Sunday, May 11, 2008


At home things are turbulent as well. And in common with many countries around the world, we are suffering under food shortages, or, rather, noticeably rising food prices. You can see it when you go to the grocery store. And in these parts it’s not similar to the US where people complain and pay the higher price whether it’s food or gas or something else that is needed. Many cannot.

In Haiti there have been food riots causing the prime minister to resign. We haven’t had riots thankfully, and that has been a good thing for the world. Actually the Economist says there have been protests in 30 countries around the world but only Haiti saw its leaders resign.

Supposedly this benefits some like peasant farmers in Bangladesh who now receive four times the amount it costs to produce the rice they farm. Everyone is trying to fight the soaring prices with subsidies, social programmes, and trade restrictions (which can push the global price for food up through a short series of chain reactions).

Strangely enough the food crisis highlights a problem we see a lot in the aid, relief, development, non-profit, and NGO community—we have too many organizations doing the same thing. Though jobs would be lost, much would be gained in terms of fiscal management and monetary efficiency by streamlining the organizations. And this was suggested by Senegal’s President Wade about the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) under the UN. It would be better if the FAO was combined with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) also another UN organization.

Here we don’t look at it globally too much, but rather nationally. And South Africans and NGO’s are asking the government what they are doing about it. In fact, they specifically feel that food prices do NOT have to be high, that the government could take measures changing the rising prices, but it has not done so. So we watch and wait and see; some feel it’s inevitable; others want to fight it.

Since there are so many things going on in society now and the letter is getting long, I’ll just mention one more: the Scorpions. Remember that they are (or were) the FBI equivalent over here. They were highly successful at investigating and prosecuting crime, big crime, national crime. They are better than the police, but they targeted political leaders who wanted them shut down.

Officially they fight corruption and organized crime. And corruption runs rampant in party leaders. Jacob Zuma is the president of the ANC (the majority party and the party of the current President Thabo Mbeki). It was at the conference where he was elected that it was decided to work to pass a bill to incorporate the Scorpions into the Police (remember that Zuma is now the biggest target of Scorpion investigation; he will face trial soon and has been indicted on corruption and fraud).

You may ask what are the charges against the Scorpions? Well, they are said to abuse their power: they pursue certain cases. That means they go against certain people exploring a bias, a political one. The other comment is that they are not allowed to gather intelligence (this makes no sense to me and I wrote a little about this a few months ago) though in my mind they are an intelligence agency. But officially they are not. It seems that the gathering of intelligence is crucial to the process of investigation. But they must investigate, indict, and prosecute without intelligence gathering. Anyway, people say cases drag on too long, and that the Scorpions leak info to the public. I think those aren’t strong cases to disband it but strong cases to improve it.

Started in 1999 by Mbeki to fight crime and corruption, they have put high profile people behind bars. They found that Selebi the police commissioner was really good buddies with a criminal being investigated and perhaps there was foul play in the investigation. Suspiciously when Pikoli (head of the National Prosecuting Authority similar to the Attorney General is my guess) was about to arrest Selebi Mbeki suspended him before this happened. The official reason cited by Mbeki after some silence was a breakdown in communication between Pikoli and his boss.

The head of the Scorpions has already accepted a new job at the World Bank. Many of the former Scorpions are excited about joining the police. So we shall see what happens.

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