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Several years ago, I was on my way to Durban when the temperature gauge on my vehicle crept into the red and smoke began to pour out of the bonnet of my car.
I pulled in at the nearest petrol station. It was obvious that there was a leak in the radiator pipe. It took a few stops and plenty of cool water and coolant to get my car back to Pietermaritzburg, and to the dealer. I was very grateful that they fixed it, but absolutely horrified when I received my bill. I had been charged R900 for the part, and four hours’ labour, at R500 an hour.
I explained to the manager that since no diagnostics were required, I would accept one of two things.
Either the mechanic who fixed my vehicle was brilliant and could therefore justify charging R500 an hour, in which case it couldn’t possibly take him four hours to replace my radiator pipe, or he was a novice, and therefore may have taken four hours, but surely could not charge me a rate of R500 an hour?
To my mind, it can’t work both ways. They agreed to halve my labour bill. I no longer have the vehicle and I will not buy that make again (regardless of how much I loved the car), because every time I took it in for a service or repair, I felt I was being ripped off.
This past weekend, I had steam coming out of my ears and I was filled with the same sense of outrage at being ripped off.
This was as a result of reading my Sunday newspaper and learning that the chairmen of Transnet and Eskom receive “stipends” of more than R100 000 – when averaged out over a year – for each meeting.
The Eskom chief executive tops the list for senior executive pay, with a salary package of R8 million and a bonus of R3m. The media liaison person of one of the enterprises tried to justify the compensation by saying it was approved by the state.
Now call me unreasonable, but to my mind no state-owned enterprise is operating at the kind of efficiency level that justifies that kind of pay. I don’t mind paying someone well if they are delivering above expectations, but this is certainly not the case.
We have a situation where we have outrageously high costs (electricity, port and rail) that negatively impact on business and prevent job creation. We have failing infrastructure, which has exactly the same effect on the business operating environment.
Business is being asked to pay its own infrastructure costs to get its developments off the ground – road infrastructure as well as electricity and water infrastructure – because the government “doesn’t have the money”. And there is just no getting away from the fact that there are still people who live with no access to electricity.
In the same way that a car dealership cannot have it both ways, nor can the government. You can’t take a pro-poor stance and compensate people in this manner. Nor can you sell a job-creation message if you are making the operating environment difficult for business.
Either you have the money and you can pay people these huge unjustified salaries – or you don’t. It can’t work both ways.
* Melanie Veness is the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.