I Didn't Know and Other Strange Happenings

It really does seem like a 'I didn't know'last week. Take, for instance, the curious business of the plastic bags with a local newspaper reporting that soon first-time users will have the bags confiscated and second time offenders will be fined a maximum of P5,000 or a prison sentence of 30 days.

The Permanent Secretary also pointed out that local plastic manufacturers will still be allowed to produce banned plastic bags provided they do not sell them locally. Read the second time, this does seem to mean that plastic bag producers will be allowed to produce to export and sell but locally will have to find ‘not knowing’ gullible people who will reckon that the Ministry will never be able to prove that they are not first-time offenders. But who will be doing the policing and charging?

Surely not the police, so it must be a new cadre of Ministry plastic bag enforcers, a really disconcerting possibility? And then the local newspaper came up with two other ‘didn’t know’ reports, the first concerning a Speaker who must have known about the Electoral Act requiring candidates to submit a return of their expenses but ‘did not know’ that Parliament is obliged to ensure that this is done. I imagine that independent candidates do comply with the provisions of the Act but that the political parties don’t. The Gazette compared this instance of not knowing with another, the recent fining of pedestrians for walking on the wrong side of the road who also claimed that they ‘did not know’. Or as with the plastic bag users, that they were merely first offenders! My problem with this story is that, I personally would now know which is the right and which the wrong side of the road? Does it have something to do with roads without pavements or roads with pavements on one side only?

Is it an urban/rural thing or perhaps with any road anywhere that is heavily used? But who on earth does the fining, what is the charge and who pockets the cash? Indeed, what is the penalty for those who claim that they are not carrying money? A doubling of the fine, I suppose! All very strange. But then there is another category of people who ‘don’t know’ – by which I mean nearly all of us.

We are the innocents who are still unaware that just about every bureaucratic requirement, both large and small, necessitates the presentation of a certified copy of the O Mang. In anticipation, those of us who have some understanding of the bureaucratic mind will know that it is merely common-sense to travel at all times with at least three copies of this precious document. But do be aware that they are only valid for a three-month period and it is a waste of everyone’s precious time if you claim that you ‘didn’t know’.

That won’t work. Nor will it work if you claim that you ’didn’t know’ that the validly of your passport does not extend to its date of expiry. And once again, it’s no use claiming that you ‘didn’t know’ although I am still trying to find out where it is said that the passport is unacceptable if it is presented within a given period prior to the expiry date.

But I cannot now remember if it is three or six months, probably the former. Also, it might be said that the brave and remarkable Motumise judgement also falls within the ‘didn’t know’ category, and who could be more fitting to make this judgement? He overturned the order of the last President to deport a Nigerian resident, maintaining that this is an outrageously bad law made worse by ring fencing it – making it illegal to question it.

Perhaps the Appeal Court, which has already backed away for this very reason, may do so again, should the government appeal. But this time around, the issue will have changed because all of us who ‘didn’t know’ just awful is this law during the last 50 years and therefore had nothing to say, will hopefully be galvanised to shout our views aloud. Because my friend Philip Matoane was deported in 1968 it would seem that at Independence this was a very nasty leaving present from the British.

But once again the ‘not knowing’ factor relates to the worrying weakness of civil society demonstrated by the failure over the years of any agency, including the churches, to take up the issue. Can they continue to be so quiescent? And lastly, at least for this past week, I must mention my own ‘not knowing’ regarding a local newspaper’s intriguing report that Barclays has closed the accounts of former senior members of the DIS and has returned their balances by means of cheques. It reported that the amount involved is around P30 million and that most of the cheques are worthless as no other bank will accept them. Three questions.

First, how does Barclays know the identities of those agents, which are legally supposed to be a secret even from their wives. It follows that the penalty for knowing, is jail for several hundred years. Second, what now happens to that P30 million? 

And third, P30 million split between say 10 senior figures, represents a nice little saving. So, who doesn’t want to be a spy?

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