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Introducing More Transparent and Efficient Land Management in Post-Socialist Cities

Lessons from Kyrgyzstan

Olga Kaganova, Abdirasul Akhmatov, Charles Undeland
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Document date: June 02, 2008
Released online: January 16, 2009


The Urban Institute (UI) worked with five cities in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan to apply better management practices through the development of Strategic Land Management Plans. Kyrgyzstan transferred property to local governments, but municipal land management had remained poor owing to a proliferation of responsible agencies, lack of rule of law, corruption, and passiveness on the part of local governments. UI worked with local governments to make an inventory of municipal land, publicize the results, and develop a strategy that articulated principles for land management and an implementation plan. This led to several improvements including proper registration of parcels and proactive policies to lease and sell land through open competition. It also established a model for determining public policy that countered corruption and public deliberation of costs and benefits in the use of local assets. Donor involvement to promote good land legislation, the property registration system, and decentralization was also critical to success.

Originally published in International Journal of Strategic Property Management (2008) 12, 161-181. Used with permission.

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Local governments are often considered to be poor managers of land because they lack the incentives of the private sector to maximize utility from land and because politicians and the citizens that hold politicians accountable tend to view land as simply one of the component means to deliver public services rather than a discrete asset to be managed. Yet public land often is a substantial part of local governments' asset bases, and improved management will necessarily have broad budgetary, public policy, and service delivery impacts. This is particularly evident in countries undergoing decentralization: newly empowered local governments can demonstrate greater responsiveness and effectiveness in their management of a key local resource. Improved municipal land management is thus at the intersection between efforts to (i) improve regulations and practice to foster effective property/land management and (ii) decentralize public management to obtain the interrelated benefits of increased participation of citizens in governance and more effective, responsive, and accountable local government.

The authors of this paper were the primary staff of the Urban Institute seeking to apply better land management and decentralization principles in local governments in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgzystan. This work was undertaken as part of a technical assistance project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development to support more effective and responsive local government. We faced specific circumstances where public land management and particularly decentralized government in practice did not fully match the ideal conditions due to the political realities of how Kyrgyzstan had conducted reforms in these areas. These included in particular cynicism about formal legal process and lack of genuine participation among citizenry and corresponding motivation and responsiveness of local governments. The imperfect, incomplete nature of public land management is more likely the norm than the exception (Rajack, 2007; Garba and Al-Mubaiyedh, 1999; Buckley and Kalarickal, 2006). Therefore the realities of improving municipal land management in Kyrgyzstan is likely relevant to other transitional countries, particularly in the former Soviet Union. Yet despite the challenges, improvements could and did occur, albeit not as rapidly or as fully as might have been the case with more effective public land management systems and decentralization.

This paper summarizes the work performed and assesses the context, lessons learned, and factors of success in the development of Strategic Land Management Plans (SLMPs) in five Kyrgyz cities – Osh, Jalalabat, Karakol, Cholponata, and Karabalta. The SLMPs emerged thanks to cooperation between local officials in each of the 5 cities and the Urban Institute.

The paper first reviews the country context for the SLMPs, including an overview of Kyrgyzstan?s land management and decentralization reforms and a listing of key factors blocking effective public land management at the local level. Then, the paper outlines a detailed framework for strategic land management and discusses results and implications of applying this framework in five cities. It concludes with reflections on lessons that can be learned by donors and local actors.

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