Thursday, 3 June 2010

Action This Day!

Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, was famous for a number of things. He was, for instance, well known as a consumer of staggering quantities of alcohol. One of the most famous quotes from Churchill comes from a conversation he supposedly had with an opposing politician, Bessie Braddock. Outraged at the amount of the hard stuff he had consumed at a dinner table she told him, “Sir, you are drunk!” Churchill, who even when sozzled had great control, retorted with “Madam, you are ugly, but in the morning I shall be sober.”

While on the subject of Churchill and his way with the ladies, another opposing female politician, Nancy Astor once told him “Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison.” Again Churchill was quick on his feet, no doubt lubricated by the booze yet again, and said, “If I were your husband I would take it!”

Despite the fact that there is a very long list of fantastically rude Churchill quotes it’s not my plan to fill an entire column with them. Instead I was reminded of Churchill’s habit of placing little stickers on certain key papers and memos that demanded “Action This Day!” If you worked for Churchill you didn’t want to be the person who failed to take immediate action when you saw one of these stickers. Churchill had many, many flaws but was hugely impressive as a commander and a leader when his nation was in peril.

Last week our President went on one of his walkabouts in Old Naledi again. I’m not interested in the politics behind this, what caught my eye was a sentence in Mmegi which described the President on his tour as “a military man who believes in action, precision and loyalty and seems to pay scant attention to oratory.”

Roughly translated I think that means, “he does stuff instead of just talking about doing stuff.” I can’t see that as a criticism. In fact, without wishing to sound too ingratiating, and certainly without wishing to issue a political comment, I like that a lot. One of our failings as a nation is that we talk too much. We are a nation of chatterboxes who love gossiping, talking about the news and bitching about government and the public service. Of course that’s part of democracy, the freedom to debate, discuss and generally talk a lot but it can go too far.

Sorry, while on democracy, I can’t resist another Churchill quote. In the British Parliament he once said:
“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” 
Back to Botswana. I think we talk about things too much instead of doing them. I’m not just talking about politics, I mean consumer protection as well. Instead of actually doing things to improve the service we consumers get, most organisations, and in particular those charged with protecting us, seem to do little more than talk about improving things. We deserve more. We deserve people in authority, in customer service and in the enforcement agencies who occasionally get up off their backsides and show more of action and a whole lot less oratory.

However, it’s not just action that I think we need. That other allegation made about the president is also critical: precision. It’s no good taking action blindly. It’s no good just firing a gun unless you aim it first. The problem we sometimes see is that the enforcement agencies often target their attention at anybody, not the targets that most deserve the bullet. Why, for instance, does the Health Professionals Council not regulate the real charlatans we have amongst us in Botswana? Why aren’t they investigating, for instance, the nonsensical claims of the various homeopaths and acupuncturists that they require to register with them but who are just taking our money and offering us so-called treatments that simply don’t work? Let me make it clear. There is not a single piece of reliable evidence that shows that homeopathy and acupuncture achieve anything more than a placebo effect. So why aren’t the Council showing action and precision in putting them out of business? Isn’t that what they exist to do?

Yes, it is. The Act that set up the Council stated they exist “(a) to promote the highest standards in the practice of health care in Botswana; and (b) to serve as a safeguard in protecting the welfare and interests of the public of Botswana in the practice and delivery of health care.”

I think closing down charlatans should be top of their list, don’t you? It’s such a shame that instead of doing this noble work that they’ve been distracted recently, bothering a real doctor instead of taking some precise action.

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