Lessons from History: Why do Certain Emerging Democracies Provide Particularly Fertile Ground for the Abuse of Office by Public Officials and Other Forms of Corruption?

Paper presented at the 2013 CLEA Conference in Durban

Steve Pete and David Hulme
School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Certain developing democracies appear to be particularly prone to the abuse of office by public officials, as well as other forms of corruption. It is the contention of this paper that one reason for this state of affairs may be general confusion surrounding the very nature of ‘democracy’ itself. In general terms, what is meant by ‘constitutional democracy’ is often confused in the public mind with simple ‘majoritarian democracy’. A failure to consolidate the principles of ‘constitutional democracy’, in the true sense of the term, provides fertile ground for corruption and other forms of abuse. In order to illustrate this point, this paper adopts as a ‘case study’ a controversy which has arisen around a proposed assessment by the government of South Africa, of the decisions of the country’s Constitutional Court. Certain members of South Africa’s legal fraternity are concerned that the ‘assessment’ will constitute undue interference with the independence of the judiciary. The paper traces and analyses the developing controversy, and then attempts to draw lessons from history by comparing the current clash between the South African Executive and Judiciary to a similar clash which took place in seventeenth century England. The paper concludes that such clashes appear to be fairly common, particularly in young democracies in which democratic institutions are yet to be properly consolidated. The implications for developing democracies within the Commonwealth are discussed.

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