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Old August 1st, 2009, 04:59 PM
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In recent years, development programs targeting improvements in the provision of public services in developing countries have increasingly focused on the capacity of state and non-governmental agencies to effectively carry out their responsibilities (Hildebrand & Grindle, 1997). Capacity building, defined as “improvements in the ability of public sector organizations, either singly or in cooperation with other organizations, to perform appropriate tasks” (Hilderbrand and Grindle, 1997; 34), has therefore become a prominent issue for both domestic governments and external aid agencies. The capacity framework of Hilderbrand & Grindle (1997) is used as a guide for this study, as it explicitly outlines capacity issues that are pertinent to Vietnam’s waste management sector.

Hilderbrand & Grindle’s framework outlines an ascending hierarchy of five factors that affect the capacity of an institution to deliver public services. These include;

1) the capacity of individuals to perform their job tasks;
2) considerations of the structure and culture characteristics of the organization and its leadership;
3) the task network of inter-organizational relations;
4) the institutional context of the public sector; and
5) the influence of the overall economic and political environment on a specific service sector. This study incorporated aspects of all five of these factors, but was adapted to focus closely on the first three factors in this hierarchy to increase the feasibility of the study.

The following sections outline key capacity issues pertinent to urban solid waste management in Vietnam and provides the rationale for including each of these themes in my research study. To assess the overall capacity of Vietnam’s waste management sector to provide adequate service in urban areas, both key institutional and human resources capacity issues are identified and evaluated.

The Capacity of Individuals to Perform Job Tasks

Environmental capacity building initiatives have not only stressed the importance of organizational and institutional strengths, but also the abilities of agents, the role of human capital, technical expertise and functional skills needed to carry out environmental protection measures (OECD, 1995, Janicke, 2002). Strengthening the efficacy of environmental protection through capacity building has therefore focused increasingly on improving the skills of individuals through various forms of training (Grindle, 1997). Babu (2000) highlights the importance of training programs to increase capacity for environmental policy analysis in developing nations. The importance of human resources capacity is also shared by Hirschman (1993) who claims that sustainable policy analysis capacity cannot be achieved without strengthening the ability of institutions and employees to carry out policy initiatives.

Structure of the Organization and Task Networks

The second factor in Hilderbrand and Grindle’s capacity framework is to consider the structure and culture characteristics of the organization and its leadership. For the purpose of this study, it was more important to examine how the structure of the organization relates to its task networks on a broader scale, both of which are key elements of institutional capacity. Thus, the framework was adapted to combine these factors. In evaluating Vietnam’s institutional capacity for waste management it was necessary to look at this through exploring four distinct, yet interrelated issues: the present level of cooperation between government agencies charged with waste management responsibilities; the present state of Vietnam’s solid waste management policy; efforts undertaken for its implementation and the level of cooperation between its implementing agencies; and the level of municipal government financial and decision-making autonomy for determining appropriate waste management options for their area.

In evaluating the first two institutional capacity issues, the concept of intra-policy cooperation will be utilized. Defined as “the internal coordination of environmental policy at different levels and jurisdictions within the political system” (Janicke, 2002, p. 10), the importance of a cooperative policy environment is seen as a prerequisite for effective policy integration into existing environmental protection practices (Janicke, 2002). Furthermore, in relation to capacity building, initiatives to improve intra-policy cooperation need to be undertaken to develop and strengthen networks and clusters in a broader policy environment, rather than focusing on a specific organization (Jackson & Gariba, 2002). Doberstein (2001) further supports this idea in relation to capacity building in Vietnam’s environmental assessment sector, claiming that capacity building should not be restricted to individual ministries and institutions, but rather the full range of actors, if fundamental improvements are to be achieved.

