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EXTRAVAGANCE – The scourge of society

Iqbal Ebrahim
UNDERSTANDING ISLAM

Nowadays we have almost wall to wall advertising commercials on television, radio and on billboards that whet the consumer’s appetite and our desire to go for whatever is advertised. They tempt us into thinking and make us believe that if we do not get those advertised products we will be unhappy, ineffective and clumsy or out of tune with the fashion and trends of the times. To satiate our appetites we rush out to buy those things.

‘…….squander not your wealth in the manner of a spendthrift’ (Quran 17: 26)

Islam discourages its followers the free reins to reckless spending and consumption instead it encourages us to avoid luxurious items so that we do not become enslaved by them, many of us are capable of blindly and irresponsibly abandoning ourselves to the squandering of our hard earned wealth in order to ‘keep up with the Joneses’.

Extravagance has moved from being a practice of the rich and wealthy people to a practice that regrettably has affected all levels of the society – it has become so common that it has affected each and every one of us. What we see is an increase in expenses, increase in consumption and to squander wealth as soon as we gain it or rise and move up the ladder to a position of affluence is a common characteristic of our society today.

Those who have the means can become reckless, but those who do not, have to borrow money to squander it in order to meet their families’ desires of luxuries and unnecessary items. For some people wealth means only one thing, more consumption, more comfort and enjoyment of luxuries to the full. The Quran captures this trait when it says that humans will exceed the limits of moderation because it is a characteristic in man. “If Allah were to enlarge the provision for his servants, they would indeed transgress beyond all bounds.” (Quran 42:  27). And: ‘Those who, when they spend are not extravagant and nor miserly, but hold a just balance between those extremes’. (Quran 25; 67)

This practice of showmanship has reached a stage where many a bread winner resorts to taking loans from finance houses at ridiculously high interest rates, in order to meet his families wishes to travel aboard or to give a big wedding party, for his son or daughter in such an extravagant manner just to win peoples’ admiration, etc.

Regrettably this even goes as far as fancy funerals with the attendant costs. This also filters down to our daily lives when such things as accommodation, furniture, fancy cars for transport, the latest in electronic gadgets, clothing and food.
 
It has become a common practice that some people have turned to the evil habit of drinking alcohol, wines and spirits, the more expensive the better. I have heard that the price of some of these alcoholic beverages cost more per bottle than what many ordinary people earn in a month! Worse still I believe they polish off a bottle in one sitting entertaining guests – of course making veiled references to their cost just to impress their guests.  

We tend to be wasteful in dress, means of transport, furniture and any other things. The Quran says: ‘O children of Adam! Wear your apparel of adornment at every time and place of worship, and eat and drink but do not be extravagant; surely He does not love those who are extravagant’.  (Quran 7: 31)

Islam does not forbid a person to acquire wealth, to make it grow and make use of it. In fact Islam encourages one to do so as long as it is not acquired in the forbidden ways, but it is how we spend that wealth that we have to be careful with. Islam encourages us to live a life of moderation in all matters. Every individual has to earn in a dignified manner and then spend it in a very wise and careful manner. One should never try to impress others by living beyond one’s means, therefore extravagance is forbidden in Islam.

The Quran reminds us not to be wasteful in the buying of food, extravagant eating that sometimes leads to throwing away of leftovers as forbidden. It says, ‘Eat of the fruits in their season, but render the dues that are proper on the day that the harvest is gathered. And waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.’  (Quran 6: 141)

Think about the extravagance and the squandering of wealth that continues to grow in our society, while throughout Botswana and indeed the all over the world there are countless helpless and deprived people who do not even have sufficient food or decent shelter. In some countries thousands of people die of starvation. Can it be right that we go on spending in such a reckless manner while witnessing the suffering of fellow humans?

We have to put on the brakes somewhere along the line and take stock of our lives and also the suffering of others. We have been blessed with wealth today, but life is unpredictable and things can happen is such a way that we can lose all our possessions over time.
Many a family has been brought to the brink of poverty after leading a life of affluence.

There are many people who lived a life  of extravagance and indulged in excesses only to be later inflicted with trials and tribulations to such a point that they wished they could only have a little bit of what they used to possess. To capture the balance that we should strive for here are a few quotes from various writers on our desire for wealth:

‘Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one. 2) Money often costs too much. 3) Life is tragic for those who have plenty to live on and nothing to live for. 4) If you want to feel rich, just count the things you have that money can’t buy. 5) Wealth consists not in having great possessions but in having few wants. 6) A man’s bank account doesn’t indicate whether he is rich or poor. It is the heart that makes a man rich. A man is rich according to what he is, not according to what he has.

