Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sideswipe

Adam Goldwater swears he didn't try to buy what this shop in Whangamata appears to be selling, despite the bargain price

By Ana Samways

The first day of high school for a group of young Aucklanders catching the train from New Lynn to Boston Road yesterday morning was also a lesson in bureaucratic overkill. A reader writes: "The ticket collector was quite determined, even though the group looked well under 16 and were in school uniform, that the kids were going to pay full fare because they didn't have a school ID. The fact that this was their first day at high school and IDs hadn't been issued yet didn't persuade her to give them a students fare. Students starting the school year would be well advised to take their birth certificate if they plan on taking our rail service".

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Political Correctness unearthed on PC slayers site? National MP Dr Wayne Mapp is described on his website as "National Party Spokesperson for Labour & Industrial Relations, and Political Correctness issues". Shouldn't that be spokesman?

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Most embarrassing moments: A reader writes: "While sharing the elevator at a local hotel, some friendly guy, instead of staring blankly at the closed doors, started up a conversation with me. 'How are you?' he asked. 'Fine,' I answered, a little surprised, but happy to engage. He then asked, 'What are you up to?' I launched into a full spiel about why I was staying in the hotel. It was my 10th wedding anniversary and we'd parked the kids at their grandparents ... Abruptly, he turned to me and said, 'I am on the phone, love.' It was only then that I realised he was talking on his mobile with an ear-piece thingie whatsit. How dumb did I feel." Email your embarrassing moments to Sideswipe and share the humiliation. Anonymity assured.

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Christine Ryder, 53, says she was so depressed she asked a friend, Kevin Reeves, 40, whom she had met in a mental hospital in Kent, England, to find a hitman to kill her. He offered to do it himself (he was her friend, after all!) and accepted £20,000 ($51,000) for the job. After several arranged dates to kill her came and went and she was still alive, a frustrated Ryder filed a criminal breach of contract complaint, and prosecutors took him to trial. Even Reeves' own defence attorney admitted the scheme was "mean". Reeves was sentenced to 15 months in jail and ordered to pay £2000 in compensation.

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Are penguins washing up on the beach all over Auckland? Following yesterday's story about a penguin, near death, washing up on Takapuna beach, a dead penguin has washed up on Orewa beach. A full explanation in tomorrow's Sideswipe.

Editorial: Reining in power monopoly

The Commerce Commission's ruling against the prices being charged by Transpower, the company that runs the national electricity grid, is a reminder that 20 years after New Zealand began to turn state utilities into commercial operations we still await fair and effective price control of natural monopoly networks. "Fair and effective" does not simply mean ensuring the service is as cheap as possible to the consumer. It also means ensuring the network earns and retains sufficient capital to maintain itself and expand to meet any increase in demand. When it comes to balancing those considerations the most effective price control is competition. Without it, line monopolies are always likely to be erring on one side or the other.

Transpower has been erring on the side of capital investment in the opinion of the Commerce Commission. The national grid operator has been charging electricity consumers for its future capital needs. In this way it has been acting less like a competitive business than a government department, which it was less than 20 years ago. No firm facing competition could afford to bump up its prices to finance in advance an increase in its capacity. It would raise the money, either by expanding its ownership or, more likely, borrowing. Either way, the costs would be borne by future consumers, provided of course the expected extra demand eventuated. And those who were asked to provide the capital, either as equity or loans, would take a hard look at the case for raising it.

That scrutiny is lacking when Transpower can take it upon itself to raise the capital from current consumers. The retail suppliers and large consumers who buy directly from Transpower have no choice but to pay its charges. There may not be much doubt that the grid needs additional investment. Bottlenecks at various points in the system have long created difficulties in its management and occasional disruptions to supply. The giant pylons that Transpower would like to install across the Waikato landscape may not be visually acceptable but there is not much argument that the supply lines to Auckland need greater capacity.

