The Politics of Participation: Irrigation Associations in Southeast Asia Open Access

Ricks, Jacob Isaac (2013)

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Institutions for collective action are vital to accomplishing a variety of difficult developmental tasks, including irrigation management. For decades experts have argued collective action institutions for farmer participation, called water user organizations, are essential for improving water resource management. Such organizations increase the efficiency and efficacy of irrigation. In order to function, though, they require a favorable policy framework. Despite this knowledge, very few countries have been able to develop the recipe of policies necessary for participatory irrigation management. Why? I propose that the observed variation can be explained by the political environment. In this dissertation I advance a theory based on the preferences of three sets of policy actors: politicians, top-level bureaucrats, and street-level bureaucrats. I argue that politicians will only expend the resources necessary to develop institutional capacity when they are faced with significant political vulnerability paired with a low degree of policy influence from bureaucrats. I test my theoretical expectations by conducting a controlled comparison of participatory irrigation management policies and their implementation across four Asian countries: Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. Postulating that the theory should have a similar effect at the sub-national level, I also conducted comparative case studies of seven water user organizations in Indonesia and nine water user organizations in Thailand. I found that the national case comparisons supported my argument. In contrast, my sub-national comparisons show that, without a national policy framework favorable to participatory irrigation management, the success of water user organizations depends less on political vulnerability than on the attitudes and actions of street-level bureaucrats. These actions are largely determined by the incentive structures within the irrigation agency, but they may also be influenced by personal relationships with the communities in which they serve. Thus water user organizations are best able to emerge in states where a favorable policy framework developed due to the presence of political vulnerability and a lack of bureaucratic policy control. When such conditions do not exist, though, water user organizations may still emerge, contingent upon the incentives of street-level bureaucrats.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction 1

Chapter 2: Theory and Research Design 30

Chapter 3: National Level Analysis 79

Chapter 4: Sub-national Variation in Indonesia 176

Chapter 5: Sub-national Variation in Thailand 248

Chapter 6: Conclusion 333

Bibliography 368

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