The judicial regulation of state commercial activity

Quinot, Geo (2007-12)

Thesis (LLD (Private Law))--University of Stellenbosch, 2011.

Dissertation presented for the degree of Doctor of Laws at Stellenbosch University.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The state participates in the market place in a large number of ways, spending millions annually. It buys and sells goods and services; it employs a massive workforce; it acquires, develops and disposes of land; it engages in all kinds of financial transactions; it sets up companies, holds shares and enters into partnerships. Yet, the legal treatment of the state as commercial player remains an enigma. In South African law there is no shortage of legal rules that apply or can potentially apply to state commercial activity, but there is nevertheless no coherent view of the conceptualisation of state commercial activity and as a result no clarity on how such conduct should be legally regulated. A voluminous, but extremely fragmented collection of statutory mechanisms aims to regulate a large variety of matters connected to state commercial activity. The courts have shown an almost schizophrenic attitude towards the application of the common law to these state actions, alternating between opting to apply general contract law and general administrative law rules. Constitutional transformation in South Africa necessitates a critical reevaluation of the legal approach to the regulation of state commercial activity. This necessity flows from a number of factors that converge in the judicial regulation of state commercial activity. These factors include a shift in the nature and function of the state, including the judiciary under the new constitutional dispensation; the use of commercial conduct to advance important transformation goals; the proper relationship between courts in protecting fundamental societal values captured in the Constitution and the executive as the key driver of social change; and the role of law in this changing environment. An analysis of the judicial regulation of state commercial activity creates an opportunity to probe basic questions about legal methodology, particularly in a transformative context such as South Africa. A central theme in this reassessment is the role of dichotomous reasoning in legal methodology, based on sharp distinctions between monolithic concepts such as public/private, state/private enterprise, rule/standard, contract/administrative action, delict/contract that no longer seem to adequately relate to experience in the real world. An analysis of South African case law on state commercial activity reveals the underlying judicial premise that all such state action can be classified as either administrative or contractual in nature. Once this conceptual classification is done the rules that apply follow automatically. State commercial activity is consequently subjected to either administrative law or private law rules in a manner that denies or obfuscates the choice on the part of the individual judge. The criteria used to classify the nature of the action under the classification approach have varied over time. The most prominent criteria are the source of the power exercised and the presence of superior power, with the courts currently alternating between these two. However, these criteria cannot be formulated with certainty and they do not provide consistent guidelines. While the criteria identify important aspects of state commercial activity that merit increased judicial control, the relationships between the criteria and the ensuing substantive regulation and particularly the relationships between them remain nebulous. Ultimately, the classification approach is characterised by excessive conceptualism and formalism. The reality that judges choose what regulation to apply to particular instances of state commercial activity is hidden. The application of specific substantive rules is made to seem natural, inevitable and selfevident. This closes off dialogue about that choice. Two alternatives to the classification methodology exist in South African law, namely an exclusively private law approach and a comprehensive public law approach. The exclusively private law approach highlights the commercial nature of the state action to the effect that state contracting is treated on par with all other forms of (private) commercial activity. However, it is questionable whether private law regulation can adequately address the regulatory concerns specific to the public context of state conduct. An analysis of this alternative approach identifies promising private law doctrines that can inspire such regulation, but significant further development is required before the desired level of regulation will be feasible on private law grounds. The comprehensive public law approach insists on the consistent application of public law rules to all state conduct, irrespective of the commercial nature of that conduct. Although