Nevertheless, it is in everyone's interest that Transpower should have to raise the finance in a way that invites some market scrutiny of its plans. Until the Commerce Commission intervened in December the grid operator intended to lift its charges by 19 per cent this year and 13 per cent in each of the next five years. It faced only the scrutiny of the recently established Electricity Commission for the investment it intended to make with the excess revenue those charges would rake in. The Electricity Commission was set up after two seasonal electricity shortages to deal with real or imagined under-investment in power generation. It would no doubt welcome any new investment in transmission, too, but the Electricity Commission does not bear the risk of any miscalculations.

That risk was being carried entirely by current consumers until the Commerce Commission stepped in. By imposing price control the commission estimates that it will benefit consumers by $700 million over the next five years, through avoiding excess charges and forcing Transpower to make more "efficient" investments. It will have to find its capital now either from its shareholder - the Government - or by borrowing. Ultimately the public will pay, either as taxpayers or electricity consumers, but better the latter. Consumers have a little more choice in the matter. They can use a little less power if it is overpriced. That's the risk that Transpower and its lenders should face. The Commerce Commission has probably ensured they will proceed with more care.

Garth George: Joe Public wears by-products of bureaucratic blundering

I am convinced that the people who run this country, both locally and nationally, have lost the plot. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe that they lost the plot 20-odd years ago and have never found it again.

These thoughts came to me during the week between writing the last column and this one simply by reading the Herald each day and noting how many things have gone wrong and how politicians and bureaucrats of all colours and philosophies seem to be scrambling ineffectually to try to remedy them.

There seems to be abroad the idea that these things just happen, but that is absurd. They are all the result of stupid mistakes made along the way and it seems an awful lot of the chickens are coming home to roost in a rush.

And it seems to be taken for granted that when things turn to custard, it's the public's fault.

That has to be so because it is the public who are penalised while the politicians and bureaucrats go about fighting rearguard actions trying to clean up the messes they have made.

Yet the only fault that can properly be attributed to the public is that they have, from time to time, elected the dunderheads who purportedly run the nation on their behalf.

Let's start in the middle of last week when the price of petrol and diesel began once again to go off the clock.

Perhaps, just after the first oil shock of the early 1970s and in the period since, it has never occurred to any of our "leaders" that something should be done to make plans designed to ensure such a thing never caught us napping again.

But the opportunity, if it ever entered anyone's mind, wasn't taken to build up in this faraway place a national oil reserve which might shield us from the regular knee-jerk price reactions that seem to happen any time anyone so much as farts in any oil-producing country.

So who pays? The public are forced to pay through the nose for overpriced motor fuel and that includes men and women who are in competitive transport businesses - cab drivers, couriers, truckers.

The only people who don't suffer are the politicians and bureaucrats who drive perk vehicles and the executives and shareholders of the big, grasping oil multinationals.

And, of course, the Government cleans up in extra excise duty and GST and would never dream of giving the public a break by lowering one or both.

With the economy allegedly teetering on the brink of a slump - or a recession at best - job losses have already happened. There were more than 340 last week alone. So another slice of our industry is hived off to China or some other Asian place where workers are lucky to be paid even subsistence wages.

And all and sundry of those who supposedly know about these things - including union bosses, it seems - bang on about the high dollar, as if that is to blame.

But once again, it's the public who pay because all our imports are dearer, and it astounds me that no one seems overly concerned at the awful human tragedy that always comes to people who suddenly lose their jobs.

And, in the meantime, interest rates go up and up until they are again verging on the usurious and the public gets the blame for that, too - we're buying too many homes for ourselves - and many pay the penalty by having to struggle to find the extra dollars required to service their mortgages.

The banks and their overseas shareholders, of course, keep growing fatter. (Which reminds me: the woman who ripped off banks for more than half a million in mortgage money last month should be given a medal rather than be arrested.) But the rearguard action that takes the cake is the rort conceived by the three bozos who preside over three Auckland cities - Hubbard, Harvey and Curtis - who are off cap in hand to beg Wellington to let them toll existing roads.

The only people to derive any credit from this sordid scheme are George Wood of North Shore and Mike Lee of the ARC, who have refused to have a bar of it.

I must say I nearly choked on my toast when confronted with this newspaper's specious editorial endorsement of the plan. Reading mealy-mouthed words like "political courage" and "it's good to see three of Auckland's mayors offering leadership" made me want to puke.

