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What were the functions and powers of the Secretary of State for the colonies under the crown colony system of administration?

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The Secretary of State for the colonies was a member of the British Parliament. He was a cabinet minister in charge of the British colonies. He resided in London and worked from the colonial office there. He was responsible for the administration of the colonies.

Recommended the appointment of governors 
One of the functions of the Secretary of State was to advise the British Crown on persons who could be appointed as Governors for the British colonies. He had the power to promote, transfer and dismiss colonial governors if they did not perform well. For example, Governor Sir Fredrick Hudgson of the Gold Coast was transferred to Barbados based on the recommendations of the then Secretary of State. This happened because he interfered in the Ashanti Golden stool case.

Approval of new constitutions
For a new constitution to be drafted and implemented in the colonies, the secretary of state must have given his approval.

Received petitions
Anytime the local people had any complaints, this was put in a petition and sent to the Secretary of State. One of his functions was to receive this petition from the local people. The Aborigines Rights Protection Society, for example, sent a petition to, the then Secretary of State, Joseph Chamberlin, expressing their disapproval of the Land Bill of 1897 in the Gold Coast.

Supervision of Governors
Another function of the Secretary of State was to ensure that the Governors who resided in the British colonies performed the duties assigned to them properly. The aim was to ensure that the colonies' administration did not go contrary to British overseas policies.

Approval of the annual budget
The Secretary of State was the only official who could give approval to the colonial budget before it could be implemented in the colonies.

Implementation of major public work
The Secretary of State for the colonies must approve every major public work before it could be implemented in the colonies. Without this approval, the work could not be initiated. For example, the massive infrastructure undertaken by Governor Guggisberg in the Gold Coast had to be approved by the Secretary of State at the time.

Power to set up commissions of inquiry
The Secretary of State had the power to establish a commission of inquiry to inquire into anything that occurs in the colony, especially if the occurrence was out of the ordinary. A good example was the Watson Commission which was established to inquire into the causes of the 1948 Riots.

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Power to override the Governor's veto power
The Governors of the various colonies had the power to veto decisions of the Legislative Council. However, anytime the Governor exercised the veto power, he needed to inform the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State could revoke the veto that was exercised by the Governor.

He was answerable to the British Parliament
As indicated earlier on, the Secretary of State was a minister appointed by the British government and therefore, he was a cabinet member. Under the British constitution, the ministers were responsible to the British parliament and the Secretary of State was no exception. Before he could implement any policy in his ministry, that policy must have received the approval of parliament.

Control by Parliament
Under the Crown colony system, the Secretary of State was answerable to the British parliament. If he was suspected of being responsible for something that happened in any of the colonies, he could be questioned by the parliamentarians. When the 1948 riots occurred in the Gold Coast, for example, the Secretary of State was hauled before the British parliament for questioning.

Control by public opinion
There was a level of control from the British public on the Secretary of State for the colonies. This opinion was expressed through the British media. The media could mirror the displeasure of the British public against any unpopular policy that the Secretary of State may introduce in the overseas territory. This served as a check on his powers and functions.

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Control by the constitution
The powers of the Secretary of State was derived from the constitution of the British people. This compelled him to work within the framework of the constitution. He was found to be in breach of his powers if he went beyond the powers granted him under the constitution.

Cabinet reshuffle
The British cabinet could be reshuffled by the Prime Minister and the cabinet members moved around or even some ministries could be scrapped. If such a reshuffle happens, a cabinet member could be changed or sent to another department by the Prime Minister. This could affect the Secretary of State who was also a cabinet minister and therefore this served as a check on him.

Advise by senior members in his ministry
In the colonial office in London were senior Civil Servants with a lot of experience. They could advise the Secretary of State over issues and policies pertaining to the administration of the British territories. This served as a check on the powers and functions of the Secretary of State.

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