Parking meters and the rule of law in Lebanon
Posted by worriedlebanese on 19/07/2009
What does a parking meter have in common with the rule of law ? Think about it. This is not cracker joke or a riddle. My answer is everything! This device pictured on the left is probably the best expression (if not the only local one) you can find of the famous legal principle everyone seems to be yearning for in Lebanon.
To understand why this is the case, one has to go back to the definition of this legal principle. In most Arab countries, the prevalent expression is a translation from the French or German equivalent “Etat de droit” or “Rechtsstaat” : دولة القانون. In Lebanon, the expression was uselessly expanded to become دولة المؤسسات والقانون, which is rather redundant. But it shows the general frustration people have with State institutions (civil servants and state officials) because of the unjust and discretionary manner in which they implement rule.
Instead of delving in definitions, let’s follow an American legal scholar, Lon Fuller, who determines it through eight defining elements.
In his book, The Morality of Law (1964), he defines these 8 elements in the following way. According to the principle of Rule of Law, a Law
- must exist and it should be obeyed by all, including government officials.
- must be published.
- must be prospective in nature so that the effect of the law may only take place after the law has been passed. For example, the court cannot convict a person of a crime committed before a criminal statute prohibiting the conduct was passed.
- should be written with reasonable clarity to avoid unfair enforcement.
- must avoid contradictions.
- must not command the impossible.
- must stay constant through time to allow the formalization of the rule it sets; however, it also must allow for timely revision.
- must be enforced through official action in a consistent way.
If you check the side of the parkmeters, you will find the rules that apply to parking in the alloted place. A person in uniform checks to see if people are abiding by the rules and hands a ticket to those who do not. His work is monitored by an inspector. Yesterday, I parked in front of a flower shop. I remember being threatened by the shopkeeper a couple of years back because I had parked in the same spot which he reserved for his clients. The shopkeeper said nothing yesterday. He was quietly abiding by the law and recognised that the road was part of the public domain, and he had no rights on it.
If the state is able to abide by the basic principles of the Rule of Law in the case of parkmeters, how come it doesn’t do it in many other domains? The reason is fairly simple. It has a financial incentive to do so. This public space is actually managed by a private company that is paying to run it. One has to recognise that it is a good argument for privatisation of public services.