens or hundreds of thousands that go into putting the ceremony together in a massive annual stakeholder retreat trying to figure out how we can address trial related delays. We don’t really have to go to the High Court for it.
I can’t say the same of the budget speech though. The nation’s life hangs on it. Frankly, I don’t know why people dress so expensively for it, but I am really not bothered. It is about billions after all. This year there was finally something new. We learnt the phrase “air assets”.
That is the new word for Swedish built Grippen fighter aircraft. The jets have become so much a national badge of infamy that it is embarrassing to call them by name. What more? I hear they would be stripped of offensive capabilities, which would make them less useful than sex dolls. I had in fact settled to the idea that we will be purchasing the jets after all but not toy models.
Once government sets its mind upon doing something useless, that is it. North Korean type sanctions can’t make it reconsider. Somehow the stripping down alluded to by the leader of the opposition gives government an opportunity for a dignified exit. I hope we backtrack on them, but I know we will also surely purchase the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). We will vote with tears in our eyes, not knowing whether our votes counted or not.
I had a chat with an esteemed member of the ruling party the other day. We were just musing over what is wrong or right with the country and what can be done to bring the double
We need young blood. Both the ruling and opposition parties have talent. It is the current crop of leaders that wields hardly any transformative potential. Another friend says 70% of them, especially from the ruling party, should not be returning to parliament. They have passed their sell by date.
The challenge we have is not how to allocate the money we have. It is with making new money. It is with achieving economic growth and transformation. It is not with coming up with a new Vision 2036. We were a compassionate and caring people long before we had a Constitution. Our budget needs not only finance the present, but to redeem the future. It must, alongside meeting today’s responsibilities, cater for future generations.
It is all fine to applaud that the education ministry has received the fairer fraction of the pie. But next year, we will all be back to where we began. We can no longer afford to have a subsistence economy. After we have spent the billions decorating our children’s heads with degrees, they will end up just like the de-fanged Grippen jets and we will cough them into the streets.
I am fully mindful that we have a national development plan which is supposedly our short term roadmap and which represents national project priorities. But we must be mindful of the fact that infrastructure development, which is its major preoccupation, is not synonymous with economic development. The people must work and the people must eat. Infrastructure development cannot be an end in in itself.
The leader of the opposition, in his response speech, described himself as a dreamer and told us, Martin Luther King style, of the dream he has had. I agree we need dreamers. But his detractors have a point. He could have done better to present an alternative to the budget as opposed to a dream.
You cannot dream a 100,000 jobs into existence. How will the opposition grow the private sector in 12 months to generate the 100,000 dream-jobs? God forbid that more money should be spent uselessly on ESP style projects under the rationally inexplicable pretext of economic stimulation.
The simple expression of lofty ideals with no ambitious and comprehensive futuristic programme for economic transformation and job creation is exactly what is wrong with present government and opposition thinking. It amounts to no more than cheap politicking and sloganeering. It amounts to a day dream.