In private sector matters, gov’t should only intervene where rights are being violated

Dear Editor,

I write to add some context to the matter on the issue between Mae’s school and some of its customers (parents). A few weeks ago, parents were protesting the increased fees which the school had implemented, shortly after I read in the press that the Government was meeting with the school administration. My interest in this matter is solely on the basis of ensuring that the Government is as scientific and strategic as possible in its engagements and transactions.

The impression I got, was that the Government was meeting with the administration of Mae’s in the role as somewhat that of a ‘broker’. If that was the case, that was not the role for the Government and it has to be mindful of not only its level of leadership but the perception of its leadership, in this case, by the business sector.

Let’s look for a moment at the core business and main attributes of the business and public sectors. The business sector is focused on ‘investment and trade’ and this is done by creating goods and services; providing employment opportunities, innovation and economic growth as well as maximising profits for investors to ensure further investment that will allow the business to continue to innovate. It is also important to note that the main attribute of the business sector, is that it is ‘profits’ driven.

The core business of the public sector (Government) on the other hand, is to ensure that ‘the rule of law’ is upheld; and this is done by creating frameworks for economic, political and social rights and generating political commitment to development; developing regulations and standard – setting mechanisms as well as adherence to international obligations; and providing public services to ensure that basic needs and rights are met.

Therefore Government must have a basis for its involvement in a matter such as the one with Mae’s school and its customers (parents). In my assessment, the Government’s involvement in this case was more based on an emotional trigger than a scientific deduction. What am I saying, I am saying that if a business has an issue with its customers, the Government’s involvement must be to the extent to which the ‘rights’ of those customers or the business were violated. I have examined this issue and no ‘rights’ of the parents or the students were violated as far as I can determine. Hence, even after the meeting with the Government, the school administration is still insisting that the increased fee be paid. Usually, if customers have an issue with the price of a product of service, they have a choice.

However, if Mae’s administration made a policy decision to put a premium price on their school fees, that is their prerogative as a private sector entity. Pricing is basically influenced by supply and demand. In the case of Mae’s school; the more students who gain passes for the top schools and are accepted at top universities, as well as achieved higher level positions in their professions; these will be factors which will set the school apart from its competitors.

The Government’s involvement therefore in this specific instance, should be to examine whether there are gaps, perhaps guidelines to regulate or standardize pricing, if necessary; this then gives the Government a scientific basis for its intervention.

This is one of the reasons why I have been advocating for more Strategists and ‘system thinkers’ in the Government agencies. You see, the Strategists are able to advise on what are not merely the ‘right’ measures/decisions but the ‘best’ under particular circumstances or vice versa. The private sector needs space to create growth and innovate, thus Government intervention should not be without good enough reasons.

The Government’s involvement in this case is different from its intervention in a matter where for example, employees in a private sector company are protesting because they were not being paid overtime. In this instance, it is a clear case of the ‘rights’ being violated, even though a private sector company is involved.

Finally, while on a slightly unrelated note, the ‘National Payment Systems Bill 2018’ is a move in the right direction, as it relates to Government ensuring that the appropriate systems and structures are institutionalized within the public sector, to guide its behaviour. It is also good for developing greater synergies in the wider operating context.

Yours faithfully,

Audreyanna Thomas

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