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BRANCHES OF A MODERN FORM OF GOVERNMENT

 

While there may be different models of government around the world today, all of them share some common characteristics. They are all essentially composed of 3 branches: The Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary. What makes them different is how power is distributed or shared amongst these branches.

 

The quintessential role of the constitution or the supreme law of the land is to define very precisely how power is distributed or shared among these branches of government. A well crafted constitution must also spell out the limits to every power and define some counter-powers to every power. The way power is exercised and the amount of power or authority bestowed upon a given branch is what differentiates the systems in today’s modern countries.

 

For instance, the flavor of government adopted by the United States constitution is that the three branches of Government are coequal: The President –and his cabinet--or the Executive, The Congress or the legislative, the Supreme Court or simply the courts is the Judiciary. While some have argued the meaning of the term coequal, the constitution grants each branch of government specific powers that it does not grant to the other two. And it does so in manner that smartly instills built-in checks and balances within the system. For instance, the President is the commander in chief of the armed force and responsible for foreign policy. Whereas the Congress and the Supreme Court do not have the authority to perform this function. The bicameral congress (House of Representatives and the Senate) is the legislative body. It makes or writes the law whereas the president and the Supreme Court cannot. The Supreme court or the Judiciary’s role is to interpret the law as written in the constitution and to resolve disputes in the law. It does not make the law, it interprets and applies the law --based on precedents--whereas the president and the congress do not.

France has what is called a semi-presidential system of government. The President nominates and shares the executive power with the Prime Minister with the consent of the national assembly or the parliament –The legislative--. The President and the Prime Minister must agree and consent to the policies to be implemented. The prime minister is normally from the party with the majority in the assembly. The French also enjoys a strong independent judiciary branch whose role is to guard the constitution and interpret the law.

The United Kingdom has what is called a parliamentarian system. In this form of government the prime Minister and his cabinet –the executive—derive their power from the legislative body and not from the president. The executive cabinet is directly accountable to the legislative body and their powers are intertwined. The legislative body is bi-cameral--The house of Commons and House of Lords--The president or Monarch is the head of state and is really just a figure head. The UK system also has an independent Judiciary.

That’s at a minimum what a non-constitutional scholar of Law should know about the forms and branches of government. Whatever form of Government we choose in Cameroon, whatever constitution is adopted, it’s important that the African people know and understand how power is distributed and shared among the branches of their government. Given the history of corruption, bribery, misuse and abuse --or excessive use--of power without checks and balance in these countries, it’s paramount that the people see to it that the constitution adopted has enough built-in checks and balances that forces transparency in the management of the affairs of the country. A well designed and crafted constitution should never grant broad and vague powers to any one man or any one branch of government without the consent of the other branches, lest we end up with what I call a legalized dictatorship. In my view this is precisely what we have in Cameroon today. Where all the powers are concentrated on one man, the President. Empirical eveidence has shown that in these absolutist systems, the one man which holds all powers, --especially when there is no accountability and term limits-- will inevitably become corrupt, abuse and misuse his powers to stay in power indefinitely. This explains why the current system in Cameroon is full of shenanigans and manipulations, ensuring that only one outcome is possible. Ironically, --like him, hate him-- the current President of Cameroon is really not violating the constitution. He is just using the extremely broad and vague powers defined in the current poorly crafted constitution to his advantage. The Cameroon people will have to bear this in mind when drafting a subsequent Constitution for the Country: Make it impossible for any one man to hijack the entire system. Term limits must not only be imposed, but also make it extremely hard to amend. Several other provisions within the constitution must only be amendable through a referendum. Fool me once your fault, fool me twice my fault !

I must confess my preference to a system closer to the US system of government than the slightly modified French system that we currently have in Cameroon. We shall next look at the current constitution of Cameroon and point out some of its flaws and the need to change it going forward.

Having said that, I like to make the caveat that having a vanilla brand new constitution and modern system of government on paper --while very important-- in and of itself does not suffice to institute a vibrant democracy in Cameroon. The quality of the people and their leaders are the "Grail" that makes it work. That's why I have indicated that we the people, must vet and pick our leaders among the very best of our society. Those with uncompromised integrity and commitment to our common aspirations, and to the cause of freedom.

 

"Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters." –Benjamin Franklyn.

 

 

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