Principles of government are basic truths or laws, which guide the study and practice of politics and government. They are developed by political theorists and writers based on their experience or observation of the political process but these principles have come, to be accepted over the years by scholars and practitioners alike as indispensable and essential to understanding political phenomena.
A good knowledge of these principles is therefore a necessary condition for the understanding of government and politics.
The principles of government that will be explained in this article include:
The Rule of Law
Fundamental Human Rights
Separation of Powers
Checks and Balances
Accountability in Public Office
1. The Rule of Law
The rule of law is understood to be the form of political organization in which social life is subject, which through a legal framework executes a set of regulations in order to guarantee the principle of legality and the fundamental rights of all citizens.
The rule of law is made up of the State, which represents the political organization, and the law, which is the set of rules on which the behavior of society is governed. Therefore, each decision that is taken, from the different organs or public entities of the State, must be governed by the law and respect the rights of all citizens.
That is, the power of the State is limited by law, this in order to avoid abuses of power or violation of rights. However, it should be noted that the rule of law was born as a counterpart of the authoritarian and absolutist state, in which there are abuses of power and there are various examples that demonstrate this throughout the political history of many governments.
Nor does the rule of law exist when the Legislative Branch acts from a partisan position or, when the Executive Branch also wishes to act from a personal perspective, violating the legislation and generating disagreement among citizens. Now, thanks to the existence of the rule of law, the political organization could be configured and divided into powers: the Legislative Power, the Judicial Power and the Executive Power. The rule of law is also the reflection of what citizens want, since the people have the right and the power to choose, through the vote, who will be their representatives within the government.
In democracy, the Executive Power is exercised by a person, elected by the citizens, who must comply with the assigned responsibilities and make decisions to the extent permitted by law, in conjunction with the other two regulatory powers, such as the Legislative and Judicial.
Fundamental rights are those most strictly related to human dignity. They are the basic pillar of any legal system of any democratic state and of law. They are basic and inalienable, and are guaranteed in the constitutions of the different countries.
According to the RAE, the fundamental rights are: “rights that, because they are inherent to human dignity and because they are necessary for the free development of the personality, are normally collected by modern constitutions, assigning them a higher legal value.”
As we can see, fundamental rights are the most important rights for the citizen, since they function as basic tools. From them, citizens develop their personal life projects. They are made up of negative and positive rights. The former are characterized by not interfering in the lives of citizens. While, in the latter, the State must carry out actions to provide them to the population.
Cases relating to fundamental rights and the rest of the articles of the Constitution are judged by a different court, the Constitutional Court. Although each country establishes its own development of fundamental rights, the European Union has the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Approved by the European Parliament in 2000, establishing its scope to all countries of the union.
The division of powers (Separation of Powers) is the organizational principle of modern States according to which the legislative, executive and judicial functions are exercised through different and independent bodies.
The division of powers allows the different powers to limit and moderate each other, creating a dynamic of checks and balances, so that there is balance between them and none can prevail over the rest.
The separation of powers thus prevents abuses of authority, since public authority is distributed in a balanced way among these three fundamental organs of the state. The objective of the division of powers, in this sense, is to avoid the concentration of the powers of the State in a single person, body or corporation, which would make possible the abuses of authority and, over time, the emergence and establishment of an authoritarian or tyrannical regime.
The first formal formulation of the modern theory of the division of powers is the work of the French political thinker – Baron de Montesquieu, who maintained that in each State there were three classes of powers with well-defined functions and fields of action.
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.
As constitutionalism, the political system that is regulated by a constitutional text is known. Likewise, it is a partisan ideology of this system, with its respective manifestations in the social, political and legal sphere.
According to constitutionalism, all public powers must be subject to a regulatory framework that moderates and limits them. Thus, constitutionalism defends the idea that governmental authority, regardless of whether it emanates from a fundamental law, must be controlled by written laws that, in turn, function as the basic principle of the social organization of the State.
The constitution, then, would become that normative framework on which the legal system of a State is based and, in this sense, the base of the normative pyramid to which the rest of the laws of a country must be subject.
Thus, from a legal point of view, constitutionalism is a normative system based on the preeminence, over powers, of a constitutional text. On the other hand, from a social point of view, constitutionalism is a movement that seeks to limit the power of the current rulers so that personal interests do not override the agreed rules for the conduct of the State.
Finally, constitutionalism can also be considered a discipline of knowledge that aims to study the role and position exercised by constitutions in different societies and political systems, as well as the historical evolution of the constitutional text in a given State.
Representative government is a form of government where citizens exercise political power through their representatives, elected by suffrage, in free and periodic elections.
In theory, the holder of political power is the sovereign, that is, the people, but he does not exercise it by himself. In this sense, representative government arises due to the difficulties involved in the effective performance of each and every one of the citizens of the nations of millions of people as a political actor before the State, so that the figure of representativeness is created.
That is why representative democracy uses citizen participation mechanisms such as voting to give legitimacy to the elected representatives to act and make decisions on behalf of their represented.
We speak of centralization when the powers of decision or process within any organization tend to converge in the same instance, or in simpler terms, when all the power or all the obligations tend to fall into the same organizational instance, either as part of a government, a company or any administrative model.
Centralization will then be the tendency to centralize, that is, to create nuclei of power, responsibility or processing, which have many inputs and a few (or only one) output, thus creating a convergence. This can occur in many human and even biological areas, since a centralized management of resources can be, on certain occasions, much more efficient than a dispersed one.