Why should the poor motorist, who is not to blame for traffic congestion, be made to pay tolls to use roads that he or she has paid for in taxes of one sort or another over and over again?

The reason for congestion and the state of Auckland's roads - and other essential infrastructure as well -is that successive Governments and local authorities have for decades skimped on spending on these necessities and instead lashed out on fancy gewgaws to impress the populace and get them re-elected.

The chronic myopia of triennially elected politicians and the bureaucrats who depend on them for their livelihoods is the real cause of the expensive chaos that surrounds us. But you can bet your bottom dollar they'll never own up to it.

They'll just continue to blame you and me - and send us the bill.

Garth George: Joe Public wears by-products of bureaucratic blundering

I am convinced that the people who run this country, both locally and nationally, have lost the plot. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe that they lost the plot 20-odd years ago and have never found it again.

These thoughts came to me during the week between writing the last column and this one simply by reading the Herald each day and noting how many things have gone wrong and how politicians and bureaucrats of all colours and philosophies seem to be scrambling ineffectually to try to remedy them.

There seems to be abroad the idea that these things just happen, but that is absurd. They are all the result of stupid mistakes made along the way and it seems an awful lot of the chickens are coming home to roost in a rush.

And it seems to be taken for granted that when things turn to custard, it's the public's fault.

That has to be so because it is the public who are penalised while the politicians and bureaucrats go about fighting rearguard actions trying to clean up the messes they have made.

Yet the only fault that can properly be attributed to the public is that they have, from time to time, elected the dunderheads who purportedly run the nation on their behalf.

Let's start in the middle of last week when the price of petrol and diesel began once again to go off the clock.

Perhaps, just after the first oil shock of the early 1970s and in the period since, it has never occurred to any of our "leaders" that something should be done to make plans designed to ensure such a thing never caught us napping again.

But the opportunity, if it ever entered anyone's mind, wasn't taken to build up in this faraway place a national oil reserve which might shield us from the regular knee-jerk price reactions that seem to happen any time anyone so much as farts in any oil-producing country.

So who pays? The public are forced to pay through the nose for overpriced motor fuel and that includes men and women who are in competitive transport businesses - cab drivers, couriers, truckers.

The only people who don't suffer are the politicians and bureaucrats who drive perk vehicles and the executives and shareholders of the big, grasping oil multinationals.

And, of course, the Government cleans up in extra excise duty and GST and would never dream of giving the public a break by lowering one or both.

With the economy allegedly teetering on the brink of a slump - or a recession at best - job losses have already happened. There were more than 340 last week alone. So another slice of our industry is hived off to China or some other Asian place where workers are lucky to be paid even subsistence wages.

And all and sundry of those who supposedly know about these things - including union bosses, it seems - bang on about the high dollar, as if that is to blame.

But once again, it's the public who pay because all our imports are dearer, and it astounds me that no one seems overly concerned at the awful human tragedy that always comes to people who suddenly lose their jobs.

And, in the meantime, interest rates go up and up until they are again verging on the usurious and the public gets the blame for that, too - we're buying too many homes for ourselves - and many pay the penalty by having to struggle to find the extra dollars required to service their mortgages.

The banks and their overseas shareholders, of course, keep growing fatter. (Which reminds me: the woman who ripped off banks for more than half a million in mortgage money last month should be given a medal rather than be arrested.) But the rearguard action that takes the cake is the rort conceived by the three bozos who preside over three Auckland cities - Hubbard, Harvey and Curtis - who are off cap in hand to beg Wellington to let them toll existing roads.

The only people to derive any credit from this sordid scheme are George Wood of North Shore and Mike Lee of the ARC, who have refused to have a bar of it.

I must say I nearly choked on my toast when confronted with this newspaper's specious editorial endorsement of the plan. Reading mealy-mouthed words like "political courage" and "it's good to see three of Auckland's mayors offering leadership" made me want to puke.

Why should the poor motorist, who is not to blame for traffic congestion, be made to pay tolls to use roads that he or she has paid for in taxes of one sort or another over and over again?

