Thursday, February 2, 2012

Political certainty or ethics?

SANRAL has failed to raise bonds at a bond auction. The Financial Mail attributes this to "uncertainty". Fair enough, to an investor, certainty is always better than uncertainty, all other things considered equal.

Isn't there a shortcut though? Act ethically - stop mining a captive audience for cash just because they have little option but to pay - and they won't cause political problems for your plans.

I have nothing against toll roads in principle, but I have a real problem with captive states handing over public assets to (quasi-)private interests along with de facto monopoly power. And despite my sometimes-libertarian leanings, I do not want to leave it to the market to decide how many roads should cross a countryside, for the same reason I don't think I would like the libertarian outcome of private nature conservation (I suspect there just wouldn't be enough of it).

But the way SANRAL seems to be exploiting its privileged position leaves a bad taste in the mouth. They are enclosing the commons that we have already paid for (and we continue to do so with the fuel levy we pay regardless of which road sections we use) simply by improving or even merely maintaining a stretch of road - perhaps adding a lane and probably also counting tolling facilities as "improvement". Then they have the gall to tell us that their tolls do not constitute double taxation [PDF]. It all looks, smells, and sounds like pigs feeding at the trough.

So to those of you who are fortunate to be investors, especially any of you who get to have a say in your investments' operations: try agitating for ethical behaviour, for treating customers with a little respect, leaving some money (read: value) on the table to make transactions worthwhile for those customers. (SA steel producers: yes, I'm also looking at you and your import parity pricing [PDF].) Perhaps these variables are ones you have a little more control over, unlike the notion of "political stability".