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Powers and Functions of the Legislature
The Legislature is the organ of government responsible for law making. The legislature makes laws which are to be obeyed by everybody. The legislature also maintains control over the policy and administrative actions of the executive and acts as a forum for airing public opinions.
In addition, the legislature votes money for government projects and scrutinizes the expenditure of the government.
Functions of the Legislative Organs of Government
Although legislatures may consist of one or two houses and they may bear different names in different countries, their functions are essentially the same.
The major function of the legislature is law-making. It can make law on any subject that catches its fancy. Several factors infuence the capacity of the legislature to make laws and the most important factors include the strength of the government, the scope or extent of the legislative programme and the closeness of a general election.
For example, legislatures are usually more-concerned with their re-election than law making when elections are approaching. Most of the laws that are made by the legislature are usually initiated by the executive.
In the United States, about 80 percent of the bills considered come from the executive and in Britain all important and controversial bills emanate from the cabinet.
It is particularly difficult to sponsor and get a private, bill passed into law in Nigeria’s National Assembly due to the high cost of research, difficulty of access to relevant literature and the extant power configuration in the national legislature.
For instance, a bill is sponsored by a member of one of the minority parties may not sail through because of absence of political support. A bill introduce by a member of the ruling party may suffer the same fate as enthnic or religious factors come to play.
Amendment of Constitution and Laws
The legislature is the only institution charged with the responsibility of amending the constitution. It has power to amend, alter or modify the constitution.
The legislature can amend the constitution in the ordinary legislative process (as in a cabinet system) or it may have to go through a more rigorous process (as in the presidential system). It can also amend existing laws.
The legislature sometime performs electoral duties. In the United State, for example, the members of the House of Representatives, voting by states (each state has one vote) have the power to elect a President where no candidate is able to receive a majority in the Electoral College.
The senators voting as individuals elect a Vice-President under the same circumstance.
In countries operating the parliamentary system of government, the cabinet must receive legislative approval before it can function.
The legislature approves the appointment of ministers, ambassadors, high commissioners and judges of superior courts before they can become effective.
Forum for Airing Grievances and Public Opinion
The legislature provides a link between the government and the people. That is, it serves as a means of channeling demands from below and explaining government policies to the people.
Thus, it is a forum through which public opinion may be aired, and assessed.
In some countries, the legislature performs judicial functions. In Britain the House of Lords serves as the highest Court of Appeal and in the United States, the Senate acts as a court for the impeachment of the President.
Supervision and Control of the Executive (Oversight Function)
The legislature supervises and controls the executive in a number of ways.
1. Creation Of Government Departments And Agencies
Every government department or corporation is established by an Act of Parliament. Just as it has power to create government institutions it also has power to abolish them.
2. Approval of Goverment Spending
The legislature controls government spending in several ways. It may determine the nature of taxes to be raised, and it approves budgets and plans. It also has the power to supervise how budgets are implemented.
3. Ratification of Treaties
Every treaty or agreement between a state and another must be approved by the legislature before it can be implemented.
4. Conducting Investigation
The legislative arm may investigate any government department or agency and may conduct investigation into any government business. This serves as a brake on the government motor. Such investigations may be carried out by committees of the house such as the Public Accounts Committee, which is usually chaired by a leading member of the opposition.
5. Discipline of Executive Members
The legislature may discipline the president and other leading members of the executive through impeachment, address or voting lack of confidence.