The reason for congestion and the state of Auckland's roads - and other essential infrastructure as well -is that successive Governments and local authorities have for decades skimped on spending on these necessities and instead lashed out on fancy gewgaws to impress the populace and get them re-elected.

The chronic myopia of triennially elected politicians and the bureaucrats who depend on them for their livelihoods is the real cause of the expensive chaos that surrounds us. But you can bet your bottom dollar they'll never own up to it.

They'll just continue to blame you and me - and send us the bill.

Brian Fallow: Users should pay but not that early

Hold your horses, Transpower.

You are not entitled to pass on costs you have yet to incur. Today's electricity consumers should not have to pay for tomorrow's upgrade of the national grid.

And when you are subject to a regime that (conditionally) limits your price rises to less than the rate of inflation, it is a bit arrogant, isn't it, to announce a 19 per cent rise and the prospect of five more years of double-digit increases beyond that.

That at least is the message the Commerce Commission has just delivered to the national grid operator in spelling out the reasons for its intention, announced late last year, to impose control on it.

The decision is not yet final and the commission has not indicated what form such control would take.

But it is likely to put a stop to what the commission regards as excess profits which have enriched Transpower to the tune of around $50 million over the past two years, and it would be surprising and messy if the announced 19 per cent hike in transmission charges scheduled for April 1, which the commission believes is unjustified, went ahead.

Above all, one would expect it to seek to ensure a better alignment of the timing of approved investments on the one hand and the price increases to fund those investments on the other.

Transpower has yet to respond. When it does it is likely to emphasise the urgent need to spend serious money on its antiquated transmission network.

It will express the frustrations involved in planning for that while it waits for one regulator, the Electricity Commission, to approve its investment plans while another, the Commerce Commission, hobbles its ability to build up its balance sheet for a huge increase in capital expenditure.

Its business plan includes nearly $3 billion of capex over the next six years, including the controversial new line from Taupo to Auckland and a new inter-island link.

It will make the point that there is more to it than compensating landowners, ordering cable, erecting pylons and building substations.

Ahead of that it has had to build up its human resources, depleted during long years of little or no investment in the grid.

Should we care about all this?

After all, Transpower's charges represent less than 10 per cent of most residential consumers' power bills. The 19 per cent increase planned for this year, it says, would add only about $2 a month to their power bills.

But at the same time it announced that increase, it foreshadowed further rises of 13 per cent a year for the next five years. Combined with 2004's increase that would amount to a cumulative doubling of transmission charges over eight years.

The Commerce Commission accuses the company of seeking to prefund investments which the Electricity Commission has yet to approve as the most efficient option.

Before giving its blessing, the Electricity Commission has to consider alternatives such as the prospects of additional generation downstream of a transmission bottleneck as well as being vigilant for any tendency to gold-plate.

The Commerce Commission objects to prefunding on equity and efficiency grounds.

Today's electricity consumers are a different set of people from the future consumers who will benefit from the investment. This is why long-lived infrastructure investments are often funded by long-dated debt, to smooth the cost increase to users and reduce the inter-generational transfer.

If Transpower is allowed to "save up" for its planned investment there is an opportunity cost involved. The consumers whose money it is sitting on might have made better use of it.

The commission says prefunding means there is less incentive on Transpower to minimise costs and it may transfer risk from the company to consumers.

The sums involved are not trivial. If the quest for maximum efficiency, via the Electricity Commission's scrutiny, were to trim 10 per cent from the cost of Transpower's plans, the net present value of that saving would be $234 million, the Commerce Commission calculates.

If the investment programme ended up occurring a year later than Transpower envisages - not beyond the realms of possibility - that would save a further $148 million.

Transpower's statement of corporate intent shows that over the current financial year and next year it expects to increase its shareholders' funds through retained earnings by $157 million or around 14 per cent.

Of that, $60 million would come from cutting the Government's dividend to $10 million a year, from $40 million last year.

But the lion's share, nearly $100 million, would come from consumers as transmission costs rose by an eighth from an average 1.37c a kilowatt/hour to 1.54c.

Over the same period, it expects to ramp up its debt by $500 million.

