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Wednesday 23 July 2008
Letters: West Bank barrier
Israel adopted 'security' spin about the West Bank barrier
Lior Ben-Dor (letters, 22 July) tries to rebuff comparisons between his country's policies with apartheid by repeating "security" spin about the West Bank barrier.
This illegal structure was rebranded as a security measure only when the Israeli government announced its construction to the world; prior to that it was always referred to in Israeli political circles as the "separation barrier".
It was designed by a demographer named Arnon Sofer who persuaded Ariel Sharon et al that the Palestinians posed a "demographic threat" and the Jewish state needed to "disengage" from them in case one day they call for a single democratic state: nothing to do with "security". Shimon Peres then said: "The line is following a certain vision of the future. When that happens, it stops being a security fence and becomes a political fence. Nobody will admit that it is being built for these [political] reasons; nobody will admit that it is a political line."
Ben-Dor makes no attempt to explain Israel's ever-expanding, illegal, Jewish-only settlements and roads that have cut the occupied territories into ethno/religious specific enclaves, or why Israel subcontracts sovereignty over land under its control to the key Zionist institutions of the Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund whose constitutions explicitly discriminate against non-Jewish use of the land. The consequence of this is Israeli Arabs being forced to reside on less than 8 per cent of the country of which they are supposed to be citizens.
Until the Israeli government can explain these policies, then comparisons between "the Jewish state" in Palestine and apartheid remain well-founded. But since Israel has refused to join the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of 1973, I will not hold my breath.
Public sector pay is no inflation control
Peter Jermey (letters, 19 July) makes the assumption that control of public sector pay will lead to automatic control of inflation.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The RPI increased from 3.8 per cent in July 2007 to 4.3 in November 2007 and continued to rise to 4.6 per cent in June 2008, despite a 2 per cent cap on public sector pay increases and the staging of pay awards such as that to the police. In the same period, food prices increased by double that of inflation and oil prices doubled from January 2007 till January 2008 and private sector pay rose by 4.2 per cent.
Professor Stephen Nickell, formerly of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, was reported as saying that public sector pay rises have nothing to do with inflation, and the Institute of Fiscal Studies even said that what matters more was the difference between overall government spending and taxation in controlling inflationary pressures.
It is clear that public sector workers are the victims of inflation rather than the cause of it, being hit with higher food prices, higher petrol costs, higher housing costs and cuts in real terms in pay.
The uproar we have witnessed over bonuses awarded to civil servants misses the point ("Tories 'horrified' by £128m spent on bonuses for civil servants", 7 July).
The salaries paid to senior civil servants are the lowest in the public sector, behind the NHS and local authorities. Basic pay, the level of bonuses and the total value of the package are all well behind the private sector. The amount of money involved is not the real issue. A far more important question is how performance in the service is measured and managed.
For decades, Civil Service appraisals have been largely focused on individual members. There has been little attention paid to how well the department in which they work has served the public and what the individual has contributed to the community. In addition, performance measurement has traditionally been relative (comparing individuals internally) rather than absolute (based on objective assessment of personal and collective achievement).
Rather than distributing the bonus pot to the highest performers in the group, government departments should only reward staff whose personal achievements have a direct impact on organisational performance. Where an organisation fails to meet its overall performance targets, the question should be asked about whether bonuses should be paid at all.
If civil-service bonuses are to be seen to be justifiable, there needs to be a greater degree of alignment between an individual's performance, his or her contribution to the department's overall achievements and improvements experienced by the public. Until this is achieved, the furore will continue.
Director of Public Sector Consulting, Hay Group, London SW1
Jesus was not a fluffy agony aunt
Deborah Orr (Opinion, 12 July) is mistaken about the sexual teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. It was, in fact, Paul who "did concede" (actually, urge) "that there were various reasons why a person may not choose to marry". But as anyone who looks up 1 Corinthians, chapter 7, will realise, this was not an encouragement to sexual activity outside marriage. That part of Paul's letter makes clear it is far better to marry than to behave improperly due to lack of self-control.
The notion that Jesus was "very tolerant" about this or any other subject speaks of a perception of Christ as a kind of fluffy agony-aunt figure whose only desire in life is for people to be nice to each other. That was not the Jesus who overturned the tables of the money-changers and repeatedly warned of the judgement to come.
How restorative justice works
In your article "Meet your victim – can criminals ever be shocked out of a life of law-breaking?" (15 July), yous chose to quote from a case that shows precisely the power of restorative justice (RJ). Peter, the former career criminal, has not offended since meeting his last victim, Will. Will has not looked back after feeling the relief that meeting Peter brought about.
At the same time, the report confuses the shock tactics of the "scared straight" projects in the United States with the very different process of RJ. This is a very safe process that allows conversation between victims of crime and their offenders; it is not about scaring offenders into change, but about building understanding and planning for voluntary change as well as dentifying how that change will be brought about.
In the Ministry of Justice research quoted in your article, it is reported that the agreements about the future reached through RJ are more likely to be kept than conditions forced upon offenders. In addition, victims who go through RJ are very satisfied with the process and an overwhelming majority (78 per cent) would recommend the process to~others.
