Federal And Unitary Forms Of Government In A Plural Society By Lakshani Perera

In a federal system, regions and provinces enjoy a higher degree of autonomy. In this case, the 50 states enjoy autonomy and even have different laws and regulations on a number of matters. Yet, at the same time, they remain linked and subject to the decisions of the central government.

In the US, there is no tax sharing system between the federal and the subnational governments. In two other federal countries, Austria and Mexico, tax revenue – regardless of whether from tax sharing or own-sources – contributed less than 10% of subnational revenue in 2016. In some unitary countries, tax revenue made up more than 52% of local revenue in 2016 (e.g. in France, Iceland, Latvia, New Zealand and Sweden). At the opposite end, taxes amounted to less than 15% of local revenue in Estonia, the Netherlands, the Slovak Republic and Turkey. Subnational government spending responsibilities vary from one country to another, depending on whether the country is federal or unitary, its size and territorial organisation, the degree of decentralisation and the nature of responsibilities carried out in certain sectors.

The question of what form of government is most suitable for a plural society can only be answered by comparing strengths and weaknesses of both unitary and federal forms of governments. This paper tries to compare and contrast the two forms of government to find an answer to this question. The unitary government does so by promoting equality and cohesion across the nation, while the federal government does so by promoting specific regulations that better capture local needs and that are more suitable for minority groups. The link between local authorities and central government is usually very strong, although not all federal systems work in the same way.

There is no balance between central and state governments in a unitary system. Fortifying the nation’s security and foreign policy, for instance, remains a problematic work in progress, but is at least no longer an item relegated to the hind sections of newspapers and presidential speeches. Nonetheless, distraction and overextension are old habits that the government in Washington hasn’t kicked. Controversies of the most local, indeed sub-local, sort—like the case of Terri Schiavo—still make their way to the top, transfixing Congress and even the White House.

In theory, these three dimensions – the distribution of powers, responsibilities and resources – are complementary and closely interconnected (Figure 2.2). In practice, finding the right balance between these dimensions, and finding the right sequencing, represent major challenges to making the most of decentralisation reform. For example, the political dimension is often insufficiently considered in some decentralisation processes, with little democratic legitimacy of subnational governments, no real accountability mechanisms or weak citizen involvement at the local level. Anonmajoritarian alternativeto a unitary government isa federal system, which is a Constitutional provision for two or more levels of government, each with their own powers and responsibilities. Federalism assumes a big-C Constitution because there has to be a fundamental document which articulates those powers which will be exercised by the national government and those which will be exercised by subordinate governments.