Islam teaches moderation in all matters – Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) amongst his teachings said: i) ‘Verily, modesty and faith are related to each other; if one of them is taken away, the other is also taken away.’ ii)‘Do not wish to be like anyone, except in two cases; A man whom Allah has given wealth and he spends it righteously; and A man whom Allah has given wisdom (knowledge of the Qur’an and the Hadith) and he acts according to it and teaches it to others. iii) Allah does not look at your forms and possessions, but He looks at your hearts and your deeds.

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DIS Parley Committee selection disingenuous 

25th November 2020

Intelligence and Security Service Act, which is a law that establishes the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DIS), provides for establishment of a Parliamentary Committee. Recently, the President announced nine names of Members of Parliament he had appointed to the Committee.

This announcement was preceded by a meeting the President held with the Speaker and the Leader of Opposition. Following the announcement of Committee MPs by the President, the opposition, through its leader, made it clear that it will not participate in the Committee unless certain conditions that would ensure effective oversight are met. The opposition acted on the non-participation threat through resignation of its three MPs from the Committee.

The Act at Section 38 provides for the establishment of the Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Directorate. The law provides that the Parliamentary Committee shall have the same powers and privileges set out under the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.

On composition, the Committee shall consist of nine members who shall not be members of Cabinet and its quorum shall be five members.  The MPs in the Committee elect a chairperson from among their number at their first meeting.

The Members of the Committee are appointed by the President after consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. It is the provision of the law that the Committee, relative to its size, reflect the numerical strengths of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.

The Act provides that that a member of the Committee holds office for the duration of the Parliament in which he or she is appointed.  The Committee is mandated to make an annual report on the discharge of their functions to the President and may at any time report to him or her on any matter relating to the discharge of those functions.

The Minister responsible for intelligence and security is obliged to lay before the National Assembly a copy of each annual report made by the Committee together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of the provision of the Act.

If it appears to the Minister, after consultation with the Parliamentary Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Directorate, the Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before the National Assembly.

So, what are the specific demands of the Opposition and why are they not participating in the Committee? What should happen as a way forward? The Opposition demanded that there be a forensic audit of the Directorate. The DIS has never been audited since it was set up in 2008, more than a decade ago.

The institution has been a law unto itself for a longtime, feared by all oversight bodies. The Auditor General, who had no security of tenure, could not audit the DIS. The Directorate’s personnel, especially at a high level, have been implicated in corruption.  Some of its operatives are in courts of law defending corruption charges preferred against them. Some of the corruption cases which appeared in the media have not made it to the courts.

The DIS has been accused of non-accountability and unethical practices as well as of being a burden on the fiscus.  So, the Opposition demanded, from the President, a forensic audit for the purpose of cleaning up the DIS.  They demand a start from a clean slate.

The second demand by the Opposition is that the law be reviewed to ensure greater accountability of the DIS to Parliament. What are some of the issues that the opposition think should be reviewed? The contention is that the executive cannot appoint a Committee of Parliament to scrutinize an executive institution.

Already, it is argued, Parliament is less independent and it is dominated by the executive. It is contended that the Committee should be established by the Standing Orders and be appointed by a Select Committee of Parliament. There is also an argument that the Committee should report to Parliament and not to the President and that the Minister should not have any role in the Committee.

Democratic and Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence is relatively a new phenomenon across the World. Even developed democracies are still grappling with some of these issues. However, there are acceptable standards or what might be called international best practices which have evolved over the past two or so decades.

In the UK for instance, MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee are appointed by the Houses of Parliament, having been nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. This is a good balancing exercise of involvement of both the executive and the legislature. Consultation is taken for granted in Botswana context in the sense that it has been reduced to just informing the Leader of Opposition without much regard to his or her ideas; they are never taken seriously.

Furthermore, the current Committee in the UK has four Members of the ruling party and five MPs from the opposition. It is a fairly balanced Committee in terms of Parliamentary representation. However, as said above, the President of Botswana appointed six ruling party MPs and three from the opposition.

The imbalance is preposterous and more pronounced with clear intentions of getting the executive way through the ruling party representatives in the Committee. The intention to avoid scrutiny is clear from the numbers of the ruling party MPs in the Committee.

There is also an international standard of removing sensitive parts which may harm national security from the report before it is tabled in the legislature. The previous and current reluctance of the executive arms to open up on Defence and Security matters emanate from this very reason of preserving and protecting national security.

But national security should be balanced with public interest and other democratic principles. The decision to expunge certain information which may be prejudicial to national security should not be an arbitrary and exclusive decision of the executive but a collective decision of a well fairly balanced Committee in consultation with the Speaker and the minister responsible.

There is no doubt that the DIS has been a rogue institution. The reluctance by the President to commit to democratic-parliamentary oversight reforms presupposes a lack of commitment to democratization. The President has no interest in seeing a reformed DIS with effective oversight of the agency.

