It is necessary to know the meaning of the term centralisation as different from decentralisation.
In a centralised political system, both the State and the Central government are the same. This is true of Ghana under the government of Kwame Nkrumah. The central government is the ultimate source of power and authority. In a decentralised system, powers are shared among the three tiers of government and the central government need not be more powerful than the state or local government.
The concept of centralisation and decentralisation in a bureaucracy indicates the pattern of distribution of powers, that is whether or not power is concentrated at the top or differentiated. Here, the concept refers to administrative rather than the constitutional arrangement.
Centralisation occurs when the important decision-making process is conducted at the top by a small bureaucratic group or individual. Centralisation also means that legal authority had not been decentralised or given to the subordinate units. In this sense centralisation is synonymous with concentration.
The term decentralisation can be used to describe a legal delegation of authority for the purpose of exercising specific responsibility. For example, the central government can transfer power of raising local taxes to the local authority within the State. Such may be described, as decentralisation of authority to the local level. Therefore, used in this sense, the concept of decentralisation becomes synonymous with devolution.
Decentralisation is used to cover both devolution and de-concentration. De-concentration may be regarded as the delegation of the subordinate officer to act in the name of the supreme officer without transfer of authority from him. In every political and administrative organisation, the mixture of centralisation and decentralisation is important and therefore a balance is always struck between the two concepts.
Merits of Centralisation
1. In a nation’s formative stage, centralisation with inflexibility helps to guide the development of the political and administrative systems toward definite common goals.
2. It reduces undue duplication of men and resources as it would bring the asserts of the political system or organisation under the control of a unified integrated body.
3. It disposes the entire administration for easier and effective manipulation, development and adaptation to new goals, ideologies and styles.
4. It makes for strict control and discipline.
5. Centralisation helps to integrate all functions and units into one organic whole so that every area or branch reinforces each other and becomes reciprocally functional.
Demerits of Centralisation
1. It reduces individual and groups to insignificant ripples who are hardly considered by administrative agencies. The absence arising from difficult communication and distance makes the centralised administrative unit insensitive to the peculiar circumstances of individual and groups.
2. The upper echelon of the administration which is made up of chief decision makers are overwhelming responsibilities as few people are saddled with the overwhelming responsibilities of planning and problem solving.
3. In the lower echelon, people left without responsibilities are reduced to simple conduit in administrative process. Capable people are given mere implementation and are deprived of the valuable contributions, which they could make. This generates irresponsibility in the administrative set up.
4. Inflexible centralisation causes rigidity in the administrative process as well as inability to adapt greatly to new situations.
5. Experts with technical knowledge may not be given the opportunity to act effectively in centralised units.
Merits of Decentralisation
1. Decentralisation weakens the unity of an organisation or even a country.
2. Citizens tend to care little about the central or general government. They tend to pay more attention to their regions or their immediate departments.