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Democratic Decentralization of Natural Resources   Institutionalizing Popular Participation  

Democratic Decentralization of Natural Resources - Institutionalizing Popular Participation

In order to increase environmental management efficiency and improve equity and justice for local people, many environmentalists have advocated participatory and community-based natural resource management (CBNRM). Democratic decentralization is a promising means of institutionalizing and scaling up the popular participation that makes CBNRM effective. However, most current "decentralization" reforms are characterized by insufficient transfer of powers to local institutions, under tight central-government oversight. Often, these local institutions do not represent and are not accountable to local communities. Nonetheless, some lessons and recommendations can be derived from the limited decentralization experiments that have taken place in various locations. Decentralization requires both power transfers and accountable representation. To identify appropriate and sufficient powers to transfer, principles of power distribution, called environmental subsidiarity principles, would be of great use. Such principles could be developed to guide the division of decision-making, rule-aking, implementation, enforcement, and dispute-resolution powers among levels of government and among institutions at each level. Security of power transfers also matters. Local representatives remain accountable and subject to central authorities when their powers can be given and taken at the whim of central agents. For local people to become enfranchised as citizens rather than remaining dependent subjects, their local representatives require a domain of secure discretionary powers and rights. This domain of secure rights must be established in law and protected through epresentation and recourse. Most transfers being made are insecure. Choosing representative and accountable local institutions is key for equity, justice, and efficiency. Accountability of local decision makers to the people-that is, local democracy-is believed to be the mechanism for achieving greater equity and efficiency. When locally accountable bodies such as elected local governments are chosen, democracy is strengthened. When self-interested, nonrepresentative, or autocratic institutions such as interest groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or customary authorities, are chosen in the absence of overseeing representative bodies, there is a risk of strengthening their autocracy and weakening democracy. Pluralism without representation favors the most organized and powerful groups. It favors elite capture. Secure powers and accountable representation go together. Transferring power without accountable representation is dangerous. Establishing accountable representation without powers is empty. Most ecentralization reforms only establish one or the other. A partial explanation is that many central government agents fear, and therefore block, decentralization. By preventing transfers of meaningful powers to local democratic bodies, or transferring them to local agents who are only accountable to central government, environmental agencies and other line ministries prevent ecentralizations from moving forward. To date, the potential benefits of decentralization remain unrealized because government discourse has not resulted in the enactment of necessary laws, or where decentralization laws do exist, they have not been implemented. Nevertheless, even partial decentralizations have borne some positive social and environmental outcomes. In addition to meaningful powers and accountability, a complex set of other measures can affect such outcomes. These include environmental standards, policies to improve equity, civic education, dispute resolution, and legal protections for activist organizations. Environmental standards are a necessary and logical complement to decentralization reforms because they define the bounds and the freedoms of local discretionary action. It may be necessary for central government to mandate that local government include and serve excluded populations, because decentralization does not fully redress many social inequities, including the disenfranchisement of women, poverty, and the exclusion of marginal groups. Decentralizations can lead to conflict, particularly when they involve the transfer of natural resource management and use powers. Therefore, mediation mechanisms and access to recourse are needed. If local populations and authorities are to act on the rights and obligations that come with decentralizations, they must know the law. Civic education can inform people of these rights and obligations, raising their expectations for meaningful reform, representation, justice, and services. In addition, laws that enable people to organize and demand reforms and government responsiveness can facilitate positive change. Central governments play key roles in effective decentralization, despite the fact that most resistance to decentralization comes from within government. Decentralization is not about the downsizing or dismantling of central government; rather, it calls for mutually supportive democratic central and local governance. Strong central government is necessary for establishing national objectives, civil rights, and a legal framework to enable civil organizing, representation, and recourse. Additionally, it provides for enforcement and support services. Outside agencies (donors and NGOs) can support governments in their decentralization efforts and help set up accompanying measures. Contrary to the positive roles they can play, governments, donors, and environmental organizations are already forming a backlash to decentralization on the grounds that it has not succeeded. Yet the decentralization experiment is just beginning. Discourse has rarely been translated into law or practice. Where it has, people need time to understand and invest in it. It is impossible to measure decentralization's success before the experiment has been tried. Decentralization will require serious effort and time. This brief presents preliminary findings and recommendations from research on natural resources in decentralization efforts around the world. The findings derive from the World Resources Institute's (WRI's) Accountability, Decentralization, and Environment Comparative Research Project in Africa, and cases presented at the WRI-organized Conference on Decentralization and Environment in Bellagio, Italy, in February 2002. The Africa-wide research project conducted field studies in Cameroon, Mali, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe in 2000 and 2001. The papers presented in Bellagio were based on WRI's African research project, WRI's Resources Policy Support Initiative 2 in South East Asia, plus case studies from Bolivia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Mongolia, Nicaragua, and Thailand. All the cases explore the degree to which natural resource decentralizations have taken place and their measurable social and environmental outcomes. Most of the cases focus on forestry, while a few explore wildlife and water management. The cases are listed in Annex A. The brief discusses preliminary research findings and key issues relevant to natural resources management in democratic decentralization. The main recommendations are presented in Box ======================= CONTENTS Acknowledgments Summary Introduction: From CBNRM to Democratic Decentralization Findings: Assessing Decentralization and its Outcomes Decentralizations Involving Natural Resources are Incomplete Decentralization Can Have Positive Outcomes Key Issues in Natural Resources and Democratic Decentralization Accountability Matters: Choose and Build on Representative and Accountable Local Institutions Discretionary Powers Matter: Environmental Subsidiarity Principles are Needed Secure Power Transfer Matters Accompanying Measures and Central Government Roles for Effective Decentralization Minimum Environmental Standards: A Necessary and Logical Complement to Decentralization Poverty Alleviation and Inclusion of Marginalized Groups Requires Additional Measures Local Mediation Mechanisms Civic and Local Government Education Conclusion Annex A: WRI Research on Decentralization and the Environment Endnotes References

Published by: World Resources Institute (WRI) -
Uploaded on: Nov 2002
File size: 1 MB - Language: English
Keyword(s): Administration , Development Concepts/Approaches , Natural Resources Management , Participatory Methods
Category: Environment