Essay on the Unitary and Federal Governments

The State is unity and a like quality attaches to its government as well. But the term government is also used for its various levels of administration and the contemporary use of the term extends to the internal “government” of various corporations, groups and associations and all these “governments”, its innovators claim, operate in response to forces that it seems natural to call political.

It would appear from such a use as if there could exist within the State a number of governments at the same time. But it is not so.

It may be called a traditional approach, but in the real sense there can be no government within a government. What seem to be separate governments are in reality parts of one governmental system. They all form parts of one integrated governmental organisation.

This point is important to grasp for proper appreciation of the distribution of powers among its different levels of administration and the character of the governmental system resulting there from. The conventional use of the term for all levels of administrations, however, is universally accepted and practised.

All the same, its use for the internal management of corporations, associations and groups is likely to cause confusion and even ambiguity in properly understanding the operative part of the machinery of the State.

Though a State can have but one government, yet such is the extent of territory over which many modern States exercise jurisdiction and so numerous and varied are their functions that it is impossible for any single authority to do its work from one single centre. Then, it is not only the problem of doing the work.

It must be done effectively and efficiently. It is, therefore, imperative that the sum total of governmental powers should be split up and distributed among different organs and authorities, and, together, they should all constitute one harmonious scheme for the administration of public affairs.

Territorial and Functional Division:

There are two methods of dividing governmental powers, territorial and functional. The territorial division of powers seeks to divide the territory of the State into a number of distinct divisions and sub-divisions each of which is charged with the performance of certain governmental functions within its boundaries and is provided with a machinery of governance for that purpose.

The result of such territorial divisions and sub-divisions is the existence of national government and a series of local authorities. The functional method is that where the distribution among particular organs or authorities is made in accordance with the character of the functions to be performed.

These two are not alternate methods. Both are used in the organisation of all modem governments, but differently, this leads to different characters of the resulting governmental systems.

Division on Territorial Basis:

The desirability of distribution of governmental powers among territorial units results not only from the extent of the territory of modem States, but also from the fact that many functions of government affect exclusively, or primarily, the interests of particular localities rather than the country as a whole.

It does not, however, mean that one single central authority cannot perform these functions. But if it does, the burden of work and responsibility would be too heavy for effective and efficient administration.

It would also result in intolerable expense and delay. Moreover, it is politic to entrust the smaller communities with the affairs that concern them alone, because of the presumption that the people belonging to a particular locality can best know and appreciate their needs.

Besides, it gives to a larger number of persons an interest and share in political affairs. “We cannot realise the full benefit of democratic government,” says Laski, “unless we begin by the admission that all problems are not central problems, and the results of problems not central in their incidence require decision at the place, and by the persons, where and by whom the incidence is most deeply felt.”

The system of territorial sub-division is essentially similar in all modem States. First, for certain purposes which are vital to the life of the nation, the entire country is treated as one political unit and the organisation managing all such affairs is called the Central or National government.

Next, the country is divided into a relatively small number of important divisions, variously designated as constituent States, Provinces, and Cantons, etc., with a complete governmental organisation of their own.

These grand divisions are, in their turn, further sub-divided into smaller areas known as Districts, Countries, Townships, Communes, etc., each also having its political organisation. Further sub­divisions, if there are any, are usually of a purely administrative character.

In addition, all States recognise that urban and rural areas present different problems of government and, consequently, grant to them distinct political organisations for the performance of the governmental duties specially affecting their peculiar interests.

Analysis of the Problem:

But the real problem is that of determining how the sum total of governmental powers shall be distributed territorially. If we analyse this problem, it will be found that in it are involved four distinct questions: (1) What authority shall decide the distribution of powers? (2) What shall be the geographical system of division into different political units? (3) What shall be the powers of the government of each territorial unit? (4) What shall be the type of governmental organization in each territorial unit?

For a student of Political Science the first of these four questions, viz., what authority has the legal right to determine the distribution of governmental power among the different territorial units is much the most important, for its decision determines the character of the resulting governmental system.

Two Types of Government Unitary and Federal:

Two systems are found in modem States with two types of resulting governments, unitary and federal. A unitary government is a single integrated system of government for the exercise of all powers. The legal sovereign confers all the powers of government in the first instance upon a single central government.

The central government may exercise all these powers by itself or create political sub-divisions and delegate to them such powers as it may deem wise to delegate. The central government is competent to change their boundaries as well as powers at its pleasure, by ordinary legislative enactment.

A federal government, on the other hand, is a system of government in which powers are divided and distributed between the central government and governments of political divisions.

Both sets of governments exercise powers granted to them by the Constitution and are, within a sphere, coordinate and independent, that is, both are free and autonomous within the spheres assigned to them by the Constitution and neither is helplessly dependent on the other for its existence and proper functioning.

It means equality of status between the two sets of government; the one is not simply the creation of the other. Both, the national government and the regional governments, enjoy a juridical status and a corporate personality.

Unitary System:

Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, Japan, Afghanistan, Iran, and many other countries have unitary governments. There is one integrated system of government and the supreme power belongs to the central, government. For administrative convenience and other considerations the country may be divided into political divisions of different categories, but all authority flows from the central government.

These sub­divisions have no original existence of their own. They are the creation of the central government and may be altered at its will. The power exercised by them is only a delegated and subordinate authority which can be increased, diminished or withdrawn at the discretion of the central government.

