Readers will know that we are firm believers in the rule of law. So it was with some interest that we looked at the website of the World Justice Project, an organisation which we viewed with some regard. The organisation, according to the site, "leads a global movement to strengthen the rule of law for the development of communities of opportunity and equity".
So far so good. But if you take a look at its "Rule of Law Index", it's hard not to have misgivings about how it operates. The index, according to the website, "is an innovative quantitative assessment tool designed by the World Justice Project offering a detailed and comprehensive picture of the extent to which countries adhere to the rule of law in practice".
Most of the top five positions in the various categories, for the 98 countries in the index, are occupied by Scandinavians, with the US, Britain and most of the European countries and occasionally Japan in the top 20. So if we look at the extent to which the rule of law limits government powers, we see that Singapore is ranked 21st and Hong Kong 22nd. Are government powers effectively limited by the legislature and the judiciary? Hong Kong ranks respectively eighth and ninth while Singapore is 48th and 22nd. Singapore scores highly at fourth in terms of "the extent to which government powers are effectively limited by independent auditing and review", with Hong Kong at No 17. Both cities score well in terms of the absence of corruption, with Singapore at seventh and Hong Kong ninth - both well ahead of the US at 18th, and Britain at 15th. Under "fundamental rights", Singapore perhaps surprisingly is ranked 23rd with Hong Kong at 31st.
It is even more surprising when we see that under "due process of law and rights of the accused", Singapore is seventh, and Hong Kong 16th. Hong Kong at 71st is surprisingly low under "freedom of opinion and expression is effectively guaranteed", and astonishingly is lower than Singapore's 68th. Both are poor under "freedom of assembly and association is effectively guaranteed" while Hong Kong ranks 15th for "fundamental labour rights are effectively guaranteed", better than Singapore at No 35. It is odd to see Hong Kong at No 10, above Britain's 12th, and the US in terms of open government while Singapore is at No 19. Under civil justice, Singapore at a surprisingly high No 4 outranks Hong Kong at 17th and Britain at 11th and the US 22nd. Possibly the oddest comparison sees Singapore at 26th under "civil justice is free of improper government influence", an area in which many think Singapore has not excelled, while Hong Kong languishes at 66th. A very strange assessment.
BNP goes where IBs fear to trade
BNP Paribas' announcement that it intends to add 1,300 staff in Asia over the next three years in its Corporate and Investment Bank has raised a few eyebrows. The aim is to increase revenues from the region from €2 billion (HK$20.7 billion) to more than €3 billion by 2016. The bank seems to be assuming that the region is a growth market, a view not universally shared in the industry. "It seems to me that BNP is about two years too late with this one," Charles Geisst, a former banker who is now a finance professor at Manhattan College, told the website efinancialcareers. "They're simply following other banks and taking too much time about it. You could almost use them as a counter-indicator."
While most large investment banks expanded in Asia following the financial crisis, they have since cut back as fee income has been on the decline since 2010. Barclays has given up on its 2010 plan to become a top three player in Asian equity capital markets, corporate broking, prime services and equities by 2015. Meanwhile, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and Citigroup have cut staff in Asia.
Perhaps BNP knows something the others don't. Then again, perhaps it doesn't.
Geldof at his 'big-mouthed best'
We're grateful to the Evening Standard for keeping us abreast of Bob Geldof's latest public utterances. And his topic at the British Venture Capital Association annual dinner? The Libor-fixing bankers. "Despicable gangster-ism at the highest level," he declared. "If it was the mafia, they'd all be in jail now. They're scum." As the newspaper observes, "at his big-mouthed best".