You might think me naive for expecting honesty from a political party. But I’ve spoken to a few of the DA’s leaders. They pride themselves in communicating honestly and, in the newfound liberal tradition, empowering the individual to think and decide for themselves. An important part of this, I’d imagine, would be providing information that is without spin or does not appeal to the group-think of populism.
So it surprised me to see the party’s communication repeating the statistic that the youth wage subsidy would “create 423,000 jobs”. That slipped into newspaper pages and is now fact: the youth wage subsidy will create 423,000 jobs. Treasury’s document actually said it would subsidize 423,000 jobs, 178,000 of which were new jobs and of that, only 133,000 are expected to remain after the subsidy ends.
When I brought to the party’s attention, its leaders would not say whether this was intentional or not. But a day after, an sms saying the same thing went around. Again, when I asked, the party’s head of communications Gavin Davis said, “I have asked the direct marketing team to rectify this to reflect that 423,000 young people will benefit from the Youth Wage Subsidy in the first three years of the programme.”
They’ve made this change, but how genuine is it? Surely now instead of being a misstatement of facts, it’s now withholding information. And it is doing so, still, for the purpose of misstating the subsidy’s effects. No where in promoting the subsidy do they add in any of treasury’s warnings on its efficacy and the party plays down that the subsidy is just one, and perhaps not the most significant, measure to address youth unemployment.
Sure, people can go to the Treasury site and read the proposal themselves, but my point is that the party is doing a piss-poor job of empowering people to understand the subsidy better and make informed decisions. The DA Youth said it would undertake an education programme on the subsidy. I shudder to imagine what kind of information they’re putting out, considering how they’ve handled it so far.
TNS released a survey that said 77% of youths supported the subsidy, but what does this support mean when there has been this level of misinformation doing the rounds? In their rejection letter to the youth wage subsidy, the Unemployed People’s Movement counter-proposed a R2,000 basic income grant. I suspect this proposal will not fall in line with DA policy, regardless of how many of the unemployed support it. The party will counter the UPM’s proposal with an argument about the income grant’s undesired effects — the very part of the youth wage subsidy they’re playing down.
This isn’t the only fib the party’s told over the subsidy. Lindiwe Mazibuko claimed in a press release that Jacob Zuma confirmed, in a parliamentary reply, that Cosatu was blocking the subsidy at Nedlac. However, all Zuma said was that discussions were taking place with social partners. It could very well be that it is Cosatu blocking it, but Zuma did not say this and it’s surprising that Mazibuko would claim he did.
Civil society and journalists have their role to play in keeping politicians honest, but I’m not sure how the DA can claim the moral high ground, remain true to its principles or claim to speak for unemployed youths when they are misinforming them.
UPDATE: Just got off the phone with Davis. He makes the point that after I’d alerted him to the text, he did tell me that it was a genuine mistake because a different unit (direct marketing) had handled that aspect. This was an honest omission on my part, not spin 🙂
He also took umbrage at the insinuation in this post that the DA is been intentionally dishonest. Mistakes creep in when working under the kinds of constraints modern organizations do. I can take that point. I do maintain on the youth wage subsidy, the party has, for whatever reason, not presented a complete picture. Is it their obligation to do so? If they’re going to trumpet the number of people who support the subsidy as evidence that it’s a good idea, then perhaps they should mention that all of those in support probably don’t understand the issues fully. Again, call it naivety on my part, but I subscribe to the idea that individuals should be allowed (empowered?) to think for themselves and presenting an incomplete picture of the situation does nothing to aid this.