The legislature is a branch of government that makes laws. The legislature is usually referred to as the National Assembly (at the federal level) or the House of Assembly (at the state level), and at the local government area, the legislature is called a legislative council.
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The legislature performs many functions in a modern democracy including vetting the spending of the executive arm of government.
How Legislature Is Formed
Members of the legislative organ of government regardless of the type are elected through a general election. The members are called the lawmakers or legislators.
In a more elaborate democracy where bicameralism is adopted, members of the Upper Legislature take the title of Senators while members of the Lower Chamber take the title, “Honourable”
Different Names of Legislature Around The World
The legislatures are called different names in different countries, although they perform the same roles of lawmaking and check the powers of the executive headed by the president.
- Japan: Diet
- Israel: Knesset
- India: Parliament
- France: Parlement
- Ghana: Parliament
- Canada: Parliament
- Sweden: Riksdagen
- Germany: The Bundestag
- Italy: Parlamento italiano
- New Zealand: Pāremata
- Spain: Cortes Generales
- South Africa: Parliament
- Russia: Federal Assembly
- Zambia: National Assembly
- United States: The Congress
- Uruguay: Asamblea General
- Australia: Federal Parliament
- Nigeria: The National Assembly
- Seychelles: Assemblée Nationale
- South Korea: National Assembly
- Switzerland: Bundesversammlung
- China: National People’s Congress
- The United Kingdom: The Parliament
- Turkey: Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi or TBMM
- United Arab Emirates: Federal National Council (FNC)
Major Functions of Legislature
The legislature has major functions such as bill consideration, representation, vetting public spending, oversight functions of other arms of government, screening of public office holders, and educating members of the public.
In a more elaborate way, here are the functions of the legislature in a democratic system where justice and people will prevail:
A bill is a proposed law or legislation that is being debated by the legislature. A bill becomes a law when it has been read on the floor of The House, undergoes the necessary adjustments (either addition or removal of some parts) and is passed by lawmakers.
This is one of the major functions of the legislature. It can be sent by the executive or other relevant bodies. It is the duty of the legislature to read, know the content and either pass or reject it. Lawmaking is the primary function of the legislature in this regard.
The members of the legislature do not appoint themselves. They campaign, seek peoples’ votes to be elected, and as such, they are seen as representatives of their constituencies.
In a functional democracy, the members of the legislature make laws that will have a positive impact on the lives of the people that elected them.
Vetting Public Spending
The legislature performs this function through approval of the annual budget presented to it by the executive.
Since the implementation of law lies on the table of the executive, they require funds to implement policies and programmes of government. They also need money to manage agencies of government and the day-to-day running of the government. Government is a serious business, funds are needed to manage it.
Doing this, the executive presents its yearly budget to the National Assembly or the legislative branch. It is the function of the legislature to scrutinize what the executive presented before it.
The legislature vets the annual spending proposal of the executive arm. Most times, a prudent legislature cuts the government’s spending by cutting the budget; they thoroughly vet the proposed spending of the executive through deliberation and consideration.
The legislature does this by controlling the activities of other organs of government through the legislative investigation committee.
When agencies of a ministry fail to implement policies of the government, the legislative organ invites officials to answer questions on spending and why they fail to accomplish the purpose they are set up.
The legislature holds the government and its agencies accountable for every action.
Screening Of Public Office Holders
The president (who is the head of the executive arm) can not succeed without constituting a cabinet and making appointments (like heads of agencies).
The president’s nominations before the legislature are treated as proposals until they are ratified and received the nod of the lawmakers.
For instance, when a new president sends the proposed list of his cabinet (nominees) to the legislature, they screen each of the nominees, investigate their past and consider for approval or rejection.
The executive arm can’t make appointments without the approval of the legislature; the nominations of the president are subject to the approval of the legislature, unless it is an autocratic government.
Effective Use of Legislative Power
The legislature is the most powerful branch of government. Positive use of its powers can change the democratic, economic, and social fortune of a country.
It uses its powers to put the executive and its agencies on the right footing as provided in the constitution of the country.
The legislature educates members of the public, they provide an avenue to enlighten future leaders, they make available for public consumption a list of approved bills or rejected ones.
Also, through public debates on economic, social, and security policies and issues, legislators educate the general public.
The legislature controls and regulates public funds and expenditures even beyond approving the yearly spending of the executive.
For instance, the legislature can regulate the borrowing of the government when it is convinced that such borrowing is not sustainable.
One of the functions of a responsible legislature is to curb the excessive spending of the executive, it does this to reduce the indebtedness of the government.
Platform for Debate
Apart from the legislative function, the legislature is to discuss and debate issues of importance like how its citizens are being treated in foreign countries.
Topics of discussion in the legislature could cut across the economy, finance, investment, security, foreign policy, empowerment etc.
Ratification of treaties
It is the function of the legislature to ratify an agreement between one country and the other. No country succeeds alone without cooperating with another. But agreements must receive the nod of the legislature.
In every national assembly or parliament or congress, there is always an opposition majorly headed by the party with the minority in the parliament; they play a very important role in a democracy.
Opposition exposes the excesses, anomalies, and misadventures of the ruling party. Through effective opposition, they keep the ruling party on its toes.
A gross violation of the constitution can lead to the impeachment of the president in a democratic country. This power to remove the president lies in the hands of the legislature after following the processes involved.
The power to impeach is one of the mechanisms to put the president on the right path. At the state level, the state house of assembly could impeach the governor if he violated the constitution.
For instance, the former Governor of New York William Sulzer aka Plain Bill was the first governor to be impeached in the United States when the New York Assembly voted to impeach him on August 13, 1913.
A president or governor may, however, resign to escape impeachment. The former U.S president, Richard Nixon resigned as president on August 8, 1974 as a result of impeachment by the U.S Congress following the Watergate Scandal that rocked his government.
Constitution Amendment Function
One of the crucial functions of the legislature is the amendment of the constitution to align with the current and modern-day governance.
A section of the Constitution may be modified, replaced or completely removed if it negates the entrenchment of fundamental human rights.
A bill for the amendment of the constitution must get two-thirds of lawmakers
The role of the legislature is enormous such that if it fails in one could lead to a disaster. For instance, if it fails to monitor and vet the spending of the executive, the country could be plunged into catastrophic debt. The legislature must function efficiently for citizens to reap the dividends of democracy.