Principle 1:

We work to establish decentralized decision-making processes and to devolve decision making to the lowest practicable level – that which is closest to the affected individuals.

The Principle in Practice:

  • In Thailand, along its swiftly flowing rivers, millions of people organized themselves under the 1000-year- old muang faai system that ensured all could use the rivers for their development, equitably and in perpetuity. This decentralized system that combined dam engineering, laws, and political institutions dissolved when the World Bank built large dams on the mainstem of local rivers, shifting control of the watersheds to the capital city of Bangkok, creating a free for all over the forests and the water, and leading to the demise of once thriving local economies.  Probe International uses the example of muang faai in Odious Debts: Loose Lending, Corruption, and the Third World’s Environmental Legacy, to explain how common resources can be managed for private and communal benefit (as Thai river communities did) or ruined, as happened when the Thai government centralized control.  The demise of the muang faai system became our signature example of how management of a resource, be it environmental or financial, is destroyed: when the beneficiary and the victim are obscured by space, time, and loose accounting, and when those who have suffered are not the beneficiaries while those who have benefited are not the sufferers.
  • As farms increase in size and intensity, agricultural pollution is gaining a new urgency across Canada. The response from most environmental groups and from upper levels of government is generally to push for more centralized regulation. The effect has often been to disempower directly-affected individuals and communities – with the perverse result of more, rather than less, agricultural pollution. In Greener Pastures: Decentralizing the Regulation of Agricultural Pollution, Environment Probe examines the environmental harm caused by provincial regulation – especially right-to-farm laws – and advocates returning decision-making authority to the local level.

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