The jury is not out, as the article claims, but the evidence is very clearly there. If less than 1 per cent of victims of crime are offered RJ at present it is not because courts and judges are reluctant to use RJ, nor because victims do not want to use the service, but simply because the service is not available.
With careful preparation for victims and offenders who want to take part in the process, the RJC would strongly support the use of true restorative justice to cut knife crime and other offences across the board.
Chief Executive, Restorative Justice Consortium, London EC4
Nuclear threat tothe environment
Gremlins must have entered Sarah Arnott's article ("Rolls-Royce eyes cut of £50bn nuclear market", 17 July) for her to write, "In the face of growing pressure to replace existing dirty power sources with environmentally friendly alternatives, nuclear is firmly back on the agenda".
With the spoil from uranium mines threatening long-term ecological catastrophe across the indigenous peoples' lands from Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, eastern Germany, Russia, Namibia to the USA, and some nuclear waste remaining highly hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years, with no long-term solution yet achieved for its management, the last thing nuclear energy can be described as is "environmentally-friendly".
Dr David Lowry
NHS Patient Choice needs an overhaul
I have just had my first encounter with the Choose and Book system that allows NHS patients to select for themselves where and when they will get hospital treatment. Sadly, my experience leaves me convinced that the system is in urgent need of a major overhaul if it is to deliver an acceptable service.
My Patient Choice information sheet listed five clinics and a phone number to make an appointment. After a not unreasonable wait, my call was answered, and I was told, politely, that the clinic of my choice was not "on the system" and that I must call on their direct line. Another period of soothing music but again an apologetic explanation that their clinic relied on the booking service provided by the general hospital.
This time an immediate reply. The clinic, date and time were agreed and the promised letter of confirmation arrived within four days. The next day I received a second letter cancelling the appointment.
A third letter, in the same envelope, offered me an appointment at a different and hard-to-access clinic and at a time and date that are not in the least convenient.
Whatever this process is meant to be, it is most certainly not patients' choice. If it's bad for patients trying to access health care through this convoluted means, it must be a nightmare for the staff trying to make it work. If my experience is not unusual, I suggest Choose and Book is abandoned until a workable system is in place.
In the interests of transparency, I should record that I am a former non-executive director of my local primary care trust.
Problems with absentee fathers
As a black single mother, I wanted to respond to Matthew Norman's article "Cameron tackles the great unmentionable" (18 July). I understand the challenges of bringing up a child on your own without the active support of the absentee parent. When I split from my son's father he reacted by refusing to have regular contact with his offspring and child-maintenance payments were sporadic, if at all.
His sanguine attitude towards his parental responsibility over the past few years is staggering. This has caused a great deal of anxiety and stress for my son and I as we deal with his emotionally abusive behaviour.
Recently, this white, middle-class professional has decided that looking after his son should cost him no more than £20 a week. Yes, I know all about absentee fathers; they can come from any ethnic background.
In the interests of accuracy, please note that some examiners for GCSEs and SATs will be retired teachers, supply teachers and others with a relevant qualification. Not all examiners/markers are full-time teachers, so your calculations (report, 18 July) do not reflect accuratelythe number of papers per examiner.
Amy's bad taste
As a former anti-apartheid activist, I take strong exception to rock singer Amy Winehouse changing the lyrics of the song, "Free Nelson Mandela" to "Free Blakey my Fella". That woman has got some chutzpah. There can be no comparison between what Nelson Mandela suffered 27 years in prison for, and the sentence for common thuggery and corruption handed down to Winehouse's husband. It was in especially bad taste, because she was singing at the concert to honour Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday, at which he was present.
Greenlane, Auckland, New Zealand
Killing for trinkets
It is appalling that the British Government should have bowed to the Chinese desire to trade in ivory again ("Britain poised to approve China ivory licence", 15 July). The claim that the Chinese authorities will control the supply is naive, and it's more probably a cowardly capitulation by the Government to economic pressure that has brought this change of view. All animals have a right to life and should not be killed merely to produce yet more decorative trinkets.
Passengers passing through Stansted should be aware of my experience. The staff responsible for returning luggage trolleys to the baggage reclaim area were diligent, keeping the area fully stocked. But when you arrive at the train, car park, or bus park, they have been diligent there also, resulting in no trolleys to hitch to so you can retrieve the pound coin you inserted. With more than 20 million passengers a year, is this a new boost to airport profits, or a profitable piece of initiative by the trolley-handlers?
Stake in the future?
I read that Margaret Thatcher was to receive a stake funeral; good plan, I thought (Philip Hensher, 14 July). I put my glasses on and realised, incredulously, that the State was going to pay for her internment. Is that with or without the stake?
Dunlop, East Ayrshire
Your campaign has focused on retaining tipping, while trying to change the proportion of money given to staff. Your letters page has reflected an overwhelming wish to do away with tipping. Please widen the discussion to include tipping of taxi-drivers (if you dare).
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