Unitary and Centralized Government Explained As stated in a previous article, unitary government is that form in which the supreme governing authority of a state is concentrated in a single organ or set of organs, established at and operating from a common center. For this reason it is sometimes described as centralized government, although the two things are not necessarily identical. In a sense, all non federal systems of government belong to this class, but even federal governments are centralized in so far as the central government is charged with legislating for the whole country and with the administration of the particular matters committed to its care.
The feature which distinguishes unitary government from federal government is that in the former the ultimate authority and control-over all affairs of government and administration rests with the central government, whereas in the latter this authority and control are divided between the central government and a number of local governments. The essence of unitary government, therefore, is the absence of local self-government, except such as the central government itself may concede-which, once conceded, it may restrict or withdraw at will.
Deconcentration and Decentralization :-
As stated above, unitary government is not necessarily at the same time centralized government, although it is always such in large part. In France, for example, where the system of government is unitary in the sense that all final governing authority centers in and radiates from the central government at Paris, the effect has been attenuated by a process of deconcentration and to some extent also by a process of decentralization.
Through the process of deconcentration the active administration of many affairs has been shifted from the central government at Paris to its representatives and, agents in the departments, arrondissements, and communes (the prefects, sub-prefects, mayors, commissioners of police, etc) The effect has thus been to relieve the congestion at Paris and to facilitate the work of administration throughout the local areas.
But all such officials and agents (except the mayors) are appointed by the central government at Paris and are (including even the mayors when acting as agents of the central government) controlled and directed from Paris. To this extent the government of France is centralized.
Through the process of decentralization a limited degree of local self government has been ,granted. Thus, by act of parliament, popularly elected councils have been established in the departments, arrondissements, and communes and each communal council chooses a mayor.
The powers of the local authorities, however, are much restricted and they are subject to a large degree of central administrative control (latutelle administrative). Such local autonomy as has been granted may at any time be further restricted or totally withdrawn by the parliament which granted it.
It thus happens that the government of France, so far as the ultimate source of legislative and administrative authority is concerned, is completely centralized and so far as the actual administration is concerned it is largely so. With varying differences of degree, the governments of other European countries, except the few that are federal in form, are of the same type.
Elements of Strength :-
Naturally a form of government so Widely distributed must, at least in the Opinions of the people who have deliberately established it, and who are content to live under it, possess elements of strength which are superior to those of the federal form. These elements are mainly such as result from uniformity of law, policy, and administration throughout the whole country, and from the strength, internal and external, which naturally inheres in a unified system of government.
Where the authority to legislate and administer is divided and distributed between a central government and various local governments, the latter of which are constitutionally supreme within their own spheres and subject to little or no central control, there are necessarily a certain weakening of national power, diversity of law and policy in different parts of the country, sometimes inefficient enforcement of law (varying with local standards), and perhaps also wasteful and extravagant local government.
In the fields of foreign policy and national defense the strength of centralized government is especially manifest. Unitary government also possesses the merit of being more simple in organization and, it is Claimed, less expensive than federal government, because of the lack of duplication of central and local authorities and services.
Elements of Weakness: the French System as an illustration :-
The obvious objection to such a system is that it means the absence of the right of local self government and leaves to distant authorities the determination of policies and the regulation of affairs which may in fact be of no concern to any except the people of the particular localities affected. The effect of such a system is conspicuously revealed in France where the national parliament at Paris legislates upon purely local affairs and where the central administrative authorities exercise a wide power of control and tutelage over the local councils and administrative authorities.
In consequence of the burden thus placed upon the national parliament and upon the central administrative authorities, the local authorities are frequently compelled to wait for long periods of time before obtaining the necessary authority to act, during which period local interests suffer from neglect. The parliament, in addition to being overburdened with the task of legislation, local and national, often lacks the necessary knowledge of local conditions and needs upon which it is called to legislate.
It is the same with the central administrative authorities. The result is, local affairs are, or may be, regulated by authorities who know East about them, while the local authorities, who are better qualified by reason of their familiarity and interest, are powerless to act, or at least to act without authority from Paris or the departmental prefectures Many French writers, even, have criticized the centralized regime under which they live as monarchical (for the most part it goes back to Napoleon), inconsistent with the principles upon which the republic was founded, no longer necessary (as it may have been for a time after the Revolution), and destructive of local liberties.
From time to time ministries have declared themselves in favor of thorough going modification of the existing system and the substitution of a system of larger local self government, but as yet little in this direction has been accomplished and the French continue to live under a regime which in its fundamental principles is that which Napoleon imposed upon them in the year 1800 of unitary government, wherever found, it may be said in criticism that it tends to repress local initiative, discourages rather than stimulates interest in public affairs, impairs the vitality of the local governments, and facilitates the development of a centralize bureaucracy.
Well enough adapted to a small country having a homogeneous population and especially a population among whom the habits and capacity of local self government are not highly developed, it is unsuited to a country of vast extent, where there is a wide variety of local conditions and a diversity of standards and conceptions. And among a people who are animated by an attachment for local self government and a love of local liberty, it is intolerable and impossible of long duration.