Return to Magistracy

Return to Magistracy

A Distracted Bureaucracy

In our adventures to find a viable political system, we have politicized the bureaucracy moving it away from its primary function—magistracy.

Politically weak governments attempt to buy legitimacy through the delivery of projects and giveaways. Almost as a bribe — repeated governments claim “I cannot give you freedom and liberty but I will build dams, roads and railways!” And “I cannot give you security but I will build education.” And even there the dictates of the system lead to more building not more public service.

Such agendas are supported by donors who too are in hurry to write those reports claiming “literacy has improved in my tenure”, “in my 3 years here, I have done three projects on clean water”, and “I financed a project for building a dam worth 20 billion.” Donors are dumping money on development projects to achieve these ephemeral goals for better economic development.

Donor project are a godsend for the civil service. It gives them access to large funds that can easily be used for personal aggrandizement. Such funds come with nice cars (Land Cruisers), plush offices, nice allowances, liberal foreign travel and access to substantial consulting funds. Consulting funds can easily be used to benefit friends and family. Why would you want to do magistracy when the benefits are all in development?

It is no wonder that law and order has been on the decline here. No property rights exist; life and liberty are in serious jeopardy. Even your rights have to be obtained through powerbrokers. If you are not networked into the powerbrokers, even your life may not be safe. In such an environment, long term investment is very risky.

While society is falling apart because of the lack of magistracy, our old civil service the custodian of democracy has its attention divided. The premium is in development the drudge in law and order.

Magistracy first!

Recall that historically, the prime function of the government and civil service has been “magistracy” — the administration of law.

The primary role of the state as envisaged by many philosophers and as developed through history is to provide the framework to society for “individual personal and economic security”. This involves two separate processes — one for making fair and responsible laws (a parliamentary legislative process) and the other a system of fair administration of laws (a bureaucracy and judicial system).

The term “individual personal security” involves judicious and efficient police and emergency systems that administer the rule of law regardless of stature and hierarchy.

The term “economic security” is also very clear. It is the provision of secure property rights, secure system of contract enforcement and market facilitation. All this is to be provided with a minimal involvement of government.

The government must be like an umpire at a cricket game — to be seen and not felt, stopping the game only momentarily if required. The umpire does not get involved in the game nor is the umpire the star of the game.

No Development Without Magistracy

Growth without magistracy is ephemeral. Much evidence now exists to show that the rule of law--strong and fair magistracy--is an important prerequisite for growth. Development projects and assistance have not led to the development of strong foundations of growth, often leading only to temporary improvements in welfare. In cases where the state has really lost control of magistracy and rule of law, civil war has sometimes ensued. Examples from Africa are well known.

For the development of country and society, we must develop serious magistracy. The first step is to recognize that long term development requires the development of the magisterial good — individual and economic freedom — by the government. Moreover, the foundations of society and state lie in the development of the magisterial good and magistracy. Consequently, rather than relegating the magisterial good to second place after development, now we must give it priority.

If we accept this line of argument, then the current rhetoric of “development first” has to be accepted as wrong.

Government of the day must accept magistracy as a its primary function and development as secondary. The push for development cannot be an excuse to put off magistracy.

The development and the magisterial functions of the civil service should be separated. There must be a bureaucracy that is totally dedicated to magisterial work and no donor project should interfere with it. True development is the development of the magisterial good first.

What about infrastructure development and social sector development? When we have the magisterial good developed, the public sector can get the private sector to get increasingly involved in developing these objectives.

Without magistracy, the line between development projects and organized corruption seems to be very thin indeed.

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