Limitations on the Powers of the Executive Branch

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Limitations on the Powers of the Executive Branch

The executive arm of government is the organ responsible for policy making and implementation of policies and laws made in the country.

The executive arm of government is the same with administration or cabinet, the president or prime minister of a country, governors of states, ministers, the civil service, the armed forces, the police, etc, belong to the executive arm of government. It carries out the day to day work of government.

In some countries, the executive branch may equally perform some legislative and judicial functions. For example, the Presidents of the United States of America, Nigeria, etc, has power from the constitution to pardon offenders.

Limitations on the Powers of the Executive Branch

Also, the President appoints top civil servants and judges to supreme court. However, the functions of the executive largely depend on the type of constitution in operation in a particular country. For example, the functions of the executive in a presidential system of government, as in the U.S.A., is different from the parliamentary system of government in Britain.

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What are the Major Restrictions on the Powers of the Executive Arm of Government?

There are several limitations on the powers of the executive.

  1. There is parliamentary control of the executive branch, especially in a cabinet system of government. The prime minister and his cabinet are responsible to the lower house. That is, they must explain and defend their policies in the house, and if the parliament withdraws its support for the government, the prime minister either resigns or advises the king or president to dissolve parliament in order to seek fresh support through a general election.
  2. The opposition, through its criticism of government policies by its shadow cabinet, especially during question time also puts the government on its toe. The objective is to convince the electorate that the government policy is wrong so that in the next general election, the opposition may form the government.
  3. Through judicial review, the Supreme Court in a presidential system may declare a legislative enactment or an act of the executive as unconstitutional and, therefore, null and void.
  4. Interest groups and pressure groups serve as watchdogs on government policies and condemn those policies that are not in the interest of the people or their members.
  5. Public opinion helps to shape government policies and programmes. The government may be compelled to drop a policy which is unpopular.
  6. The electorate may reject an unpopular government at the next election.
  7. The legislature controls the supply of money to the executive to implement its programmes. Financial control, through the budget, is a major instrument by which the executive branch is controlled.
  8. The legislature takes part in the appointment of some members of the executive. In Nigeria, the appointment of ministers and ambassadors, for example, must be approved by the Senate. The legislature can veto such political appointments.
  9. The legislature may, in theory, use its power to impeach the president or governor.
  10. In order to check the excesses of the executive, the legislature may conduct investigation into government policies.
  11. The legislature may summon the president and his ministers to explain government policies. It can summon them to appear before its committees or the whole house.
  12. The legislature may override presidential assent. It may by two-thirds majority of members of the two legislative houses pass into law a bill vetoed by the president.
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An example was the Order of Precedence Law of 2002 of Nigeria which the President refused to sign but which the National Assembly later passed into law by two-thirds majority. Under the extant law, the Speaker of the House of Representatives becomes the Number 4 citizen while the Chief Justice of the Federation was pushed to Number 5 (five).


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