A tidy sum, to be sure, but it hardly represents a major increase in gearing for an enterprise of this size. It would reduce the ratio of equity to total funds employed from 42 per cent last June to 40 per cent in June next year.

That is not exactly a balance sheet lying perilously low in the water. Transpower is a state-owned enterprise and a natural monopoly whose commercial risk - the possibility of expensive transmission lines being stranded by some unexpected shift of load or generation - is not very high.

It ought not to have much trouble borrowing money cheaply.

One of the reasons Transpower likes to adduce for ramping up its prices now is to avoid the need for an injection of capital from the Government.

It is a red herring. The Government would be able to borrow that money even more cheaply than Transpower.

Ultimately, of course, the electricity consumer will bear the cost of upgrading the national grid.

But Transpower's directors and shareholding ministers would appear to have plenty of options about over what period the inevitable price increases are spread.

It was unwise to expect the Commerce Commission to allow it to start early, especially when the economy is slowing, business profits are squeezed and consumers have been hit by a string of power price rises already.

Electricity prices, as measured by the consumers price index, have risen relentlessly by a cumulative 31 per cent over the past four years.

Most of that increase has gone to the generators rather than Transpower and the local lines companies which transport the energy.

The generators, too, are great ones for getting today's consumers to pay for investment which has yet to occur.

This is a structural feature of the wholesale electricity market.

Spot prices fluctuate wildly but the trend line they oscillate around is supposed to climb towards the long-run marginal cost - that is, the price at which the next dollop of generation capacity would be commercially viable.

The theory that that is the price signal the market should be giving is fine.

But the practice in New Zealand's case, being a small country, is that large new power stations are built only infrequently.

The response to the price signal can be a long time coming.

Leon Benade: A nation on the move

The first view of the wide highveld from the air quickens the pulse. One is immediately struck by the vivid colour of the big sky, the warm morning sunshine and the noise.

Johannesburg International Airport is a microcosm of the rest of South Africa: fast in places, a breezy attitude, unkempt in places, a raw bustle of humanity, clearly an African country, yet very mixed and integrated.

Nine years away revealed astonishing changes. There is a building boom that makes the eyes water; everywhere, it seems, no open land is safe.

The "concrete highway" well known to Johannesburgers is literally lined on both sides with impressive office parks and elegant, if sometimes brash, evidence of corporate muscle.

The northern suburbs of Johannesburg are literally bursting at the seams around the new financial hub of Sandton. Impressive shopping centres and casino complexes are patronised by well-heeled patrons of all shades.

An ongoing economic boom sees a stable currency that has moved little against the US dollar in two years, helped along by strong gold and platinum prices.

Property prices have risen, and it is difficult to find an average middle-class home in a city for under a million rand.

This boom is fuelled by a massive growth in the black middle class.

For anyone who has not been to South Africa in at least the past five to 10 years, the sheer number of people of colour who drive luxury German vehicles is mind-boggling. In the past year or so, new car sales have outstripped used car sales.

The massive residential property building boom has placed enormous strain on road infrastructure, and here the change is readily apparent, as traffic is constantly heavy and bottlenecks badly at peak times.

But the much-trumpeted notion put about by some recent South African migrants to New Zealand that the country is falling to pieces, and that the roads are in hopeless disrepair, was not readily evident.

Travel of 2000-odd kilometres through both large urban areas and small rural towns in South Africa revealed a burgeoning country that still has some of the finest roads one may wish to travel on.

These are roads that allow one to travel safely at 120km per hour, something we in New Zealand can only dream of.

In smaller places, there is less evidence of infrastructural investment.

However, it is apparent that there has also been a redistribution of spending priorities, as new schools and low-cost housing have sprung up in many places, particularly those previously disadvantaged.

The drive from Joburg to Durban that so many "vaalies" (those from the old Transvaal, now Gauteng, region around inland Johannesburg) were brought up on, continues to be a ritual, and the years do not remove the sense of anticipation derived from the pre-dawn start along the 600-odd km trip that takes one through some truly wondrous landscape; neither do the years remove the anticipation of first seeing the beauty of the Indian Ocean.

What made this trip different was to see the delight of black, Indian and Coloured families also enjoying what the beach has to offer.

