Preservation of the Unitary State
Posted on January 27th, 2019

by Lakshman I. Keerthisinghe Courtesy Ceylon Today

A State or country that is governed constitutionally as one single unit, with one constitutionally created legislature is a Unitary State: Wiktionary. At the present time in Sri Lanka there appears to be an ongoing discussion among the citizenry about Sri Lanka being a Unitary State with some arguing that it is time that Sri Lanka became a federal State by introducing a new Constitution or necessary constitutional amendments. Of course, this would necessitate a two-third’s majority assent of all the members of Parliament and ratification at a referendum.

It is to be noted that a Unitary State is a State governed as one single unit in which the central Government is supreme and any administrative divisions exercise only powers which the central Government chooses to delegate. The great majority of States in the world have a unitary system of government. Unitary States are contrasted with federal States: In a unitary State, sub-national units are created and abolished and their powers may be broadened and narrowed, by the central Government.

Although political power in unitary States may be delegated through devolution to Local Government by statute, the central Government remains supreme; it may abrogate the acts of devolved governments or curtail their powers. The United Kingdom is an example of a unitary State.

Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland which, along with England are the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom, have a degree of autonomous devolved power – the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament in Scotland, the Welsh Government and National Assembly for Wales in Wales, and the Northern Ireland Executive and Northern Ireland Assembly in Northern Ireland. But such devolved power is only delegated by Britain’s central Government, more specifically by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which is supreme under the doctrine of Parliamentary supremacy. Further, the devolved governments cannot challenge the constitutionality of acts of Parliament, and the powers of the devolved governments can be revoked or reduced by the central Government.

Ukraine is another example of a unitary State. The Republic of Crimea within the country has a degree of autonomy and is governed by its Cabinet of Ministers and legislative Council. In the early 1990s the Republic also had a presidential post which was terminated due to separatist tendencies that intended to transfer Crimea to Russia.

Thus a unitary system is a form of government where power is focused in the central Government, although many assert that there is no particular definition for a unitary system. The unitary system is the most common type of government, and numerous states use this system of government.

Many European nations have unitary governments although some nations such as Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Austria and Russia do not have a unitary government. The central government in a unitary system is accountable for organising matters at the national level such as foreign affairs, national economic policy, and national defence.

The central leader or the body that makes decisions regulates all characteristics of supremacy, as there is no authority lawfully set aside for other stages of power. All regions of government are under the power of one body, so nations that have unitary systems usually have more consistent laws and policies than alliances. According to John Markley, ‘Most governments based on the Westminster system are unitary, although Canada, Australia, India and Malaysia have Federal Constitutions’ (John Markley, pars 2). Not all government decisions in Unitary States are made by the holder of power. Unitary governments also give executive power to local authorities in a process called devolution, which often is instituted to accommodate ethnic or linguistic minorities who desire greater autonomy.

Some characteristics of a unitary system are that states are not allowed to withdraw from the central government, states are not allowed to pass any legislation that appears opposing to public policy or the rules of the union government, rules created by the legislative assembly of the state are limited to the authority of the state, and rules created by legislation by the central government are valid to every state. In contrast a federal system is a system where power is separated between a central government and various local governments.

In conclusion, it is for the people of Sri Lanka to decide at a referendum whether the people prefer a federal system to the prevailing Unitary State. It is best to preserve the present unitary system as it does not lead to the separation of this small island into smaller parts. A federal system should never be surreptitiously introduced to Sri Lanka through constitutional reforms, secretively, without the consent of the Sri Lankan people by various devious methods as this may lead to chaos and utter misery for the people of our motherland as experienced in the past.

(The writer is an Attorney-at-Law with LLB, LLM, MPhil.(Colombo)[email protected]))

One Response to “Preservation of the Unitary State”

  1. Christie Says:

    Ours is a different story compared to UK (British) and England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

    Our problem is the Indian Colonial Parasites that colonized our country under the cover of the British fire power.

    We should compare ourselves with countries like Mauritius, Guyana, South Africa, Guyana, Fiji, etc and other Indian colonies.

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