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
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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