Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s “Dick Turpin” Minister of Finance

According to English legend Dick Turpin was a daring, dashing highway robber in the 18th century.

He carved out a successful career in politely lifting jewellery and things.

Last week’s budget reminds us that our avuncular Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan has a very similar profession, reputation and weapon. For what is the difference, if one has a pistol, in quietly robbing passengers on an English country road and politely embezzling four out of every ten things which South African’s make?

Well, the Minister is empowered to confiscate things by an Act of Parliament. But he must do good things with the loot, more like a Robin Hood. As for the first we are so used to the taxman helping himself that we don’t question his morbid attentions. Anyway, how else can he provide for the country’s needs?

As for the Minister’s good works, the jury has vanished. Anyone who has viewed the SARS video Walking High (Your tax touches lives) will recall how budding entrepreneur Junior Mohlabi received a government grant to buy a mothballed shoe factory and the Minister then gave him an annual contract to make 10 000 school shoes for orphans.

Three questions arise: if the State stopped punishing people who work, make profits and buy things would the factory have closed at all? Why did the State not give the shoe contract to the distressed owner? And how was it that Junior Malaba took over and not, say, Senior Mabala or even this author?

SARS goes on to boast that “For every R10 in tax contributions, more than R1 goes to… alleviating poverty, creating jobs and bringing hope.”

What SARS will vehemently deny is that if they just taxed land rents like the Hong Kong and Singapore Asian tigers then the Minister would have the same cash to run South Africa but South Africans would be better at running themselves. Then, the poor particularly, would be able to afford one of the 27million unused arable hectares, becoming rich there through their own efforts not someone else’s. For, in nature, the source of all wealth, there is no room for poverty.

09 March 2014 by Peter Meakin

photo credit: Budget speech media briefing, 22 Feb 2012 via photopin (license)

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