Recentralizing while decentralizing: how national governments reappropriate forest resources

Recentralizing while decentralizing: how national governments reappropriate forest resources

Decentralisation: rhetoric and reality

This paper shows how central governments in six countries—Senegal, Uganda, Nepal, Indonesia, Bolivia, and Nicaragua—use a variety of strategies to obstruct the democratic decentralisation of resource management and, hence, retain central control.

In each case, the authors review articulated justifications of decentralisation, the extent to which governments have actually decentralised decision making and other powers regarding the environment and natural resources, the actors who have come to gain new powers, and some observable social and environmental outcomes.

The results show that:

  • the configuration of actors, powers, and accountability relations that may constitute an effective decentralization reform in the forestry sector is hard to find in practice
  • the political dynamics related to policy reforms play a crucial debilitating role in the divergence between the rhetorical claims for decentralization and the institutional changes that actually take place
In many of the cases, the underlying reasons for the initiation and implementation of decentralisation reforms are quite different from the stated objectives and goals of reforms. While the ostensible reason to pursue decentralisation lies in greater efficiency, more-thoroughgoing equity, and more-democratic local participation, it is political economic calculations and pressures that actually prompt—and thus shapes—reforms.

In particular
  • in Indonesia and Uganda, decentralisation was designed at least in part to undermine provincial secessionist movements and political leaders whose goals were at cross-purposes with those of central-level actors
  • in Senegal, Nepal, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, donor pressures played an important role in initiating decentralisation reforms. Donors have been far less effective in ensuring adequate implementation of transfer of powers because neither donors nor governments want close supervision of the reform process
  • in Indonesia and Nepal, central governments wanted to use decentralisation as a means to promote industrialisation based on forest products at least as much as they wanted to empower local governments
Such differences between intent and practice, the authors agrue, account in significant part for the divergence between the positive rhetoric that defends the launching and implementation of decentralisation and the negative experiences one encounters on the ground.
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