For example, centralist governments are those that prefer a single and hegemonic center of power from which to govern the rest of the country, instead of a tendency towards dispersion and autonomy such as that proposed by the decentralization of federal or federative governments.
In the business field, similarly, we speak of centralization when the lower levels in the business hierarchy transfer their administrative authority to a higher level, that is, they converge in the same leadership or supervision.
Decentralization is a political ideology that consists of transferring responsibilities and autonomy from the central government to other authorities. Decentralization seeks to hand over production, assignment, and task responsibilities to local units that are more familiar with the environment in which they must work.
With decentralization, the central government injects resources to different ministries, agencies, institutions, corporations, regional, functional, or private organizations to be in charge of planning, managing, obtaining, and allocating these resources.
Economic decentralization allows the autonomy of different states or provinces from the functions and investment of economic projects independent of the central management, such as, for example, investments in sustainable agriculture or the reduction of tariffs or taxes on certain products.
Educational decentralization is important especially in terms of preservation of ethnic minority cultures and languages. The delegation of functions in relation to education in regions that have cultures different from those of the central power helps to integrate, educate and generate greater cultural diversity, for example, in the regions of Mayan, Andean or Guaraní minorities.
Decentralization is synonymous with deconcentration, delegation, devolution and co-participation.
A delegated legislation is a rule or regulation made by a person or body other than the legislature. A delegated legislation therefore has the force of a law. Like every other law, it has the full force of the law and can be enforced and adjudicated like a law made by parliament itself.
It is not possible for parliament to legislate in detail on all matters that are of interest to the people, and it becomes necessary for it to delegate some of its powers to ministers and public corporations that administer public utilities.
Another factor that fostered the growth of delegated legislation was the expansion of the scope and functions of the state at the turn of the 20th century. The state assumed power for some matters, which were previously handled by the private sector.
The state also introduced welfare programmes. The modern state, especially after the two world wars had to assume full responsibility for the provision of certain vital services and to undertake planning for the whole nation-state.
The expansion of the activities of the state means that the legislature can only legislate in broad terms and delegate the power to fill in the details to the bodies concerned. As such, delegated legislation developed out of necessity.
Devolution is an economic concept based on the disintegration or atomization of powers within an organization, company or state. This supposes the dispersion of decision-making and resources in different hierarchies or regions.
The denomination devolution implies the need to divide the concentration of power in a society or a country due to various reasons. Among these reasons, there are some such as its size, the amount of economic activities, resources it has, or even a low level of state intervention. In other words, it means that the concentration of authority or economic decision-making capacity is lower.
At the same time, it means that responsibility is shared among the various implementers of economic policies. Conceptually it is the opposite of the phenomenon of centralization, both at the microeconomic and macroeconomic levels.
At the request of the administrative field, the concept of deconcentration is used to designate that technique through which the transfer of ownership is executed, or failing that, the exercise of the competence that the corresponding regulations attribute as their own to a certain body to another belonging to the same administration and who is dependent on hierarchical matters.
It should be noted that it is the regulations itself that attributes the competence that must provide the conditions and terms in which the deconcentration takes place, as well as what corresponds to its exercise.
Another important issue is that deconcentration will always be between organisms that are hierarchically dependent and in a descending sense. Meanwhile, when ownership is transferred and not only the exercise, as occurs with the delegation of powers, this will mean that the body that receives the power will be able to exercise it as its own.
On the other hand, the delegation of powers implies the transfer by a higher body to a lower one, leaving the delegated body with its ownership. By case, also the delegating authority will be able to revoke the delegation.
However, with regard to responsibility for decision-making that are adopted or the actions that are specified fall on the delegating body. It will be this one who exercises effective control.
Once the deconcentration has been finalized, it may be organic, which implies creating bodies that will be placed outside the headquarters without affecting the organization of the unit; and on the other hand, it can be functional, which implies the delegation of powers to another body of the same unit.
Accountability is the requirement which subjects public office holders or political leaders to detailed scrutiny by the legislature over objectives, use of resources and manner of performance.
The legislature may want to establish whether objectives are being achieved or funds are being judiciously applied. It is a process by which public officials, including administrators, are subjected to public scrutiny to ensure that the goals and objectives of government are achieved.
Accountability is also an act by which public officials render a good account of their activities while in office. It is aimed at achieving transparency and openness in public business.
Accountability here also means responsibility in government. A responsible government is therefore a government, which is accountable to the people.
This is a popular principle in a presidential system of government. A minister appointed by the president is individually held responsible for any decision made or taken in his department or ministry. Therefore, the minister has both constitutional and political responsibilities for the department he or she is in charge of.
The president appoints a minister after the approval from the parliament, making him or her responsible to both the President and the Parliament on issues pertaining to his ministry. The president has the power to dismiss or remove any erring minister from office.
The principle of collective responsibility states that the ministers are responsible collectively for the consideration, determination and coordination of the main lines of policy and for the conduct of the departments of government, each minister is also responsible for the management of his individual department.
In simple terms, the principle of Collective Responsibility means that a minister must accept a cabinet decision or resign, and if he does not resign, it is his decision just as his colleagues.
It is a principle of government which emphasises that all ministers, including the prime minister, are collectively bound by the decision of the cabinet in spite of individual opinion. The principle is practised mainly in cabinet system of government.