Fri | Jun 22, 2018

Maybe we just can't manage

Published:Friday | January 11, 2013 | 12:00 AM

By Peter Espeut

A woman who can't support herself and earn her own way - who every week has to borrow money to go to the supermarket, to pay the electricity and water bills, and to buy petrol for her car - is not an independent woman. Her lifestyle is unsustainable.

She may decide to find a man to keep her, to give her money in exchange for favours. She will have to invite him into her bedroom, and give him her prized possessions: her jewels, her family heirlooms. He will be able to take anything he wants, and then one day when he has no more use for her, he will leave her, despoiled.

A man who finds that his income cannot cover his expenses, and that every month he has to borrow to make up the shortfall, is living beyond his means. Soon he may decide to get a loan to repay his creditors, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Soon no one will lend him any more money.

But he buys himself a new car, and he throws himself an expensive birthday bash.And he takes regular trips overseas, travelling first class and staying in the best hotels. Unless he is mentally challenged, he must know that one day it will all come to a crashing end!

His parents, who keep in touch with their spendthrift son, are on the sidelines watching. "I wonder if we allowed him to go out on his own too early?" they might ask. "But we sent him to university, and made sure he knew how to look after himself. And when he came to us for pocket money, we reminded him that one day we wouldn't be there.

"But then he said he wanted his independence, to be on his own, to be free to pursue his own path. And we let him go.

"But things have got too bad now. Maybe we have to step in and save him from himself. We don't want to do it; it will be painful for him; it will hurt his pride; he is going to have to make big changes in how he lives his life; but he will be better for it in the long run."

Borrowing - but to what end

Maybe you won't like the above attempt at allegory, but I have been around these last 50 years as successive governments have borrowed us into penury. Borrowing is not a bad thing in itself: you want to produce something, so you work out your cash flow, and decide that if you borrow, it will increase your productivity enough for you to sell more goods, pay off the loan, and still make a profit. Borrowing can be your route to prosperity.

But put the power to borrow into the hands of self-interested, short-sighted and corrupt people, and 50 years later you will ask: Where did it all go? Years into schools (that produce illiterates) and (potholey) roads, into a despoiled natural environment and an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor?

We have to be honest and admit that we have not done well with our political independence. The self-serving partisans sing in chorus that they have done rather well; but the facts speak for themselves.

We should not need the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to tell us that our approach to governance is financially unsustainable; we can figure it out for ourselves. And we should not need the IMF to force our politicians to be fiscally prudent and responsible; we should see for ourselves that we have to cut our suit to fit our cloth.

I can't believe that one of the sticking points preventing the signing of an IMF agreement is that the Government wants to continue to grant tax waivers to its political friends. Our predicament is due not only to fiscal irresponsibility, but also to corruption: a partnership between the private sector and the political parties to milk the cow dry. Does the private sector want the Government to be really fiscally responsible? Or does it want to continue to enjoy the waivers and concessions and big contracts and loose enforcement of environmental permits?

I understand the reluctance of many to do away with the English Queen as our head of state, and the Privy Council as our final court of appeal. It would put more power into the hands of people who have misused the power they already have.

We must be very careful about what we allow people with proven poor track records to do.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and sustainable rural development scientist. Email feedback to