The gift of BEE

The time of the year associated with gift giving is upon us. Many different ways exist for giving and sharing presents but one often encountered in coffee groups, workplaces and other social gatherings is a Secret Santa, where people are expected to buy something for someone else for a certain value and to receive another present back for the same value.

A variation of this is what is known as a Dirty Santa or a White Elephant Gift Exchange, whereby each person still buys a gift for a certain value but when given the chance to receive a gift can chose to open a gift or steal an already opened one from another person. All the gifts are still for the same value, but clearly the less popular gifts are not stolen and inevitably someone receives a gift nobody wants to steal, the white elephant.

The legend goes that the King of Siam (modern day Thailand) would give white (albino) elephants as gifts – to anyone who displeased him. White elephants are extremely rare and so it was a sign of great wealth to own one. It was a status symbol and titles such as “Lord of the White Elephant” were highly sought after. The great Burmese Warrior King Hsinbyushin (try pronounce that on New Year’s eve) of the eighteenth century used the title with pride. But white elephants were sacred and protected from labour. So, getting a white elephant showed that the King’s favour, but being of no practical use, came with the costs of upkeep and not much more in reality. A white elephant could bankrupt one, and it did.

Today the term ‘white elephant’ is used for unnecessary infra-structure like bridges to nowhere, empty stadia, toll gantries and under-utilised state of the art facilities. Like the white elephants of lore, they may look very prestigious but are costly to maintain, and one has to wonder whether one really needs or wants them.

BEE can easily be a white elephant too.

Nobody is required to ‘gift’ shares in a business, but many BEE transactions are attempted with “giving” shares away with some kind of vendor-finance. The costs of maintaining this include the finance costs on a loan and the expectation of some value add. And so, the “gift” is given with an expectation of something in return. Gifts like these could be white elephants if they have no practical benefit to the recipient, especially if they come with costs.

At this time of the year, whilst reflecting on the what’s possible in 2019, we would encourage all customers to set their goals and resolutions – but to also think what they mean for others. If we could decide on resolutions, that benefit others too 2019 will be one of the best years ever.

Done correctly, BEE is a gift for us all. Done poorly it’s a white elephant.

All BEE certificates will need to be renewed in 2019 and we would encourage all companies to think not only what they can get from their BEE level, but what their BEE level will mean for the whole of South Africa. We have some ideas, but for now, let’s focus on creating gifts like legacies that everyone would want to have – and not consider to be white elephants.

Enjoy your festive season and the special people in your life. Travel safely. Rest well.

2019 is going to be a cracker.