Check your words, Mr Pres­i­dent

Finweek English Edition - - LETTERS -

DUR­ING HIS KEY­NOTE ad­dress at an in­au­gu­ral three-day con­fer­ence aimed at bring­ing to­gether the three lev­els of gov­ern­ment – the leg­is­la­ture, ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­ciary – the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic of South Africa ut­tered words which set off alarm bells! He said the pow­ers of the courts can’t be su­pe­rior to those of elected Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. Cor­rect me if I’m wrong, but the com­mon view about our cur­rent con­sti­tu­tional model is that both the ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­cial struc­tures are on a par, with a sys­tem of checks and bal­ances cre­at­ing a sce­nario whereby one or more struc­tures can’t abuse its Con­sti­tu­tion­given power(s).

The ju­di­ciary has the power to strike down any leg­is­la­tion the ex­ec­u­tive makes that doesn’t com­ply with the supreme law of the coun­try – SA’s 1996 Con­sti­tu­tion. Ja­cob Zuma’s com­ments res­onate those of a by­gone era, where the ex­ec­u­tive ma­nip­u­lated the then con­sti­tu­tion to archive the pass­ing of leg­is­la­tion that tram­pled on ba­sic hu­man rights – a re­nais­sance we don’t need.

Eco­nom­i­cally, this be­ing a great pe­riod for SA’s econ­omy (with a ce­mented seat in the BRIC group of emerg­ing coun­tries ac­com­plished) politi­cians should watch what they say. Any pol­icy as­pi­ra­tions that seek to over­look the Con­sti­tu­tional Court’s power can only be a blow to the ro­bust­ness of the coun­try and which could ul­ti­mately rip­ple into the promis­ing African con­ti­nent with cat­a­strophic con­se­quences. Thus a strong stance on the uni­fi­ca­tion of both the ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­ciary (with­out one try­ing to over­ride the other) will only strengthen our al­ready world-revered con­sti­tu­tional tol­er­ance. So Mr Pres­i­dent, next time you make a speech, please give your cit­i­zens some­thing to calm al­ready jit­tery nerves.

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