this option may seem highly desirable, especially because it ensures public scrutiny of all state conduct, it is not ideal either. Particularly problematic is the high cost of such regulation and resultant inefficiency that may not be realistic given the current demands on South African public administration. The German and French legal systems provide examples of a third alternative approach in the form of distinct legal figures that exist between contract and administrative law. Recognition of such a distinct figure provides the prospect of developing a separate set of regulation tailored to the specific needs of that figure. A separate branch of government contract or government commercial law can thus be created. In South African law it may be possible to stimulate such development by recognising state contracts as a separate class of contract. However, it is doubtful whether the development of a third regulatory category will encourage the integration of public and private law rules to overcome the conceptualism of the current approach; it could also reinforce conceptualism by adding a third conceptual category. The most promising alternative methodology is premised on a more complex view of the interacting factors that inform judicial regulation and, by extension, legal treatment of state commercial activity. Such an approach perceives the distinctions between the various relevant concepts and factors not as sharp dichotomies, but as continuous and fluid relationships. It recognises that the legal treatment of a specific instance of state commercial activity is a function of the relationship between the various concepts and factors. Such an approach calls for more open and direct engagement with all the factors informing the regulation of state commercial activity. Ultimately, it requires individual judges to take responsibility for the choices they make in their involvement in state commercial activity by means of the regulatory control they exercise. It accordingly fosters dialogue and public debate about the role of law in social phenomena such as state commercial activity. This approach is in line with a culture of justification and transformative constitutionalism that ground the democratic enterprise in South Africa.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die staat neem op 'n groot aantal wyses deel aan die handelsverkeer en spandeer jaarliks miljoene. Dit koop en verkoop goedere en dienste; dit stel 'n massiewe werkerskorps in diens; dit bekom, ontwikkel en vervreem grond; dit sluit allerhande finansiele transaksies; dit rig maatskappye op, hou aandele en sluit vennootskappe. En tog bly die regsbeskouing van die staat as kommersiele speier 'n enigma. In die Suid-Afrikaanse reg is daar geen tekort aan regsreels wat op kommersiele staatsoptrede van toepassing is of potensieel van toepassing kan wees nie, en tog is daar geen koherente benadering tot die konseptualisering van kommersiele staatsoptrede nie en gevolglik geen duidelikheid oor hoe sodanige optrede deur die reg gereguleer moet word nie. 'n Groot volume uiters gefragmenteerde statutere meganismes poog om 'n verskeidenheid kwessies rakende kommersiele staatsoptrede te reguleer. Die howe toon 'n bykans skisofrene houding jeens die toepassing van gemeneregreels op sodanige staatsoptrede en wissel tussen 'n keuse vir die toepassing van algemene kontraktereg en algemene administratiefreg. Konstitusionele transformasie in Suid-Afrika noodsaak die kritiese herbeskouing van die regsbenadering tot die regulering van kommersiele staatsoptrede. Hierdie noodsaak vloei uit 'n aantal faktore wat ineenloop by die geregtelike regulering van kommersiele staatsoptrede. Sodanige faktore sluit in 'n verskuiwing in die aard en funksie van die staat, insluitende die regbank, onder die nuwe grondwetlike bedeling; die gebruik van kommersiele optrede om belangrike transformasie-oogmerke te bereik; die gepaste verhouding tussen die howe in hul beskerming van fundamentele gemeenskapswaardes in die Grondwet en die uitvoerende gesag as sentrale dryfkrag agter sosiale transformasie; en die rol van die reg in hierdie veranderende omgewing. 'n Analise van die geregtelike regulering van kommersiele staatsoptrede skep die geleentheid om basiese vrae rakende regsmetodologie aan te spreek, spesifiek in 'n transformatiewe konteks soos Suid-Afrika. 'n Sentrale tema in hierdie herbeskouing is die regsmetodologiese rol van digomatiese of tweesydige redenering gebaseer op starre onderskeide tussen een-dimensionele konsepte soos publieklprivaat, staat/private onderneming, reel/standaard, kontrakladministratiewe handeling, deliklkontrak wat skynbaar nie meer genoegsaam in verband staan met ervaring in die werklikheid nie. 