What is Security of Tenure?

R. Anacan

In politics and government, security of tenure is a term used to describe a measure of protection afforded to public office holders. Security of tenure prevents government and political office holders from being removed from office except under certain circumstances such as the committing of a crime, misconduct by the office holder, or if the official is determined to be incapable of carrying out the duties and responsibilities of the office. The practice of security of tenure is considered by many to be an important policy that protects those holding certain political and government offices from being removed from office indiscriminately or without justifiable cause.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The business of government, whether performed by elected politicians or appointed officials, is often divisive and polarizing. The very nature of politics ensures that whenever a decision or policy is made by an officeholder, someone will not be happy with the policy or decision. Without the protection afforded by security of tenure, it is possible that office holders may be reluctant to make decisions that would have the potential of alienating voters or other office holders, out of fear of being removed from office due to anger or revenge.

It should be noted that in some jurisdictions that utilize the practice of security of tenure, not all office holders may be afforded the protection of tenure. For example, in many countries that utilize a parliamentary form of government, the prime minister can often be removed or dismissed as prime minister by the head of state or through a simple vote of “no confidence” by members of the Parliament. Other office holders such as heads of government ministries or departments are often considered to serve at the pleasure of the head of state or head of government and can often be removed at anytime, for any reason.

The primary method of removing an elected or appointed official from office is generally through a process known as impeachment. An impeachment is a formal charge, similar to a legal indictment, in which the government body that is empowered to impeach an official states the reason that the official should be removed from office. The government body, often a legislative assembly such as a Parliament or Congress, then conducts a trial of the impeached official to hear evidence and testimony against the officeholder. Once the evidence has been presented and all witnesses have been heard, the members of the body cast votes to determine whether or not to remove the official.

Removing an official from a position due to incapacity or the inability to carry out the duties of the office often involves the use of the courts or a consensus of other government officials. For example, in the United States, the Vice President may assume the powers and duties of the President if the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet deem the President unable to discharge the duties of the office. The President may be prevented from re-assuming the powers of the office indefinitely, until the Cabinet or the Congress determines the President is fit to do so.

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