Decentralization entails the transfer of power from a central government to local authorities. Decentralized management of natural resources aims at enhancing efficiency and equity in the use of public resources. In essence, decentralization shifts management duties to the local community and promotes public participation. Generally, decentralization enables accountability, openness, and effective representation of local communities in the central government (Larson & Ribot 2004). Decentralized management of natural resources makes the local community to have a sense of ownership. The local community could own, control, monitor, and maintain natural resources such as mines, which are within the village, and would use revenues generated from the mines in development of the village.
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However, with regard to natural resources, decentralization is not possible because existing legislations and policies enable central government to manage natural resources. Although decentralized management of natural resources seems simple, it requires effective management structures. The potential risks associated with some natural resources can have considerable impact on local communities. Moreover, exploitation of some natural resources needs more capital than others do. Nevertheless, the associated financial benefits of natural resources outweigh the risks and costs, and thus necessitate decentralization. In this view, this essay examines arguments that support and oppose decentralization of natural resource management.
Decentralizing as a Start Point for Development
Understanding the needs of the local community is only possible through a decentralized government. The key aspect of the decentralization theory holds that the local community knows better of the projects that needs investment than the central government. Each local government would have an equal share in terms of development if left to choose the nature projects to invest available resources. Otherwise, if central governments would have control over the funds, then they would invest revenues within the projects in respective central governments.
In any case, central governments would propose projects that meet their interests, but not the needs of local communities. Democratic decentralization of natural resources would enhance development where local people and local governments have freedom to rule with the least involvement of the central government. Kates, Parris, and Leiserowitz (2005) assert that decentralization is the key to sustainable development and economic growth. Under minimum supervision by central government, a local government would pursue to deliver concrete outcomes and enforce efforts that are similar to those of private companies. From this point of view, decentralized resource management would lead to economic outcomes that are equitable and sustainable.
Decentralizing as a Remedy for Bad Governance
Since local governments rely on national governments fulfilling their financial needs, decentralization of natural resources would empower them to be independent. The financial independence would keep the management committee on toes in promoting good governance in aspects of management such as effectiveness, commitment, transparency, and accountability. While management in the initial years seems difficult, the desire to produce the best of results would be a remedy for bad governance, which makes local governments to be good candidates in decentralized management of the natural resources. Decentralization of natural resource management would enable local people to communicate their views, thus promoting equitable outcome through the decision-making process (Larson & Ribot 2004). Contrastingly, central governments support centralization of management institutions because bureaucracy is important in power.
Decentralization as a Centerpiece for Policy Reforms
Through decentralization, policies are reformed and adjusted to meet the requirements of the local community. The local community can draft their own constitution, which guide and govern their actions. Reformation of rules and regulations that deals with natural resources will enhance fair distribution and greater retention. Such policy reform exercises would improve the efficiency and sustainability of all sectors.
Decentralization would mean monitoring the public service providers at the local level would reduce redundant services. New policies and reformation of already existing policies to deal with cases of corruption, racism, and unequal distribution of resources would aid in generation of outcomes that are more equitable. When a local government has control over a resource, it has powers to dictate on who should manage the resource (Ribot, Agrawal & Larson 2006). Hence, decentralization empowers local government to conduct reforms that support interests of local community.
Decentralization as a Sense of Liberty
Since central government has excess powers that override powers of the local government, it gives a sense of colonization. Decentralization enhances liberty and increases legitimacy of governance. Decentralization improves accessibility of natural resources and scarce opportunities to the local community, thus promoting liberty. Moreover, decentralization relieves the local community from the imposing powers of central government, and thus creates a sense of ownership and self-reliance in governance.
In essence, decentralization increases liberty of the local community to specialize in various economic activities that are essential for their economic development. Owing to enhanced liberty and independence, community members who migrated to other places in search of favorable opportunities can come back to manage the natural resources as decentralization brings a sense of ownership and self-reliance. Decentralization enables equitable distribution of wealth and income, thus leading to equitable outcome.
Initial Costs of Decentralization are Prohibitive
Despite the belief that decentralized natural resource management would enhance equity among communities, the initial costs are prohibitive. The initial costs of establishing and exploiting a natural resource, purchasing equipments, and employing people are quite high. The local governments cannot afford the costs as some central governments can only afford by seeking foreign aid. Other central governments source funds by borrowing massive loans. Moreover, central governments normally import experts to aid in the establishment and exploitation of natural resources.
