Break-Out Group 5

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Group 5: Water & Energy: Policy Development and Decision-Making on Large Dams

Speaker: Emad Adly, Arab Network for Environment & Development, Egypt

Chair: Danielle Morley, UNED Forum 

Rapporteur: Charles Nouhan, UNED Forum

Emad Adly started off the session with a presentation on large dams using Egypt as an example. In the 1960’s, the Aswan ‘high’ dam was built which reflected the principles applied at that time. Concerns of today were not apparent then. The issues of water and energy are so lively now that it might be difficult to reach consensus. Even if MSPs were used, it might be difficult to influence / change perceived political needs.

1. What are the key principal components and conditions of a successful MSP?

General theoretical principles of MSPs may not be as well suited to some national processes. Some experience has shown that it is harder to apply MSPs at the national level where there is more of a direct connection to peoples lives and vested interests. Therefore the objectivity / neutrality of an MSP can be lost.  

The group discussed some of the key principles of MSPs:

Ownership of the process is at the centre of an MSP - it must be clearly defined and agreed upon.

Transparency can be politically risky and may lead to unexpected interpretations e.g. in Russia, transparency is very elusive and is easily manipulated by those in power.

Dialogue must be used in the context of process, not just as a tool for superficial consensus-building.

Power gaps are a barrier to the process and create a sense of being disempowered from the real decision-making. Again, defining ownership would be helpful here.

Power Gaps: The World Commission on Dams addressed the issue of power gaps by letting all members engage as individuals rather than as representatives of their organisations. If efforts are made to give all players a voice, and if all participate equally (perhaps with a chair drawing in all participants), all would feel that they could make a meaningful contribution. The credibility of the participants within their community and in what capacity they come will often influence the power gap.

The question was asked whether we prefer enlightened dictatorship or unenlightened democracy? If the process is open-ended, and if more stakeholders become involved, the capacity to solve the problem increases. This could then circumvent a great deal of unnecessary debate. Notions of democracy are very different around the world: Vote vs. voice – representative vs. participatory democracy. 

Ownership: MSPs at the regional level are easier, but at the national level the power gaps appear more extreme.  Subtle differences in interest magnify the problems and barriers; conflict often ensues. The principle of co-ownership is important; but when some groups are perceived to possess ‘more’  (power, resources, information) than others, conflicts arise. Such perceptions determine one's angle of engagement.

Equity: How is the framework for risk assessment determined? The degree of risk for one stakeholder group vis-à-vis another is, to some extent, a determinant of that group’s equity – the number of issues at stake for a given group. Sometimes the cultural and ecological factors in group equity are not fully considered and appreciated. One way to determine the level of a groups equity is to have complete sets of the right information. Also, it is important to define if the impact is at the local, national, regional and/or global level. The higher the level, the greater the universe of participants, so more ‘help’ could be drawn in to solve problems.

Stakeholder perception: The body managing the process must consider the pre-project information made available to the public and the media. This could avoid misconceptions and initial resistance derived from ignorance.

As one of the main points, it was suggested that MSPs are harder for single issues (e.g. a one-off project) as compared to ongoing processes such as river basin management or other institutionalised policy / agreed procedures. Trust builds up over time and the process becomes more effective. The differences need to be further explored in the current draft of the MSP Framework.

2. What should be principles and practical components of linkages between MSPs and official decision-making processes?

The WCD has not been able to greatly influence decisions made by sovereign countries. However, 

Each stakeholder group can take up outcomes.

One ongoing goal and task of the World Commission on Dams is to identify national level issues and partners in order to take the debate forward.

There must be more depth in practice in dealing with decision-making. Most MSPs are advisory and do not result in implementation.

All people should have the right to participate. It should not be assumed that in a democracy, all people can participate in decisions in a meaningful way – in a way that actually has an influence on the process that effects them.

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Contact Minu Hemmati and Felix Dodds for further information.