Regular readers of this column will know that I am strongly opposed to political interference in markets.
It becomes a serious matter when key food distribution facilities are subjected to the machinations of politics.
South Africa’s fresh produce markets play a vital role in ensuring that fresh fruit and vegetables reach the consumers of our country. They handle millions of tons each year, valued currently in excess of R15 billion. They contribute to employment and food security.
Enlightened politicians would grasp the importance of this and say, “Here’s a key asset for the country that needs to be preserved. How best can this be done?”
Sadly, this is all too often not the case. Politicians and their cronies jump at the prospect of controlling the markets through bureaucratic structures. But we know from hard experience and a litany of disasters that this approach does not work for managing a market.
We also know from experience that markets can be successfully managed when the powers-that-be understand a market and how it functions.
They get it right by appointing competent people rather than political cronies and then allowing them to get on with the job.
Yes, there are good senior people on markets, but they usually operate at half-throttle because they are not given the power to use their skills to the full.
I once saw the budget for a small market and was horrified at the salaries being paid to management. No wonder they were not making money! When I suggested they revisit their salaries as a first step towards profitability, my consulting services were suddenly no longer required.
Imagine markets run without political interference. Where competence was rewarded, not undermined by political agendas.
If markets were seen for the national assets they are, they would be given every opportunity to thrive, not be sucked dry.
Michael Cordes is an agricultural journalist, consultant, trainer and former farmer.
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