Thus, high costs of exploiting natural resources deter local governments from exploiting some natural resources. The already established natural resources may fail to pay the debts accrued during establishment and exploitation of natural resources. Since central governments rely on revenues from natural resources, decentralization denies them these revenues and plunges them into financial crises where they would have challenges in servicing debts and offering essential services to their respective citizens. Therefore, decentralization of natural resources would not lead to outcomes that are more equitable, but it would increase financial burden to central governments.
Susceptibility to Discrimination within the Local Governments
Decentralization of natural resource management is susceptible to gender discrimination. Reports indicate that elected local representatives have a poor record in terms of women’s representation (Sunam, Paudel, & Paudel 2013). The traditional aspect of perceiving women as inferior lies more within the local governments than in central government. Another form of discrimination that would be evident in the decentralized governments is the discrimination against the poor. As the rich are very influential, they would reap the most from the decentralization of natural resources, while the poor would earn a meager income through the manual labor. Thus, unless the central government intervenes, the distribution of revenues from the natural resources between the poor and the rich will result into great inequalities.
Decentralization as an Initiator of Anarchy
Decentralization is so much associated with anarchy. A poorly governed local government will form a society of lawlessness. There will be political disorders due to the absence of central government authority. Since the rich, the poor, and companies struggle to derive most benefits from decentralization of resources, they tend to struggle against each other. Such struggles create and initiate anarchy where strong parties take over the natural resources and dominate them for their own selfish ends. The interested parties then over-exploit or extinguish resources, and thus the equitable outcome becomes unachievable dream (Sunam, Paudel, & Paudel 2013).
In the struggles, the influential and wealthy individuals within the local community will overtake the ruling of the local government and enjoy the freedom without interference from the central government. Owing to naivety, the community could worship the rich as small gods because they do not know their rights. Given that the local community is naive, anarchy becomes the appropriate means of regaining power from the hands of the powerful. Thus, decentralization in a local community of such kind would definitely lead to anarchy, which would not lead to outcomes that are more equitable.
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Lack of Equity Due to Procedural Corruption
It is true that governance from the central government deprives the minority groups and the poor of their rights in governance. However, it is the same case in the decentralized government. Although the poor may attend meetings and gain privileges of giving their contribution, no one can implement their contributions. Since the poor and the minority groups are not influential, their views and expressions will have no impact on decision-making. In any case, if they happen to secure a chance to speak and express their views, they are ignored in the final decision. Thus, at the local government, the rich and major groups overpower the poor and the minority groups by using power, money, and threats. The influence of the rich and the majority groups poses as the greatest barrier to the local community, which believes that decentralization enhances equitable distribution of resources. In this view, decentralization would never lead to equitable outcomes.
From the discussion, arguments that support and oppose decentralized management of natural resources have significant weights. Decentralized management of natural resources has a number of advantages. However, the disadvantages of decentralization of natural resources also raise some concerns. In any case, not all local areas possess lucrative natural resources. Therefore, while some local governments earn billions of dollars from the natural resources, some earn meager dollars, leading to inequality. Therefore, it is feasible that full decentralization of natural resources would not lead to equitable outcomes, but partial decentralization of natural resources would lead to equitable outcome. The local governments can manage non-complicated natural resources, while the central government should manage expensive natural resources that require complicated process of exploitation.
Kates, R, Parris, T & Leiserowitz, A 2005, ‘What is sustainable development?’ Environment, vol. 47, no. 3, pp. 9-21.
Larson, A & Ribot, J 2004, ‘Democratic Decentralization through a Natural Resource lens: An Introduction’, European Journal of Development Research, vol. 16, pp. 1–25.
Ribot, J, Agrawal, A & Larson A 2006, ‘Recentralizing while decentralizing: How national governments re-appropriate forest resources’, World Development, vol. 34, no.11, pp. 1864-1886.
Sunam, R, Paudel, N & Paudel, G 2013, ‘Community forestry and the threat of decentralization in Nepal: Contesting the bureaucratic hegemony in policy processes’, Society and Natural Resources: An International Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 1-17.