A superb marine park, newly created on Durban's South Beach is world-class and hugely popular.

The changes wrought by a relatively peaceful struggle to democracy have created a nation that displays a pride in itself.

There is a positive mood, despite the fact that there are problems that relate to crime, Aids and allegations of corruption at different levels of government. A gratifying sense of purpose and desire to "get it right" are impressive.

Many of these changes have been purchased at the expense of the previously privileged position of whites. Evidence of black empowerment is everywhere.

However, evidence of a continued comfortable lifestyle for whites is also evident.

The poor are still poor; shanty "suburbs" are a frequent sight, although these are slowly being replaced with low-cost housing developments.

The crime phenomenon in big cities is a plague that the ANC Government has yet to solve satisfactorily.

Grand houses of old on large sections of land in the upmarket suburbs are steadily giving way to "lock and go" multi units, as these are not only less bother to maintain, but help to better protect the wealthy, as crime continues to be a serious issue.

Suburbanites live behind high walls, razor wire, electrified fences and spikes.

Many neighbourhoods are gated and fenced in, although the authorities are in dispute with these communities, which, it argues, have no right to restrict people's access.

As a result, the access booms are really cosmetic, yet are manned 24/7. Crime has spawned a massive security industry that includes armed response and security companies.

South Africa continues to offer a life experience that is unique and outstanding. It is fast, frenetic and not for the faint-hearted.

The return to the "beloved country" is one that helps to renew one's familial and ancestral roots.

However, as for generations of migrants throughout the world, there can be no going back. The most heart-warming words were addressed by the Customs officer at Auckland International Airport: "Welcome home".

* Leon Benade is a naturalised New Zealand citizen of South African birth who settled in Auckland, where he has lived with his family for the past nine years

Georgina Newman: Forlorn millions on brink of starvation

The carcasses of cattle and goats litter Kenya's scorched landscape. The only creatures enjoying a meal are the vultures which circle in the relentless blue sky. Even the camels, the desert's most hardy animals, are dying. Very soon the children will follow.

Kenya is suffering from the worst drought in 22 years. Water and food are running critically low and 1.2 million people are teetering on the brink of starvation.

The World Food Programme predicts that within two weeks this number will have risen by another million, just when all its emergency food stocks dry up.

Today there are few swollen-bellied children with stick-thin legs for the media to film. So far 42 people have died as a direct result of famine, but malnourished babies are arriving in droves at Unicef's therapeutic feeding centres in Wajir and Mandera.

If help does not arrive soon we will witness, yet again, the iconic African image of starving children. And by then it will be too late.

So while we still have this precious sliver of time to save thousands of children, why don't we send help now?

Kenya's drought is part of a larger crisis affecting millions in the Horn of Africa. Another 1.4 million people in Somalia, 1.5 million in Ethiopia and 60,000 in Djibouti are also perilously close to disaster.

Kenya's infamous Maasi camel-herding communities are facing extinction. Their herds are decimated by drought and they are too poor to buy food.

Most of the Maasi men in Kajiado district have left their farms, taking their cattle to search for pastures. The impact on the women and children left behind is desperate because there is no milk, the dams are bone dry, prices are rising rapidly and they have to fend for themselves. A cabbage that would normally sell for 25 shillings now goes for 60.

For the Masai, cows equal money in the bank, now that capital is rapidly expiring.

Herdsmen say they are losing dozens of cows each day. Given the difficulty of keeping them alive, cows are also losing value. An animal that once fetched the equivalent of $100 is going for a third of that.

Kenya's troubles are not a simple matter of a chronic lack of rain, though rain has been sparse or non-existent in some areas.

But this is a hard country used to a harsh climate. What has really broken the camel's back is the lack of funding for basic services.

It is a crisis of misplaced priorities. Unicef has predicted food shortages since October, but the Kenyan Government was slow to respond, not holding a single meeting in relation to the looming disaster last year. Only three weeks ago did the Government finally declare a state of emergency.

A recent field survey by Unicef estimated that there are some 40,000-60,000 malnourished children and women in 27 districts who need immediate assistance. As a result it has re-issued its October appeal, which calls for US$14 million ($20 million), as only half a million was forthcoming.

