Advantages and Disadvantages of Federal System of Government

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Federalism System of Government

Advantages and Disadvantages of Federalism System of Government

A Federal System of Government or Federal State is one in which there is constitutional division of powers among different levels or three tiers of government (federal, state/region, local governments).

In a federal system, the federal or central authority represents the whole and acts on behalf of all in certain matters, especially defence, external affairs, currency, national revenue etc and any other areas considered to be of common interest.

There also exists state/region or local authorities with powers of legislation and administration within constitutional limits. It should be observed as well that in this system, the supremacy of the constitution is not only respected or upheld but also responsible for the division of powers among the tiers of government.

(i) A central government is supreme with respect to all matters of common importance to the whole federal state.

(ii) Every state and local government has its own government. However, state and local governments are still subordinate to the central government. Central, State and Local Governments are referred to as three tiers of government in a federal set up.

Advantages of Federal Government

A federal system of government has the following advantages.

  • By coming together to form a federation, weak states are able to enjoy the advantages of union without totally sacrificing their own. local autonomy.
  • The federal system of government allows for active participation of the people in the management of their own affairs as it leaves the determination of local policies in the hands of local officials who are responsible to the local electorate. In other words, it allows for the decentralization of government.
  • It promotes unity in diversity. Although the communities are different, federalism brings them together under one umbrella.
  • Federalism encourages the right to self-government and local independence.
  • It helps to maintain a balance between centrifugal and centripetal forces in a state. Centrifugal forces tend to pull away from the centre while centripetal forces are those forces that have centralizing tendencies. The civil service, for example, is a centripetal force while religion or ethnicity is a centrifugal force, which tends to divide the people along sectional or particularistic lines.
  • Federalism helps to encourage uniformity in government legislation, policy and administration.
  • A federal system of government allows experiments to be tried in states or local government areas such as could not be attempted on a country-wide basis.
  • Federalism relieves the central legislature and the central government from the necessity of devoting time, energy and resources to the solution of local problems.
  • The division of powers between the central and state governments helps to prevent abuse of power and dictatorship.
  • It leads to rapid and even development since the states receive their own share of the national revenue and apply the resources for the development of their respective areas.
  • In the public finance of a federal state, the revenue allocation system ensures that each state has at least the resources to maintain its existing scale of activities. That is, the major sources of ordinary revenue like import and export duties which by their nature come under the federal government are disbursed at least, in part, to the various state governments whose own resources or ordinary revenue are much less than are required to cover their recurrent expenditure. By so doing, weak states are assisted economically and this may encourage their economic independence.

Disadvantages of Federalism System of Government

The major disadvantages of federalism include the following:

  • Owing to the duplication of offices and institutions in a federal state as evidenced in the establishment of a Bi-cameral Legislature, a federal government is generally expensive to operate. Thus, the cost of administration in a federation is very high and resources, which could have been used to develop the country, are expended largely on personnel emoluments and overhead costs.
  • When a new state is created out of another one, for instance new sets of institutions are established and this may weaken both the old and new institutions, as this precipitates a massive movement of personnel from one state to another. The money spent on administration is an expenditure which adds little to the development of a country.
  • A citizen may owe more allegiance to his state or ethnic group than to the nation and this may impede the process of nation-building. In other words, the citizens may show little commitment to national institutions and goals and may be more concerned with local issues than national affairs.
  • The process of formulating and executing policies is very slow as all the states and communities may have to be consulted in order to achieve national consensus and standards. This partly explains the difficulty in creating states in Nigeria during civil rule.
  • There is unhealthy and unnecessary competition among the states.
  • The federal (central) government may favour some states in the allocation of resources and development projects and this may create tension in the political system. Although almost every part of a country claims to be marginalized, the fact remains that some areas are better favoured than others in the allocation of national resources e.g. in the creation of states and local governments and in filling key positions in the public service.
  • It is difficult to adapt a federal constitution to suit changing circumstances, as it is generally difficult to amend such a constitution.
  • It is sometimes difficult to determine which level of government has the power to deal with a particular subject and this may lead to conflicts of authority or a situation where no action is taken on a particular matter.
  • The federal constitution does not contain adequate safeguards against secession by member states.
  • A state government may embarrass the federal government especially in the conduct of foreign relations. For example, during the Secon Republic many state governments incurred massive debts without the prior approval of the federal government for the huge indebtedness of the country to insututions.
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