Powers and Functions of the Executive in a State

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Functions and Powers of the Executive Arm of Government

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 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.

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.

What are the Functions of the Executive Branch of Government?

As the hub around which the wheel of government revolves, the executive is the active force in government. As such, it performs a number of functions and exercises certain powers which are necessary for the survival of the political system.

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Powers and Functions of the Executive in a State

Some of these powers and functions of the executive are explained below.

  • Enforcement of Laws

The executive enforces laws made by the legislature and executes court judgments. It performs this function through the various government ministries and departments.

  • Formulation and Implementation of Administrative Policy

The executive makes the greatest impact on the state in terms of the formulation and implementation of government policies. It is effective in this area because of the rapid expansion in government business and the abundant information and knowledge available to the executive.

It formulates policies on virtually every subject including domestic policy and foreign policy. It works out the programmes to be achieved, the methods to be used and the necessary organizational details.

Some of these policies are then submitted to the legislature for approval. It implements these policies after they have been approved.

An example is the budget which is normally prepared by the executive and submitted to the legislature for debate and approval.

  • Conduct of Foreign Relations

The executive conducts foreign relations on behalf of the government, In performing this function, the executive defines and articulates the country’s national interest, represents the country in its relations with other countries and international institutions, handles all negotiations, concludes treaties (subject to legislative approval), appoints and posts ambassadors and high commissioners to other countries and reeeives foreign ambassadors and government enussanes.

  • Coordination of Government Activities

The executive coordinates all government activities. It controls and supervises government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs). This is to ensure effective performance and achievement of national goals.

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If government institutions fail to perform their functions, the effects are immediately visible to the people and the government may be subjected to negative criticism.

  • Control of Military Forces

All the military apparatuses including the Army, Navy and Air Force are under the control of the chief executive. The President is indeed the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He can deploy soldiers in war and peacetime.

In times of emergency and war, there is a considerable concentration of power in the executive. Where troops are to be deployed for a military operation outside the country and for a long period of time, the approval of the legislature is required. This is necessary to safeguard the state and ensure successful prosecution of the war.

  • Making of Delegated Legislation

The executive makes delegated legislation. The power to make delegated legislation is granted by the legislature. Through delegated legislation, the executive is able to act quickly in periods of emergency and till in details in laws which the legislature cannot foresee. An example is the declaration of public holidays.

  • Appointment and Dismissal of Top Government Officials

The executive has the power to appoint top political and government officials. This is a very real power indeed. Under the 1999 Constitution, for example, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is empowered to appoint ministers, special advisers, the Secretary to the Government, the Head of the Civil Service and the service chiefs.

He also appoints permanent secretaries, chairmen and members of Federal Executive bodies (e.g. the Electoral Commission), and chairmen and members of boards of public corporations. The appointment and dismissal of some of these officials is usually subject to continuation by the Senate.

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In making such appointments, the chief executive is often guided by such factors as: electoral consideration, the party’s balance of power and the danger in leaving outside the government prominent rivals who could become a centre for discontent.

  • Control of Legislative Business

The executive, especially in a cabinet system of government, controls the parliament in a number of ways. It decides which bills must be introduced to the legislature; it has power over adjournment, prorogation and dissolution of parliament. It can also summon parliament.

However, there is no such formal control of the legislature by the executive in a presidential system although the executive may control the legislature by employing strategies such as delay in the release of funds to the legislature.

  • Assent to Bill

The chief executive assents to every bill before it can become a law. In the presidential system, the legislature can overturn a president’s refusal to assent to a bill.

  • Exercise of Prerogative of Mercy

The president exercises the prerogative of mercy. That is, he has the power to pardon offenders for offences against the state either before or after trial and conviction.

The president may reduce a sentence, or stay execution of a sentence but he has no power to increase a sentence duly granted by a court of law. He may also grant a general amnesty.

Nevertheless, these are essentially judicial roles.


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