Ministry (government department)

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

A ministry is a specialized organization responsible for a sector of government public administration, sometimes led by a minister or a senior public servant, that can have responsibility for one or more departments, agencies, bureaus, commissions or other smaller executive, advisory, managerial or administrative organisations.

Ministries are usually an immediate subdivision of the Cabinet (i.e. the executive branch of the government), and subordinate to its chief executive who is either called prime minister, chief minister, president, minister-president or (federal) chancellor.

A government will usually have numerous ministries, each with a specialised field of providing public service which is often called a portfolio. The precise competences and responsibilities of national ministries vary greatly between countries, but some common ones include Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of the Interior. In many countries these ministries are called the Big Five.

In the 20th century, many Western countries (including monarchies such as Belgium and the United Kingdom) have trended away from the usage of the designation "ministry", preferring to replace it partially or entirely with words such as department, office, state secretariat, or even agency and bureau.



In Canada, five of the ten provincial governments use the term "ministry" to describe their departments (namely Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Alberta) but the other five, as well as the federal government, use the terms "department" or "agency". Despite the difference in nomenclature, both the provincial and federal governments use the term "minister" to describe the head of a ministry or department. The specific tasks assigned to a minister is referred to as his or her "portfolio".


In India the government departments take the practical actions which are debated by MLAs in the legislative assembly and by the MPs in the parliament. Some of the common government departments are the health department education department etc.

New Zealand

New Zealand's state agencies include a large number of ministries and a smaller number of departments. Increasingly, state sector agencies are styled neither as ministries nor as departments. All New Zealand agencies are under the direction of one or more ministers or associate ministers, whether they are styled "ministries" or not, though each body also has an apolitical chief executive. In ministries and departments, these chief executives often have the title of Secretary.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, all government organizations that consist of civil servants, and which may or may not be headed by a government minister or secretary of state, are considered as departments. The term "ministry" has been retained for the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Justice.

Other countries

Some countries, such as Australia, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, the Philippines and the United States, do not use the term "ministry" for their sectors of government public administration, and instead call them "departments".

However, in other countries such as Luxembourg for example, the department is the subdivision of the ministry, usually led by a government member called secretary of state who is subordinate to the respective minister, the ministers being subordinate to the prime minister.

In Hong Kong, the term "bureau" is used, and departments are subordinate to the bureaus, while in Mexico, ministries are referred to as secretariats. The government departments of the Soviet Union before 1946 were named "People's Commissariats". In the European Union, departments are termed Directorate(s)-General with the civil servant in charge called a Director-General (in the European Commission, the political head of the department is one of the European Commissioners).

In popular culture

The term "ministry" has also been widely used in satire and parody to describe fictional departments.

  • Ministry of Sound, a nightclub.
  • Ministry of Administrative Affairs, from Yes Minister, responsible for the administration of other government departments and the British Civil Service; this ministry held a number of other responsibilities that were part of plot lines throughout the series, including National Health Service administration, local government, organising state visits by foreign leaders, enforcing European regulations, the Arts and telecommunications.
  • Department of Social Affairs (later Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship) from The Thick of It, the government department responsible for overseeing the activities of other government departments as well as other responsibilities which tied-in with plot lines, similar to the Department of Administrative Affairs in Yes Minister.
  • Ministry of Silly Walks, a sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus.
  • Ministry of Magic in the Harry Potter series; it is the government of the magical community within the United Kingdom, not a department of the British Government responsible for magical affairs.
  • Ministries of Truth (education, culture and propaganda), Love (interior), Plenty (economic affairs) and Peace (war and foreign affairs) in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  • Ministry of Information Retrieval in the film Brazil.
  • Ministry of Social Coherence, from an Estonian comedy Riigimehed (Statesmen).

See also