Thursday, 29 May 2008

The effect of privatisation

When I did my MBA at Cranfield University (then called Cranfield Institute of Technology) in the UK in 1991/1992 I said that electricity and other infrastructure like railways should NEVER be privatised. And that competition should be allowed. No one listened to me. I was only 28 years old and privatisation was in fashion!

The reason that they should not be privatised is because private enterprise seeks to make a quick return and "knows" that if it leaves infrastructure alone, eventually the government will have no option but to renationalise those assets to pump in the required investment. Another reason is because of something called "externalities." This is where one person pays for someone else's travel. eg I go from London to Birmingham on the express. A small part of my ticket pays for a train to run on a line in the North West of England. I'm happy to pay that because one day I might need to use that line. This happened to me twice a year when I lived in England.

On the other hand, a privatised railway cuts the "inefficient line" and the losers are the commuters.

Another reason I don't like privatisation is because the public pay for the company in the first place, so the public own the industry/company. Then the industry/company gets sold to private investors who pay for it again, but often at a substantial discount to its real value because government tends to pay less than private enterprise (although this is changing) and because government "companies" tend not to make a profit - and those selling companies will tell you that profit is (usually) very important when you want to sell a company. Also when a company is renationalised, the public end up paying for it again. And sometimes costs are pushed up by 60%! Sound familiar. Even in South Africa, where the government owns 100% of Eskom, for the past decade, profits have been key to management thinking, so directors and senior management rather paid themselves big bonuses instead of investing in infrastructure. So now at a time when Eskom is being "renationalised" the directors keep their bonuses and huge salaries and the man in the street, you and I, pay for their mistakes and for new equipment.

Two years ago when we had our first load shedding, I did a comparison of South Africa's energy infrastructure compared with Israel's. We are told that a country needs a 15% power margin. Israel had that. But Israel had something even more important. 30% more manpower per megawatt. This costs money and reduces bonuses!!

In my ideal world, public transport and electricity would be free (at least for work related travel) and would approach 100% efficiency if possible. This would allow commuters and business to know that their staff will always be on time. 96% efficiency on the Northern Line when I lived there meant that about 10,000 people were late every day amounting to Billions of lost revenue for the Tax man and / or stress for the commuter costing the British government more in Health and hospital payments. Look how the health system has started crumbling since privatisation took place there.

In my ideal world, government would deregulate industries so that companies like Telkom and Eskom have competition, instead of being monopolies. Barriers to entry would be reduced and the only problem would be capital, not "laws" as well!! We really need this now as people like me put in solar panels and wind turbines and would love to supply energy to the grid, perhaps on a small scale. But perhaps I have enough money to pay for all the houses in my neighbourhood to have solar and wind power and therefore I can run a "power station." Laws should not prevent me from doing this.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Calling oneself a religious person

Written on Lag Ba-omer, the 33rd day of the Omer (the days between Pesach and Shavuot), ie Friday 23rd May 2008

On Pesach the Israelites had their deliverance from Egypt. In our modern time, our Egypt (Mitzrayim) is the dark places we sometimes find ourself, and we are mentally released from our bondage if we work at it and wish it to be so.
On Shavuot the Israelites accepted the Torah (the 5 Books of Moses) into their lives and heard the world of God as a community, a revelation. If we wish it to be so, then today we can hear the voice and know that there is more at stake then instant gratification and what we can have today.

Every time I hear of a Jewish person doing something irresponsible, I cringe.
Every time I hear of a Christian person doing something irresponsible, I cringe.
And for Muslims, Hindus, etc.

By this I am talking of people who are happy to call themselves Jews, Christians, Moslems, Hindus, etc. The ones who go to Synagogue, Church, Mosque, Temple, regularly. The ones who observe the holidays and remember the Shabbat. I know there are lots of ways of being Jewish, Christian, Moslem, Hindu, etc, and I throw all these people into the same pot.

I will concentrate on using the words Jew and Jewish below, but my essay relates to all people.

Jewish people are meant to set an example by their behaviour. I’m not saying everything must be done by the book. Sometimes one needs to go out on a limb to try something new or invent a new technology that will help our polluted world to become less polluted.