'n Analise van Suid-Afrikaanse regspraak rakende kommersiele staatsoptrede openbaar die onderliggende regterlike hipotese dat aile sodanige staatsoptrede geklassifiseer kan word as 6f administratiefregtelik 6f kontraktueel van aard. Sodra hierdie konseptuele klassifikasie gedoen is, volg die regsreels van toepassing outomaties. Kommersiele staatsoptrede word gevoglik 6f deur administratiefregreels 6f uitsluitlik deur reels van die privaatreg gereguleer op 'n wyse wat die keuse van die betrakke regter ontken of verberg. Die kriteria wat gebruik word in die klassifikasiebenadering om die aard van die handeling te klassifiseer het oor tyd verander. Die belangrikste kriteria is die bran van die magte uitgeoefen en die teenwoordigheid van staatsmag, met die howe wat tans hierdie twee kriteria afwissel. Hierdie kriteria kan egter nie met sekerheid geformuleer word nie en dit bied geen konsekwente riglyne nie. Terwyl die kriteria belangrike aspekte van kommersiele staatsoptrede identifiseer wat strenger geregtelike beheer ondersteun, is dit veral die verhouding tussen die onderskeie kriteria sowel as die verhouding tussen die kriteria en die daarapvolgende substantiewe regulasies wat vaag bly. Uiteindelik word die klassifikasie-benadering gekenmerk deur oormatige konseptualisme en formalisme. Die realiteit dat regters kies watter regulasie om toe te pas op besondere gevalle van kommersiele staatsoptrede bly verborge. Die toepassing van spesifieke substantiewe reels word voorgehou as natuurlik, onvermydelik en voor-die-hand-liggend. Hierdie benadering sluit dialoog oor sulke keuses uit. Twee alternatiewe tot die klassifikasie-metodologie bestaan in die SuidAfrikaanse reg, naamlik 'n suiwer privaatregtelike benadering en 'n omvattende publiekregtelike benadering. Die suiwer privaatregtelike benadering fokus op die kommersiele aard van die staatshandelinge, met gevolg dat staatskontraktering soos aile ander vorme van (privaat)kommersiele optrede gehanteer word. Dit is egter te bevraagteken of die suiwer privaatregtelike regulasie op 'n bevredigende wyse al die regulatiewe oogmerke spesifiek tot die publieke konteks van staatsoptrede kan aanspreek. 'n Analise van hierdie alternatiewe benadering dui op belowende privaatreg-leerstukkke wat sodanige regulasie kan onderle, maar aansienlike verdere ontwikkeling van hierdie leerstukke is nodig alvorens die privaatreg die verlangde vlakke van regulasie kan bied. Die omvattende publiekregtelike benadering dring aan op die konsekwente toepassing van publiekregtelike reels op aile staatsoptrede, ongeag die kommersiele aard van sodanige handelinge. Hoewel hierdie opsie uiters wenslik blyk te wees, veral gegewe die wyse waarop dit publieke oorsig oor aile staatsoptrede verseker, is dit ook nie 'n ideale benadering nie. Veral problematies is die hoe koste van sodanige regulasie en die gepaardgaande ondoeltreffende staatsadministrasie wat, gegewe die eise wat tans aan die Suid-Afrikaanse staatsdiens gestel word, onrealisties mag wees. Die Duitse en Franse regstelsels verskaf voorbeelde van 'n derde alternatiewe benadering in die vorm van 'n afsonderlike regsfiguur wat bestaan tussen die kontraktereg en die administratiefreg. Die bestaan van so 'n afsonderlike regsfiguur skep die moontlikheid vir die ontwikkeling van afsonderlike regulasie toegespits op die spesifieke behoeftes van daardie figuur. 'n Afsonderlike veld van staatskontrakte of staatshandelsreg kan gevolglik ontstaan. In die Suid-Afrikaanse reg mag dit moontlik wees om sodanige ontwikkeling te stimuleer deur die erkenning van staatskontrakte as 'n afsonderlike, spesifieke klas van kontrakte. Dit is egter te betwyfel of die ontwikkeling van 'n derde kategorie van regulasie die integrasie van privaatregtelike en publiekregtelike reels sal bevorder en die konseptualisme van die huidige benadering sal oorkom; dit mag ook bloot konseptualisme versterk deur 'n derde konseptuele kategorie by te voeg. Die mees belowende alternatiewe metodologie is gegrond op 'n meer komplekse benadering tot die wisselwerkende faktore wat die geregtelike regulering van en die regsbenadering tot kommersiele staatsoptrede onderle. Sodanige benadering beskou die onderskeid tussen die betrokke konsepte en faktore nie as 'n skerp digotomie nie, maar as aaneenlopende en beweeglike verhoudings. Dit beskou die regsbenadering tot 'n spesifieke geval van kommersiele staatsoptrede as 'n funksie van die verhouding tussen die verskeie konsepte en faktore. So 'n benadering vereis 'n openliker en meer direkte omgaan met die faktore wat die regulering van kommersiele staatsoptrede onderls. Uiteindelik vereis dit dat individuele regters verantwoordelikheid sal neem vir die keuses wat hulle maak in hul betrakkenheid by kommersiele staatsoptrede deur middel van die regulatiewe beheer wat hulle daaraor uitoefen. Oit bevorder gevolglik dialoog en publieke debat oor die ral van die reg in sosiale praktyke soos kommersiele staatsoptrede. Hierdie benadering is in Iyn met 'n kultuur van regverdiging (culture ofjustification) en transformatiewe konstitusionalisme (transformative constitutionalism) wat die grandslag vorm van demokratiese ontwikkeling in Suid-Afrika.

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