Good news on SA’s adherence to the law

2016-10-30 12:34

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South Africa may be in the grip of depression about state capture, university protests and virtually nonexistent growth, but citizens can rest assured that the country’s adherence to a rule of law culture is still something to write home about.

This is according to the 2016 Rule of Law Index released by World Justice Project in Washington last week. The index measures how the rule of law is experienced by citizens of 113 countries on all continents. Not surprisingly, Scandinavian countries came out tops. Denmark was first, followed by Norway and Finland. At the bottom of the pile were Afghanistan and Cambodia, with Venezuela coming stone last.

While it may seem predictable that South Africa would come out tops among the sub-Saharan countries surveyed, the country was also a respectable 43rd globally. Ghana, Botswana and Senegal were 44th, 45th and 46th, respectively. The country also scored highly among the upper middle income bracket into which it falls internationally. At ninth place, South Africa was ahead of countries like Argentina, Brazil, China and Colombia.

The index measures factors as diverse as constraints on government powers, open government, citizens’ security and fundamental rights. It involves empirical research plus interviews with a representative sample of citizens in each country to determine how they feel about the societies they live in.

Pulling the country down on the regional and global index is that bane of South Africans’ lives: security. South Africa’s ranking on “order and security” is 12th out of 18 neighbours, in the income ranking the country comes in at 29 out of 37 while on the global scale it is a worrying 91st out of 113 countries.

Attesting to the relative quality of our democracy, South Africa comes eighth out of its income peers on “constraints on government powers”, seventh on open government and third on fundamental rights. When it comes to regulatory enforcement – which entails factors such as respect for due process, absence of improper influences and unreasonable delays – South Africa comes 10th among its peers. This is important as citizens and (especially) investors want to know that the chances of their rights and contracts being enforced will be high.

Likely to raise eyebrows among South Africans who have been immersed in various versions of Guptagate and other nauseating “gates” is the 12th-ranked nation’s absence of corruption. While some may want to argue that this shows that there are many worse countries than ourselves at this level of development, a closer look at the index shows that the factor that pushes South Africa up is the cleanliness of the judiciary. But areas such as the executive, the legislature and the law enforcement agencies do not shine brightly at all.

On civil justice and the functioning of the criminal justice system, South Africa also does pretty well, coming 10th and 12th, respectively. Here the absence of judicial corruption and non-interference of government in judicial matters work for South Africa’s ranking. The effectiveness of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as ombuds and other bodies such as the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration that avoid courts also stands the country in good stead.

When it comes to the criminal justice system, South Africa does appallingly on “effective investigations” and the running of an “effective correctional system”.

An interesting aspect on the sub-Saharan map is the fact that the two lowest-ranking countries – Uganda and Zimbabwe – have the longest serving heads of state. Uganda, which has been run by Yoweri Museveni for 30 years, is 105th. Zimbabwe, which has had Robert Mugabe for 36 years, is 108th. The two countries score terribly on all counts, the most glaring and perhaps obvious being constraints on government powers, open government and fundamental rights.

While the US is 18th overall, this looks flattering when compared with its regional and income peers. It is only 13th out of 24 countries in its neighbourhood and 18th out of 36 countries in its income bracket. Accessibility and affordability of civil justice, discrimination in the justice system and overcrowded and ineffective correctional services are the main factors dragging the US down. Interestingly, corruption in the legislative arm of government is also flagged in the index, probably as a result of the formalised lobbying system in Washington and in state legislatures. – Mondli Makhanya

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