The sub-divisions are, therefore, the agents of the central government and whatever autonomy or governmental competence may have been conceded to them, exists by sufferance rather than by constitutional guarantee.

The real point to know is the authority by which such areas are established and their powers and governmental organisation determined. Britain allows maximum autonomy to her local areas, but they are the creatures of Parliament and all such powers are determined and derived from the Acts of Parliament and can be enlarged or restricted at the will of the government at London.

Whitehall also exercises considerable administrative control over all such areas and, as Ogg sums up: “All told however, central control is wide and deep; not only so, but it is steadily penetrating to new phases and levels.”

France is divided into administrative units called “Departments” which are divided into cantons, arrondissements, and communes, each having its organs for local administration. But general opinion is that it is almost misleading to talk about local government in France.

Centralization is the essence of French local government “Centralization rose to a superlative degree. All authority converges inward and upward.” The local organs are merely agents of the central government. From the communes to the Ministry of Interior the administration is linked up in one chain.

The Minister of the Interior just “presses a button the prefects, sub-prefects and mayors do the rest. All the wires run to Paris.” Ogg and Zink give a matter of fact summing up of the nature of local government in France.

They say, “Not only are there no constitutionally separate spheres of governmental authority, there is really one government, functioning equally through Ministers and Parliament at Paris and prefects and councils throughout the country at large.

Local areas have only governing organs, local bodies only such powers as are given to them by national law. All of the threads are gathered ultimately in the hands of the central government at, Paris. More than this, the entire mechanism of departments, arrondissements and communes, heads up at a single ministry at the capital, i.e., Interior.”

The Government of India, too, was unitary in character under the Act of 1919. Although the Provinces were given a partial responsible government, called diarchy, and the central and provincial subjects were demarcated, normally allowing the Provinces to legislate on provincial subjects, yet the Government of India was supreme in all affairs of Provincial governments, executive and legislative.

The Act of 1919 had vested the superintendence, direction and control of the civil and military government of India in the Governor-General-in-Council who was required to give due obedience to all such orders as he might receive from the Secretary of State for India.

The Governor-General had wide powers of assenting to, vetoing, or of reserving for the significance, of His Majesty the King-Emperor, and of returning for further consideration bills passed by the Central Legislature. He could exercise similar powers in relation to bills passed by the Provincial legislatures.

The Indian Legislature was competent to make laws for all persons and all things within British India, except that the previous sanction of the Governor- General was necessary for the introduction of any measure regulating any provincial subjects as classified according to the Act of 1919.

Similarly, the Central Legislature had the power to repeal or amend any law in force in any part of British India, except that the previous sanction of the Governor-General was necessary for introducing a bill, repealing or amending any Act of a Provincial legislature.

Merits of Unitary Government:

The unitary type of government represents the most effective type of governmental organisation. The whole problem of the organisation of government is enormously simplified and the system possesses the merit of flexibility.

One of the essential features of a good governmental system should be its ability to modify and adjust its organisation, and the manner in which its powers are exercised, as new needs and conditions demand such a change.

In a unitary government territorial division of powers is a matter for the government itself to determine; it has, accordingly, full powers to modify its scheme of internal organisation and distribution of powers, as and when need arises.

The outstanding feature of the unitary government, as the name itself implies, is unity. All powers of government are concentrated in the hands of a single set of authorities and all organs of government constitute integral parts of one piece of administrative mechanism. There is uniformity of laws, policy, and administration.

All the organs of government can thus be brought to bear directly upon the problems of administration to be solved. There can be no conflict of authority, any conflict or confusion regarding responsibility for work to be performed, no over-lapping of jurisdictions, and no duplication of work, plant or organization which cannot be immediately adjusted.

In the fields of foreign policy and national defence the strength of the centralised government is especially manifest. It exhibits promptness of decision and firmness of action.

Unified administration checks centrifugal forces and saves the administration from disruption. The focus of loyalty is not divided; it concentrates at one single point. It, thus, injects a sense of single patriotism and vouches for the unity and integrity of the State. Finally, a unitary government, being simple in organisation, is less expensive. There is no duplication of political institutions.

Defects of Unitary Government:

The one major defect which can be ascribed to a unitary government is that it tends to repress local initiative, discourages rather than stimulates interest in public affairs, impairs the vitality of local governments, and facilitates the development of centralised bureaucracy.

The present-day central governments, it is maintained, have to tackle so many complex problems, national and international, that they have neither the initiative nor the time to devote to local affairs.

Local areas cannot, accordingly, progress. But such a criticism will not hold valid once we distinguish between centralization of authority and centralization of the use of this authority. A really centralised government is one in which the central government, instead of making use of agencies to which large powers of discretion are granted, attempts itself directly to administer local affairs.

It is in this sense that France, in comparison with other countries, has a highly centralized government, and not because it has adopted a unitary form of government.

There is nothing in the unitary form of government which does not permit decentralization in the actual exercise of governmental powers, or the conferring of autonomy or powers of self-government upon political sub-divisions.

All the same, unitary government is best suited for small countries which have a geographical unity and which are racially and culturally homogeneous. It does not suit a country with a large territory and huge population consisting of diverse races and cultures, as India and the United States of America. Only a federation can bring unity out of this diversity.