Administrator of the government

An administrator (administrator of the government or officer administering the government) in the constitutional practice of some countries in the Commonwealth is a person who fulfils a role similar to that of a governor or a governor-general.

Temporary administrators

Usually the office of administrator is a temporary appointment, for periods during which the governor is incapacitated, outside the territory, or otherwise unable to perform his or her duties. The process for selecting administrators varies from country to country.


In the Commonwealth of Australia, the administrator is usually called the administrator of the Commonwealth. State governors hold a dormant commission and by convention the longest-serving state governor becomes administrator.[1]

In the states of Australia, the administrator is usually the chief justice of the state's supreme court or the next most senior justice. In 2001, the Constitution of Queensland was amended to restore the office of lieutenant-governor in that state.


An "administrator of the government" in Canada is a constitutional practice where an individual is empowered to perform the functions of the office of the governor general if the governor general is incapable of rendering their constitutional duties, or if the position of Governor General is vacant following a resignation or death.[2] The provisions to select the administrator of the government in Canada is outlined in Article VIII of the Letters Patent, 1947; which identifies that the Chief Justice of Canada assumes the role as administrator should the need arise. In the absence of the chief justice, the senior Puisne Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada is designated as the administrator of the government.[2] Prior to the signage of the Letters Patent, 1947, the administrator of the government was directly appointed by the monarch.[3] An administrator of the government is not required if a governor general is absent for less than 30 days, with the governor general empowered to designate a "deputy governor general" to act on their behalf.[2] Richard Wagner is the most recent in Canada designated as the "administrator of the government," having been sworn in to the position on 23 January 2021 after the resignation of Julie Payette,[4] and serving until the role of governor general was assumed by Mary Simon on 26 July 2021.[5]

The constitutional practice of an "administrator of the government" is also found within the provinces of Canada, with provincial administrators of the government assuming the functions of the office of the lieutenant governor if office is vacant or its holder is incapable of rendering their duties. A justice of a provincial superior court is designated as a provincial administrator of government. The term "administrator" is also used in the Canadian territory of Yukon, although the position of administrator in Yukon is analogous to a "deputy commissioner of Yukon".[6]


In Ceylon, the officer administering the government in the absence of the governor-general of Ceylon was the chief justice of Ceylon. In the absence of the chief justice the acting chief justice would serve in this place. Ceylon had two acting governors-general.

Hong Kong

When Hong Kong was a British Crown colony the chief secretary (colonial secretary before 1976) would be the acting governor, followed by the financial secretary and the attorney general. The practice has remained after the transfer of sovereignty to China. Rotation takes place between the chief secretary for administration (formerly chief secretary), the financial secretary and the secretary for justice (formerly attorney general) as the acting chief executive.

New Zealand

Under the Governor-General Act 2010, there are certain times where the chief justice, currently Helen Winkelmann, will fulfil the role of administrator of the government (acting governor-general). These times may be when the governor-general is outside New Zealand, or is incapacitated or otherwise unable to carry out their duties, or more prominently when the position is vacant .[7][8] If the chief justice is unable to become administrator of the government for similar reasons as above then the title follows the order of seniority in the judicial system.[9]

Papua New Guinea

As a former external territory of Australia, the head of the territory's administration was called the administrator of Papua-New Guinea before independence in 1975. The appointment was by the governor-general of Australia on the advice of the Australian minister of external territories. The minister for external territories consulted with the territory's chief minister as part of the appointment process.


On 11 November 1965, the self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia made a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) although it continued to recognise the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, as head of state, with oaths of allegiance to "Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth, Queen of Rhodesia, her heirs and successors".[10] However, the Rhodesian Front government of Ian Smith ceased to recognise the authority of her de jure representative, Governor Sir Humphrey Gibbs.[11]

Instead, on 17 November, it appointed the former deputy prime minister, Clifford Dupont, to the post of "acting officer administering the government".[12] Opponents of UDI who considered it an illegal move, such as the independent member of the legislative assembly, Ahrn Palley, refused to recognise Dupont's office, and walked out of the opening of the Parliament of Rhodesia when Dupont came to deliver the Speech from the Throne.[13]

On 2 December, Smith wrote a personal letter to the Queen, asking her to accept Dupont as the new governor-general.[14] In response, he was told that "Her Majesty is not able to entertain purported advice of this kind, and has therefore been pleased to direct that no action shall be taken upon it".[15]

Under the 1965 draft constitution, if the Queen did not appoint a governor-general within fourteen days of advice being tendered by the prime minister, a Regent was to be appointed.[16] In deference to the Royal Family, however, on 16 December, Smith amended his original plan to appoint a Regent and Dupont was appointed as "officer administering the government".[17]

Consequently, legislation passed after UDI was "enacted by His Excellency the Officer Administering the Government, as the representative of the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Parliament of Rhodesia".[18] Dupont would continue to use the title until 1970.[19] When Rhodesia adopted a republican constitution that year, he became the first President of Rhodesia, a position that was internationally unrecognised, given the fact that Rhodesia was de jure a British colony.

