Thursday, 29 April 2010

Why regulate?

Here’s a simple question for you. Why do we have regulation?

Obvious answer. To employ people and keep them out of trouble. Sometimes I think it’s like certain parts of the Public Service. I don’t mean here in Botswana of course, Oh No. I’m talking about other countries that think that the solution to economic woes is to employ thousands, if not tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of people in made-up Government jobs.

Apparently some European governments are seriously considering spending what little money they have left inventing public service jobs to employ the unemployed. Instead of paying them a small amount of unemployment benefit to do nothing they plan to spend much more on each one doing nothing for a living. I really don’t understand the benefit. Every country in the world either knows already, or has learned the hard way, or is perhaps finally learning that the ONLY way to create a country populated by people with enough money to consume things is to keep out of their way as much as possible. Educate their kids, offer clean water, provide free basic health care, give them roads, police and military protection and then leave them alone.

You may now think that I’m going to say that we don’t need regulators, the law of the jungle should prevail, we should let nature take it’s course and that life would be wonderful. Clearly not. What I want is regulators that do something for their living, not just ones who sit there and play with their computers and themselves.

I’m a big fan of NBFIRA, the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority. Almost since they started we’ve seen notices from NBFIRA in the papers warning consumers that they shouldn’t deal with a variety of companies. For instance late last year, after a lengthy legal battle, they suspended Omega Insurance Brokers for who knows what offences. However at least they got off their backsides and did what we taxpayers were paying them to do.

More recently the Botswana Training Authority, BOTA, withdrew it’s accreditation of the stupidly named “Botswana University College of Law School”. It wasn’t a University, a College or a Law School after all. This distinctly dubious organisation makes a series of unsupportable claims about the training they offer in law, appear to employ nobody with any credibility and have one rather suspicious Director. Even their online application form is stolen from the unbelievably-named “International Virtual University”, a diploma mill who claim to be in the UK but in fact are based in the British Virgin Islands, a renowned refuge for crooked companies.

Clearly this dodgy establishment have seen the writing on the wall because if you visit their web site they have recently posted a notice that says:
“We have suspended all our BOTA training programmes. We now render online library services for all members of the public.”
Roughly translated I think that should read: “Damn! We got caught.”

Amusingly they also say:
“Students owe us up to P70,000 in fees arrears. Please pay up arrears to our bank account avoid court action.”
Shame. Are you weeping in sympathy yet? Neither am I. If by any chance you were one of their victims, don’t pay them a thebe.

However, the bad news is that I can’t think of any other regulator that is actually doing anything really useful for you and me at the moment. That’s not good, is it?

Here’s a little bit of information about regulators. Some years ago the New Zealand Government took the radical decision to deregulate pretty much everything. One key thing they did was to abolish their Telecoms regulator. The effect? Nothing. Nobody noticed. New Zealanders could still watch TV, make phone calls and surf the web. Prices didn’t seem to go up or down noticeably and the quality of service actually seemed to improve slightly. Regulation wasn’t actually doing anything for New Zealanders so they did away with it. Why can’t we?

But here’s a nightmare situation. What would we feel if it turned out that a regulator got something badly wrong? Purely hypothetically, what would we think if BOTA withdrew registration from a legitimate training establishment run by decent, honourable trainers? How would we react if NBFIRA decided to mercilessly hound a broker who had done everything correctly and was perfectly financed and obeyed all the rules?

Heaven forbid that this would ever happen to, say, an organisation established to register and regulate the medical profession. How would we, the increasingly health-conscious public, react if they decided to pursue a vendetta against a hugely respected doctor who had brought skills, expertise and enormous experience to us in Botswana. What would we think of this regulator if they decided to ignore their previous findings about his (or indeed her) qualifications and then insulted him in public?

I think that in that, I stress again purely hypothetical situation, we would all be entitled to feel mightily pissed off. I think we would be within our rights to wonder what problem they had with him to justify a vendetta. Would we wonder if he had become too good at his job? Would we wonder if he had committed the dreadful crime of genuinely educating the public about health? Would we wonder if his crime was actually to save a few too many lives?

But that’s all hypothetical of course. That would never happen. Would it?

This week’s stars
  • Polelo from Barclays for handing in lost envelopes of money totalling thousands of Pula which had been set aside to be given to charities. Apparently “your honesty should be acknowledged from the rooftops”. Will this do?
  • Maria a trainee at KFC Game City Branch, Friday for being very friendly, was all smiles and thanked me for coming to buy at KFC and thanked me for the money I was spending!
  • Inspector Boiki Mojalemotho from Central Police Station but working at the Falcon Crest junction in the mornings for being the best traffic officer in Gaborone!
All of these celebrations were taken from the “Kudos in Gabz!” group on Facebook. Go there and register your celebrations!

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