In order to gauge the level of policy cooperation specifically, and the extent of inter-agency cooperation in Vietnam’s waste management sector more generally, it is important to determine some of the major impediments to cooperation and coordination within government ministries. Efforts to design and implement sound environmental policy can generally be impeded by a lack of adequate government capacity (Babu 2000). More specifically, Jackson & Gariba (2002) claim that different organizational cultures, rigid attitudes of bureaucrats, and a traditionally insular organizational approach are major factors that inhibit effective cooperation between national level bodies. Furthermore, Crosby (1996) states that an important obstacle to effective policy design and implementation is that it:
…requires collaboration of several institutions, but coordination is difficult and not particularly attractive. Officials may be asked to give up some degree of control over scarce resources and their organization’s activities to achieve a goal for which the coordinator will receive credit.”(p. 1407)

However, regardless of difficulties of ensuring institutional cooperation, effective policy implementation depends on the complementary actions of all involved agencies as well as the sharing of information and resources, which are commonly in short supply in developing nation governments (Crosby, 1996).

An important factor when assessing the level of policy cooperation is the issue of fragmentation. Fragmentation may result when individual ministries possess a degree of sovereignty within their operations, but where potentially conflicting operations and/or overlap with other related ministries exist (Sinkule & Ortolano, 1995). This may lead to a lack of coordination between related ministries responsible for implementing policy, resulting in ineffective implementation efforts (Sinkule & Ortolano, 1995). Also, fragmentation can result because central government decisions are followed to varying degrees in different regions of the country and are subject to local interpretation and modification (Sinkule & Ortolano, 1995).

Institutional Context of the Public Sector and Expansion of the Task Network

Sub-national government autonomy, including the ability to form partnerships with local non-state actors is seen for the purposes of this study as a combination of Hilderbrand & Grindle’s third factor, the task network with the fourth factor, the institutional context of the public sector. Expanding the task network refers to the set of organizations involved in providing public services, as well as the level of cooperation between government and non-governmental organizations and the private sector. In addition, an important component of the capacity of the waste management sector is decentralization, one component of which is the level of autonomy that subnational government actors have in establishing their own task networks.

Jorgensen & Jakobsen’s (1994) study of MSWM systems in four European and African countries documents important waste management policy inadequacies, and makes recommendations which are especially pertinent to Vietnam’s recent policy initiatives. Specifically, they state that new legislation objectives and standards must be matched to the available financial and human resources of the municipalities, and be introduced with a realistic time schedule, which is sensitive to the municipality’s capacity for implementation. By neglecting these considerations, a culture of non-compliance with environmental directives can develop, as well as creating resentment and frustration at the local-level. Therefore, in the case of Vietnam it is important to assess the degree to which individual cities have discretion in choosing waste management options, which are sensitive to the diverse social and economic realities throughout urban areas of the country.

Decentralization as a Means of Increasing Capacity

There is an extensive body of literature surrounding the decentralization of public services in developing nations, which is informative in determining the potential advantages and shortcomings in increasing sub-national government autonomy in waste management. Decentralization of central government authority to lower levels of government has received widespread attention as a predominant means of achieving effective administrative reform in the development and capacity building literature (Cohen & Stevenson, 1999). The rationale for decentralization has been attributed to the disillusionment with the results of central planning, and the recognition that development is a complex process, which cannot be effectively managed at the central level (Rondinelli & Cheema, 1983). More specifically, Cohen & Peterson (1999) highlight the widely held view that the centralized state lacks adequate capacity to provide the necessary level of urban governance and public services needed in developing countries.

The relationship between institutional capacity and decentralization has been explored extensively in the literature, with often opposing viewpoints. The conflicting views surrounding the efficacy of decentralization efforts has commonly been centered around the proponents’ theoretical rationale for decentralization, and opponents’ extensive case study evidence documenting decentralization failures (Jackson & Gariba, 2002, Turner, 2002). The theoretical argument sees a multitude of potential benefits from increasing local government, civil society and private sector involvement for providing public services in a more cost effective and responsive manner, while alleviating the administrative burden of the central government (Rondinelli & Cheema, 1983; Cohen & Stevenson, 1999). Furthermore, within the field of policy development and analysis, decentralized policy planning has been seen as an improved method of designing and implementing locality-specific environmental protection measures (Babu et al., 1996).

Most criticisms of decentralization cite the difficulty in transferring this theoretically sound idea to practice. Unsuccessful implementation principally stems from ill-designed reform initiatives which did not ensure adequate technical capacity, funding and accountability of lower level governments, all seen as necessary preconditions for transferring power from the center to the periphery (Rondinelli & