The Executive: Meaning, Types and Functions


The Executive: Meaning, Types and Functions

This article will examine the executive, which is the organ of government responsible for the implementation of public policies and decisions. Involved in this analysis is a description of the meaning and composition of the executive organ.

The post will also examine the structure, types and functions of the executive as one of the essential organs of government.


Meaning and Composition of the Executive Organ

The executive is the organ of government responsible for the governance of a state. It enforces the law as written by the legislature and interpreted by the judiciary.

It also formulates and implements public policies in the best interests of its citizens; maintains law and order; promotes social services; and initiates legislation, among others. It encompasses all agencies and officials of the government that get involved in the day-to-day running of the business of government.

The executive is often described as the most powerful, not necessarily the most important organ of government. For this reason, those who occupy executive positions may be tempted to be authoritarian, or at times, predatory simply because they control and deploy state funds and coercive forces.

In many countries, the head and members of the executive arm of government are increasingly assuming importance.

In the first place, the head of the executive at all level is often regarded as the head, symbol and personification of government.

The executive is composed of the followings: The president/head of state or head of government; vice president; ministers; civil servants; police and the armed forces.

In Nigeria where there are three levels of government, the chief executive at the level of state and local government, is the governor (assisted by commissioners) and the council chairman (assisted by supervisory councilors) respectively.

In a democracy, the head of the executive is elected by popular votes and they, in turn, appoint the ministers, the commissioners or the supervisory councilors, as the case may be, with the approval of the legislature.

Structure of the Executive Organ

The executive branch of government is broadly divided into two: the members of the cabinet and other political office holders who hold temporary or tenure appointments, and career civil or public servants who hold permanent and pensionable positions.

While the former is in charge of initiating government policies, or deciding the direction of the government of the day, the latter concern themselves with the implementation of such approved policies.

In the parlance of public administration, while the political head is the master of policy, the administrators are the instruments of policy.

Therefore, the executive arm can only function effectively if there are cooperation and mutual understanding between its two segments.


Types of the Executive Organ

1. Nominal and Real Executives

In a nominal executive, the monarch or the head of the state has nominal powers; the powers are exercised by his ministers, as in England, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and Holland, among others.

In these countries, for the executive, the constitution assigns many powers to the president and he exercises these powers.  There are real executives in Nigeria and the United States of America.

2. Single and Plural Executives

In a single executive, all executive powers are vested in one individual, e.g., the President of Nigeria exercises all executive powers.

In a plural executive, the executive powers are in the hands of more than one individual. In Switzerland, for instance, the executive powers are vested in the Council of seven members. 

The Chairman of this Council has no additional powers. Thus, all seven members are equally responsible for the administration in that country.

3. Parliamentary and Presidential Executives

In a parliamentary executive, the Cabinet is responsible to the legislature. This system functions in England, Belgium and Holland, among others.

In a presidential executive, the President has real executive powers and is not responsible to the Parliament. He is elected for a fixed term and can only be removed through impeachment. Presidential executive operates in the United States of America, Nigeria, Brazil, among others.

However, in between these two models, there is a French executive model, which can be called a quasi-parliamentary or quasi- presidential.

In the French model of executive, the President is the real executive but the prime minister and the cabinet are under his control and, at the same time, they are accountable to the Parliament. 

So, the French model imbibes some features of both parliamentary and presidential executives.

4. Hereditary and Elective Executives

When a king or queen is the Head of the State and when after his or her death, his son or daughter or, in a case where he or she is issue less, some of his or her near relative occupies the throne, the system is referred to a hereditary executive.

This type of executive functions in England, Belgium, Holland, etc.

On the contrary, in countries where the Head of State is elected either by the people or by their representatives, the system is referred to as elective executive. We find this system in Nigeria, the United States of America, Austria, Egypt, etc.


Functions of the Executive Organ

The functions of the executive are not the same everywhere.

The functions of the executive depending on the form of the government.

In a democracy, the functions of the executive devolve primarily in the office of the president in a presidential system, or the office of the prime minister in a parliamentary system. In Nigeria, for example, apart from expressly stating the functions of the President who is the chief executive of the country, and his vice, the 1999 Constitution did not elaborate on the functions of the executive as an organ of government.

The President is to, among other functions determine the general direction of domestic and foreign policies of the government of the federation and co-ordinate the activities of the vice president, ministers and the agencies of government in the discharge of their executive responsibilities.

From this brief explanation, we can distill the functions of the executive arm of government to include:

1. Policy Making and Implementation

The primary function of the executive is to formulate and decide the policy direction for the state. In a democratic system, such policies are usually derived from the manifesto presented to the citizens during the elections and upon which the power was voted into office.

While in office, it is the responsibility of the party in government to translate this blueprint into concrete policies and programmes of the government of the day.

2. Administrative Functions

In every country, the Head of the State and the Council of Ministers are responsible for law enforcement and the maintenance of law and order.

The Head of the State, on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers, makes many important political appointments. The administrators are generally recruited based on competitive examinations.

They are promoted, demoted and dismissed under the Civil Service Rules.

3. Legislative Functions

Although lawmaking is the responsibility of the legislature, in every state, the executive play important role in law-making.

The executive prepares bills for this purpose and introduces them in the legislature.

In parliamentary government, the leader of the majority party becomes the Prime Minister. He influences both the organs of the government i.e., Legislature and Executive.

4. Foreign Relations

The executive establishes political relations with foreign countries. Our government has established political or commercial relations with almost all big countries.

The President appoints diplomatic representatives in other countries and receives those of foreign countries.

Conclusion on the Executive: Meaning, Types and Functions

Although popular sovereignty which primarily inheres in the elected representatives of the people who sit in the legislative council, the executive organ of government in many countries today has become the most powerful organ of government, largely because it implements policies, and controls the power of the purse and sword.

Hence, as the process and activities of government become much more complex a sophisticated, those who control the executive arm have devised numerous ways by which they circumvent legislative scrutiny or even subvert its oversight functions.

In this article, we have primarily examined the structure, types and functions of the executive organ of government.

The article also noted that though the function of the executive is primarily the implementation of government policies and programmes, it has become increasingly involved in certain activities that were previously the exclusive preserve of the two other organs.

This intrusion by the executive has become imperative for the organic working of government, and prompt response to situations that could not be readily or immediately foreseen.

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