But when I read the newspaper and I find Jewish people who have robbed pension funds, or I read of Jewish Bank owners who have gone out of business and their depositors have lost their money, or more mundanely, when I see Jewish people disobeying the easy laws of our countries, then I cringe and am sad to call myself a Jew.

Some of these mundane things are: talking on the cell phone while driving without a hands free kit, especially when doing it in an expensive car; speeding which poses accident risks and pollutes the environment more; driving unnecessarily big cars which definitely pollute the environment more; developing buildings illegally; supporting illegal guest house owners in their crimes; stealing time and money from neighbours and residents associations; not being involved in community; not identifying the strangers in our midst and doing what we can to engage with them and love them.

I am happy to be a Jew. To me a Jew is a responsible person. To me a Jew is someone who should set an example. To me a Jew is someone who lives a Jewish life, trying in his or her humble way to observe the 10 Commandments, to honour the Bible, to live and walk with the ancients.

In the Jewish Calendar, today is Lag Ba-Omer, the day we observe two important events:
1) Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai died on Lag Ba-Omer. Rabbi bar Yochai lived in the 2nd Century, survived persecution by the Romans, yet was the first to publically teach the mystical dimension of the Torah known as the Kabbalah, and is the author of the Zohar, the basic work of Kabbalah.
2) Lag Ba-Omer was the end of a plague where 24,000 of the great sage, Rabbi Akiva’s, disciples died according to the Talmud: “because they did not act respectfully towards each other.”

In modern times, Lag Ba-Omer is celebrated with bon fires which symbolize the fire of the Torah and the fire that surrounded Rabbi bar Yochai.

Bearing in mind the terrible atrocities that are being committed by South Africans against fellow South Africans and strangers or foreigners in our midst, whether they are legally living here or illegally living here, we should remember Lag Ba-Omer’s significance. We need to be respectful to each other. If there are illegal immigrants here and we wish to get rid of them, there are legal ways of doing this. We are a democracy. We elected the government. If the government isn’t representing us, then we must elect new local councilors and a new government.

I hear more and more complaints by my neighbours, local residents, friends who complain about the “sad state of affairs in South Africa” and who are considering immigration or have already immigrated, yet these same people do nothing about the situation. They say there is nothing they can do. So they sit back until one day these things happen to them.

As a residents association committee member, former chairman and Ward Forum member, I am continuously saddened that our councils don’t do what is right and that criminals in our midst are constantly given rights which we aren’t given. I read recently a letter from a lawyer representing an illegal developer stating that the Milnerton Residents Association doesn’t represent Milnerton Residents because there are only 30 members. There are 110 members, and we do represent residents, but you get the point! There are 2000 potential members. At R50 per year we need more members!! Yet, we don’t have enough new people and the time comes for experienced members of these committees to move on.

For myself, I am resigning from these committees to pursue my dream of finding ways of making my carbon footprint less, of finding ways of leaving the world a better place than I found it, both physically and spiritually.

Everyone: for whatever reason you have chosen to live where you live. Find ways of making it a better place. Get involved in your local communities, residents associations, charities. Don’t leave it to other people.


Sunday, 18 May 2008


Dear all

I wrote this on 26th April 2008, but only had time today (18th May 2008) to upload it.

I wish all my Jewish friends a Chag Sameach this Pesach.

I wish all my Christian Orthodox friends a Happy Easter this weekend.

Further to my previous email, my Renewables research continues at a pace. I attach a slide that I am using as a basis for my research. Click on the image for a bigger version.

I would welcome anyone who wishes to get involved with a number of projects that I will be hosting over the next few months including:
solar water heating: buy or make?
photovoltaics: buy or make?
wind turbine: buy or make?

There is a lot of research that still needs to be done.

Besides this I will be buying some of the "toy" kits that are listed in the slide. If anyone would like to build them with me, please let me know.

I am looking for a school (or schools) that might be interested in learning about solar energy and I need some land for experiments, eg building a geodesic dome and building grey water systems. If anyone is interested, please let me know.

I am also looking for funding to fund these projects. Again, please contact me if you are interested.

I also need electricians, electronics experts, welders, gardners, etc. Please volunteer your time or services.