The country was renamed Zimbabwe Rhodesia in 1979, before it returned to colonial status following the Lancaster House Agreement later that year. In 1980, it achieved internationally recognised independence as Zimbabwe, becoming a republic in the Commonwealth of Nations.

Permanent administrators

The term administrator is also used for a permanent officer representing the head of state where the appointment of a governor would be inappropriate; it is also used for the representative of a governor.


There is no administrator in the Australian Capital Territory and the chief minister is elected by the legislative assembly.


In the Union territories of India, which are ruled directly by the Union government, the President of India appoints an administrator.[20] Administrators differ from the governors of the states of India in that they are an agent of the president and not a head of state.[21]

The president may also appoint the governor of a neighbouring state to be the administrator of a union territory. Since 1985 the Governor of Punjab has acted as the Administrator of Chandigarh. And Administrator of Lakshadweep also rules Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu. In five union territories: Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Puducherry; the administrator uses the title "lieutenant governor".

New Zealand

  • Tokelau has been governed by an administrator since 1949, when it was attached to New Zealand (previously it was part of the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands)
  • Historically in Samoa as a League of Nations and United Nations mandate (see List of colonial governors of Samoa).

United Kingdom overseas possessions


United States

In the United States, the rank of administrator denotes a high-level civilian official within the United States federal government. Generally an official of sub-cabinet rank, an administrator is appointed by the President of the United States with the consent of the United States Senate and assigned to run a specific US government agency. Administrators often manage major agencies housed within specific cabinet departments (e.g., Research and Innovative Technology Administration within the United States Department of Transportation) while others are stand-alone agencies (e.g., the United States Environmental Protection Agency).


During mandatory times, the high commissioner was deputized by an administrator in case of high commissarial vacancy, and a deputy to the high commissioner when the high commissioner remained in office but temporarily could not fulfill his duties. Both posts were held ex-officio by the chief secretary. The rules for deputizing the analogous office in modern-day Israel, the president, are similar, with an interim president analogous to the administrator and an acting president analogous to the deputy to the high commissioner. However, these posts are held not by the prime minister, whose office is analogous to that of the chief secretary, but by the Speaker of the Knesset.

Sources and references


  1. Role of the Administrator at the Governor-General of Australia site
  2. "Canadian Parliamentary Institutions". Retrieved 22 January 2021.
  3. "Parliamentary Institutions Notes 51–100". Retrieved 23 January 2021.
  4. Burke, Ashley (21 January 2021). "Payette stepping down as governor general after blistering report on Rideau Hall work environment". CBC News. Retrieved 21 January 2021.
  5. Aiello, Rachel (26 July 2021). "Mary Simon installed as Canada's 30th Governor General". CTV News. Retrieved 4 September 2021.
  6. "Choice of Next Commissioner Praised." Chuck Tobin, the Whitehorse Star, 1 December 2010. Accessed 1 March 2011.
  7. "Governor-General Act 2010". Parliamentary Council Office. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  8. "Administrator of the Government". Office of the Governor-General. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  9. "Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor-General of New Zealand". Parliamentary Council Office. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  10. International Law Reports, Volume 52, E. Lauterpacht, Cambridge University Press, 1979, page 53
  11. Ian Smith Strips Gibbs Of All Official Privilege, Associated Press, The Morning Record, 18 November 1965
  12. East Africa and Rhodesia, Volume 42, Africana, 1965, page 339
  13. Africa Report, Volumes 11-12, African-American Institute, 1966, page 44
  14. The New Law Journal, Volume 127, Butterworth, 1978, page 529
  15. The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Volume 20, page 659, 1971
  16. The Constitution of Rhodesia, 1965, Government Printer, 1965, page 7
  17. Rhodesia and the United Nations: UN Imposition of Mandatory Sanctions 1966, Avrahm G. Mezerik, International Review Service, 1966, pages 39-40
  18. Annual Survey of African Law Cb: Volume Three : 1969, editors E. Cotran, N.N. Rubin, Routledge, 1973, page 171
  19. Rhodesian Commentary, Volumes 3-5, 1970, page 72
  20. Union Territories. Know India: National Portal of India Archived 26 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  21. M Laxmikanth (2004). Indian Polity (3rd ed.).
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