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March 2008 Edition ---- to page back through Previous Editions click here

Well we want to get back onto the Feltex affair in earnest but first we wish to reflect on another of the Dominion Post's Saturday page C2 opinion efforts. This piece on 9 February focused upon John Minto and the award from South Africa he claims to have been offered but turned down. Mr Minto was a major protestor in New Zealand against the racist political regime in South Africa particularly by protesting against New Zealand having rugby contacts with SA. The rugby contact eventually stopped and in 1994 white rule ended in the republic. A photo with the article shows Mr Minto being greeted by President Mandella when this first SA president of the new era visited New Zealand in 1995.

The writer of this article expressed admiration of Mr Minto's past deeds and listed a number of potential valid criticisms of the current SA leadership of which Mr Minto has also been critical. But this writer, Andrew Whiteford, an economist at Informetrics, could not agree with Mr Minto's particular criticism upon which he says he turned down the award, which was that poverty in the country had increased under the new government, but the government had treated itself very generously. The writer claims that the poverty increase bit is not correct, and seems to think that the assertion of increased poverty casts a slur on the relatively free market system which operates there. Our research indicates that Mr Minto is right about poverty having increased although this has probably now been corrected.

We found this book on the internet, edited by Haroon Bhorat and Ravi Kanbur entitled "Poverty and well-being in post-apartheid South Africa" which brings together some core pieces of research. It has been commissioned 10 years after the transition although a lot of the data seems to relate to the first 5 years or so. Page 4 of the summary says that there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that income poverty had increased and quotes a 26 to 28 percent increase between 1996 and 2001 on a $2 a day poverty line. The depth also increased with the mean poor household increasing from 11% to 13% below the line. There was however a remarkable shift in official resources towards poor households typified perhaps by an increase in African households with electricity supplied from 44% to 62% over the same period. But those in the worst poverty could still mainly have missed out on such a development. They should have got benefits from education and health increases but it takes time for such applications to relieve poverty.

Whitford presented a graph showing changes in the percentage of people who were classified as being in poverty which hovered around the 40% mark until 2002 when it dropped significantly. No doubt the changes over time depend upon how broad a vision one has about who is in poverty. The source of this graph is not stated. The article refers to Professor Servas van der Berg of Stellenbosch university from whom some of the information has presumably come. This professor has written some papers jointly with Haroon Bhorat. An article by Cristina Scott of 15 Nov 2005 quotes Professor van der Berg as saying that criticism of the State for ignoring the poorest of the poor may be misplaced. Such a statement is not very convincing in supporting Whitford's claim that challenging the ANC on its record of improving the lives of the poor does not stack up. The article put emphasis on improvements in the past few years.

We say that Mr Minto has good reason to be aggrieved at the slowness of action to improve the worst of poverty and for allowing it to worsen for some time, and this attack upon him by the Dominion Post commentator is completely unjustified.

While we are on misinformation we wish to refer you to ruling 2012 of the New Zealand Press Council which we say is wrong and absolutely disgraceful. It concerns treatment by the website Stuff of a Press release of Family Court statistics. The only statistics involved concerned the gender of the winners of child custody battles. We understand that at one stage the Court was claiming that no count was done on this score, which was not a very convincing. Now the Court has provided the figures but apparently with a disgusting piece of commentary which Stuff has decided to go along with.

Out of about 4000 of these custody battles women were the winners in a ratio slightly greater than 2:1. Well that is certainly not equal but not as great a ratio as many people might have thought. We suspect that many men have been put off contesting custody because they have been led to believe that their chances were near nil but we suppose there would be no figures on that.

The trouble comes when the applicants for custody are brought into the equation. The article states that about 69% of women applicants and 65% of men applicants won custody so there was very little difference on a gender basis. There is a claim that the court is there to serve applicants if it possibly can, something which we believe the Court would not confirm if it came to the crunch. It would claim that it always gave custody to whoever it considered was the best person for the job and who was the applicant does not come into it. But it is prepared to put up a weird argument to make people think men are getting a better deal than they are.

Not every parent wanting custody has the opportunity to be allotted the privilege to hold the designation of "applicant". Under common usage of the word it can be argued that both parties are applicants but the word is given special significance by the court to determine who speaks or submits documents when so that the case proceed in an orderly fashion. Perhaps the terms litigant A and litigant B instead of applicant and respondent or some terms that don't suggest any superiority one over the other.

We sort of assume the who is the applicant would be decided by who got in first but it might be that the legal representatives of the parties decide this, if both parties have one from the start, or the Court might decide it if it gets applications from both parties in close succession. Women have special groups to help and finance them so they so that they are more likely to be first in and so become applicants and incidentally they are more likely to win because they are women. We are sure that whenever a party expresses concern or objects to not being made the applicant they are genuinely given the upmost assurance that it will not affect the outcome. The Court has no favourites in that regard.

We say that it is not surprising that applicants had more wins but it should and would not be because they were the applicants, but because other factors have incidentally put them in good stead to be both the applicant and the winner of custody. Foremost of these factors is probably that a parent is likely to get in early with an application if they have reason to believe that their chances of winning are good. If they have less reason to believe that their chances are good they are more likely to explore other methods of resolving the dispute. We expect that users of the statistics will tend to be considering the possibility of gender bias on the part of the court.

We say that who is the applicant is quite irrelevant to the question of who will win and it is completely wrong for the Press Council to say otherwise. They do not discuss their decision. We do not believe that they believe in their decision but that they have an improper political agenda.

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