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Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

The UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is known for half-truths, wilfully misleading statements, inaccuracies and divisive remarks,  perhaps most infamously for voicing a claim that after Brexit the UK would take back control of roughly £350m per week which could be used for the UK’s ailing National Health System.

The problem with that statement however was there was no evidence whatsoever that Brexit would make the UK better off to the tune of £350 million. Regardless, this false, unsubstantiated claim, embellishment or whatever you call it was emblazoned on a highly visible, oft-photographed, double-decker campaign tour bus which was integral to the marketing of the leave campaign.

Considered one of the most visible and effective ‘slogans’ of the campaign, assumed to have the effect of convincing many voters to vote ‘yes’, especially because the NHS is close to the hearts of many UK citizens, all crying out for better healthcare facilities and better service through increased  funding.  So, it was a lie basically.  And if a lie justifies the end and Boris got the result he wanted, does that somehow make the lie more tolerable for being just political spinning?  It is akin to Donald Trump’s tweet “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”  A tweet to justify his lack of climate change support and to vilify the Chinese.

In 2016 my company ‘partnered’ with a company – let’s call them ‘ X & Y PLC’ – on a number of tenders for a certain power company .  X & Y are a major engineering, technology, manufacturing, construction and so on, conglomerate, with global operations. They had al the appearances of credibility and gravitas, or so I thought, and thus we partnered with them because the tender required bidders (X & Y) to use a local agency for the recruitment of local personnel.

We were the official company to provide the service, duly named in and contributory to, the tender documents. There was considerable work involved in the meticulous preparation of the tenders and the inclusion of numerous company documents including financial documents, declarations, corporate history, competencies etc. so, when X & Y’s overall tender was selected and approved , we were chomping at the bit to get started and receive our reward – the share of the work, and yes, the financial spoils –   only for X & Y to effectively completely and without explanation, sever relations with us and not use any of our services.  

You can imagine our consternation and confusion, and after being sideline and ignored we resorted to demanding some answers with the help of a lawyer.  X & Y then claimed that they were not obliged to use our company and that they were free to use other companies or recruit for themselves. This sounded strange to me, our company being a named stakeholder in the tender process, and I was left me wondering why we were an integral part of 12 tenders if being a part of the tender was not binding in any way.

Of course, the story changed depending on the stage we were at. When the company was short-listed during the tendering process, they sent a message telling me that they had been technically and commercially qualified and “this happened because of you and your team”. At the final stage X & Y sent another message saying they had “affirmed you (us) as official business partner in Botswana for getting local manpower. We highly appreciate your support extended towards X & Y.” If that doesn’t sound like an acknowledgment of our partnership in the process and a valuable one to boot, I don’t know what does. 

So what am I to think? How does it happen that an international company can use a local company to tick compliance boxes during a tender and then simply discard the very same company who has played a part in the winning of the tender?  I guess this is what ‘fronting’ looks like or in other words, deception and dishonesty? Is this a bald-faced lie, half-truth, fraud or what?

David Livingston Smith in his book ‘Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind’, says lying gives us a "selective advantage" and that falsehoods, deceptions, and lies are essential to our current Darwinian ascendancy as a genus. In other words, we, as liars, are better survivors.  Now I don’t know if X & Y’s strategy was to deceive me from day one by getting a reputable local supplier for their bid with no intention of ever using them. 

Maybe the decision not to honour the agreement only happened when it came down to hiring staff for the project and then the man or woman holding the purse strings decided we don’t need them (read we don’t need to part with any money to an outside company  when we can wing it ourselves). It really is shocking. The hours of work which we put into the tender were significant. The blatant disregard for integrity and fairness when the work that should have come our way was shunted off,  is testament again that in business and in politics people will lie to get what they want – regardless whom it damages or misleads along the way.

So where does it leave me and where does it leave the British people?  Lets deal with Boris Johnson first. Boris, when he was the Tory leadership frontrunner for the prime minister’s role, faced three allegations of misconduct in public office after “Brexit Justice” campaigner Marcus Ball crowd-funded £300,000 for a private prosecution. He claimed Johnson had deliberately misled the public with his Vote Leave campaign’s slogan "We send the EU £350 million a week, let's fund our NHS instead”, while Johnson's legal team argued that the offence of misconduct in public office was about the secret abuse of power and that there was nothing secret about Johnson's claim, which had been repeatedly challenged during the campaign. The judges were persuaded, and the claim squashed.

As for me the jury is still out. The power company, although awarding this big tender to a company with all our credentials included, don’t seem that interested or perturbed that the big guns winning multi-million pula contracts for major projects where part of the covenant is to use local companies, can simply renege on the promise with no consequences.  Usually with big tenders there’s a few token crumbs thrown patronisingly in the direction of the local entrepreneur but in this case not even a morsel. 

The power company should know that part of social responsibility is the role they play in achieving economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders and to encourage businesses to conduct their companies in an ethical manner.  They might also factor in that local companies have added value in terms of footprint and contacts, as well as the competencies and expertise outlined in initial contacts and further reinforced in the tender application

And just like the believing UK public who never questioned the £350m pledge and who are now probably as good as out of the EU without a deal, I am out of this deal too.   Both of us have had our eyes opened and will be a little shrewder and less gullible next time. Of course it would be churlish and childish  of me to laugh when the minefield that is effective recruitment, staff management and local labour laws blows up in X & Y’s  face, even more so to think or say ‘I told you so’.  Nevertheless I probably will!

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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