Checks and Balances – Definition, Advantage and Disadvantage
Meaning of Checks and Balances
The principle of checks and balances means that each organ of government should exercise control over the other. The objective is to ensure that no organ of government dominates another.
The principle of separation of powers, as formulated by Montesquieu, enhances liberty and helps to avoid tyranny. But Montesquieu’s theory appeared to have been based on wrong premises as it did not reflect the true state of affairs in Britain where it was formulated.
In fact, a strict division or compartmentalisation of the organs of government is not practicable and any government that operates the principle of separation of powers, in its pure form, will collapse especially since government is based on cooperation and compromise among the various stakeholders in government.
Eventually, Baron de Montesquieu admitted the shortcomings of his formulation and advocated a system of checks and balances, which holds a different view from separation of powers.
Advantages of Check and Balance
Excessive use of power: It prevents excessive use of power by any of the organs.
Orderliness and efficiency: It makes for orderliness and efficiency in the exercise of their functions.
Respect for human rights: Checks and balances promote the enhancement of the freedom and liberty of individuals in the society.
Entrenched in the constitution: It makes for a smooth workin g of the constitution since such is entrenched in the constitution.
It prevents dictatorship: It prevents the possibility of the emergence of a dictatorial government.
Control of pawer: Checks and balances help in controlling power among the three organs of‘govemment.
Decision making: It makes for a thorough decision making process in a country.
Disadvantages of Check and Balance
Interference: There are some traces of evidence of one organ interfering in the affairs or functions of the others, for example legislative approval of some key appointments made by the executive (appointment of ministers and ambassadors etc.).
Powers of the president: Some of the judicial and legislative powers of the president run counter to the issue of separation and checks and balances of powers. Example is the area of pardoning an individual who has offended the state.
Impeachment: The power of impeachment bestowed upon the legislature is inimical to the working of checks and balances. For example, it makes the executive a puppet to the legislature.
Power of veto: The power of veto in the executive can affect the working of this principle.