The combination of high malnutrition rates with generally low measles immunisation portends a major measles outbreak. Children weakened by malnutrition are at grave risk of any infection and measles is one of the most virulent, spreading lethally and quickly - it can take a weak child's life in a few hours.

Kenya's Achilles heel is that little money has been spent on basic infrastructure such as new roads or repairing existing bone-crunching roads, especially in the poorer northeastern regions.

There are few medical facilities, scant schooling opportunities and a lack of clean water or irrigation mechanisms.

All this means that the underlying causes of hunger in Kenya are not addressed.

Kenya is a relatively well off country by African standards. It should not have to rely on emergency food aid every time a drought occurs.

Ironically, Kenya is a food exporter, and in parts of the country silos are full of grain. But it lacks the road network to get the grain to where it is needed.

For children to escape poverty and hunger, investment is desperately needed. Food aid is vital for the survival of children, but ultimately what is needed is a complete overhaul.

We must help the starving children who are at the mercy of bad policies, but we must also give long-term assistance to help this country get on its feet so it doesn't live in a perpetual hand-to-mouth dependency.

* Georgina Newman is communications manager for Unicef NZ

Talkback: More 'tall poppies' should be encouraged to grow

By Jack Yan

The tall poppy syndrome is one of the toughest things to fight.

Here in New Zealand, it flies in the face of the business person's need to promote him or herself.

If television networks can call people "stars" because they appear on a dancing or singing competition and if the New Zealand Rugby Union has begun to promote individuals, then surely the syndrome is waning?

I think it is. When I tell people about my becoming a consumer print publisher two years ago and the first person to launch a website as a print title in more than one country, I get pats on the back. Even the Herald has been good enough to give us coverage, unlike some media I can name.

Some look at Lucire, the fashion magazine I established, and get frightened. It's as if little old me could threaten the existence of a broadsheet newspaper. This is the type of experience that stifles some of our brightest minds. If confronted with this narrow-mindedness often enough, they'll get discouraged.

They might bugger off to America like Chris Lewis did. Or they might just decide, with high tax rates to boot, that it might just be better not creating that world-beating business for the good of Aotearoa.

But even more dangerously, it lowers our expectations as a nation.

In my lifetime, I've seen our advantages eroded, from hybrid cars to the information society.

Folks my age remember that once upon a time, tens of thousands of cars in New Zealand ran on Kiwi-made natural gas and petrol, and we were one of the first countries to have Teletext. Both are the origins of the technologies that the world now says are desirable.

We even came up with the popstars concept and got plenty of countries copying that. Now we prefer licensing Pop Idol and giving some money to some Brits. For what? Coming up with the idea of a Cowell-mouthed tosser as a judge?

I would rather say that a Kiwi is capable of getting a Kiwi concept into other nations.

I began Lucire in New Zealand as a website in 1997. In 2004, it went to print, since people like the feel of a fashion magazine. Last year, I took the title into Romania. The US is next. Maybe France. That way I'm going to help us earn some money back from the times we buy French-owned brands such as Just Juice and Citrus Tree and Griffins and Eta.

Taking the opposite tack - using a brand that is proudly from New Zealand and not changing it - is not always easy.

In 2004, we had plenty of people tell us that they thought Lucire was a foreign magazine, meaning they thought that nothing that good could come out of New Zealand.

I say: "Bollocks." We just had a mega-movie come out of Miramar. I picked up the brilliant Idealog magazine recently. Two more words: Karen Walker. Why can't we have a fashion magazine that some are calling "New Zealand's fashion bible" taking the fight to the home of Vogue?

Our duty in the media, especially with the prospect of an economic downturn, is to encourage new businesses. And to raise expectations of New Zealanders, which the Government isn't doing.

That means being more aware of where our dollars are going when we shop for orange juice, biscuits or magazines.

I don't want to feel like a liar when I make my next speech in New York, saying: "The best things come from New Zealand."

* Jack Yan is CEO of Jack Yan & Associates and the founding publisher of fashion magazine Lucire