He is insincere. This is because the President loathes the idea losing an iota of power and sharing it with any other democratic institution. He sees the agency as his power lever to sustain his stay in the high office. He thought he could sanitize himself with an ineffective DIS Committee that would dance to his tune.

The non-participation of the opposition MPs renders the Committee dysfunctional; it cannot function as this would be unlawful. Participation of the opposition is a legal requirement. Even if it can meet, it would lack legitimacy; it cannot be taken seriously. The President should therefore act on the oversight demands and reform the DIS if he is to be taken seriously.

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The Maccabean Uprising

25th November 2020
Jewish freedom fighters

 Jews drive away occupying power under the command of guerrilla leader Judas Maccabees but only just

Although it was the Desolation Sacrilege act, General Atiku, that officially sparked the Maccabean revolt, it in truth simply stoked the fires of an already simmering revolution. How so General?

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Atomic (CON)Fusion

25th November 2020

For years I have trained people about paradigm shifts – those light-bulb-switch-on moments – where there is a seismic change from the usual way of thinking about something to a newer, better way. 

I like to refer to them as ‘aha’ moments because of the sudden understanding of something which was previously incomprehensible. However,  the topic of today’s article is the complete antithesis of ‘aha’.  Though I’d love to tell you I’d had a ‘eureka ‘, ‘problem solved’ moment, I am faced with the complete opposite – an ‘oh-no’ moment or Lost Leader Syndrome.

No matter how well prepared or capable a leader is. they often find themselves facing perplexing events, confounding information, or puzzling situations. Confused by developments of which they can’t make sense and by challenges that they don’t know how to solve they become confused, sometimes lost and completely clueless about what to do.

I am told by Jentz and Murphy (JM) in ‘What leaders do when they don’t know what to do’ that this is normal, and that rapid change is making confusion a defining feature of management in the 21st century.  Now doesn’t that sound like the story of 2020 summed up in a single sentence?

The basic premise of their writing is that “confusion is not a weakness to be ashamed of but a regular and inevitable condition of leadership. By learning to embrace their confusion, managers are able to set in motion a constructive process for addressing baffling issues.

In fact, confusion turns out to be a fruitful environment in which the best managers thrive by using the instability around them to open up better lines of communication, test their old assumptions and values against changing realities, and develop more creative approaches to problem solving.”

The problem with this ideology however is that it doesn’t help my overwhelming feelings of fear and panic which is exacerbated by a tape playing on a loop in my head saying  ‘you’re supposed to know what to do, do something’. My angst is compounded by annoying motivational phrases also unhelpfully playing in my head like.

  • Nothing happens until something moves
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started

and

  • Act or be acted upon

All these platitudes are urging me to pull something out of the bag, but I know that this is a trap. This need to forge ahead is nothing but a coping mechanism and disguise. Instead of owning the fact that I haven’t got a foggy about what to do, part of me worries that I’ll lose authority if I acknowledge that I can’t provide direction – I’m supposed to know the answers, I’m the MD!  This feeling of not being in control is common for managers in ‘oh no’ situations and as a result they often start reflexively and unilaterally attempting to impose quick fixes to restore equilibrium because, lets be honest, sometimes we find it hard to resist hiding our confusion.

To admit that I am lost in an “Oh, No!” moment opens the door not only to the fear of losing authority but also to a plethora of other troubling emotions and thoughts:  *Shame and loss of face: “You’ll look like a fool!” * Panic and loss of control: “You’ve let this get out of hand!” * Incompetence and incapacitation: “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

As if by saying “I’m at a loss here” is tantamount to declaring “I am not fit to lead.” Of course the real problem for me and any other leader is if they don’t admit when they are disoriented, it sends a signal to others in the organisation stating it’s not cool to be lost and that, by its very nature encourages them to hide.  What’s the saying about ‘a real man never asks for direction. ..so they end up driving around in circles’.

As managers we need to embrace the confusion, show vulnerability (remember that’s not a bad word) and accept that leadership is not about pretending to have all the answers but about having the courage to search with others to discover a solution.

JM point out that “being confused, however, does not mean being incapacitated.  Indeed, one of the most liberating truths of leadership is that confusion is not quicksand from which to escape but rather the potter’s clay of leadership – the very stuff with which managers can work.”

2020 has certainly been a year to remember and all indications are that the confusion which has characterised this year will still follow us into the New Year, thereby making confusion a defining characteristic of the new normal and how managers need to manage. Our competence as leaders will then surely be measured not only by ‘what I know’ but increasingly by ‘how I behave when I accept, I don’t know, lose my sense of direction and become confused.

.I guess the message for all organizational cultures going forward is that sticking with the belief that we need all-knowing, omni-competent executives will cost them dearly and send a message to managers that it is better to hide their confusion than to address it openly and constructively.

Take comfort in these wise words ‘Confusion is a word we have invented for an order not yet understood’!

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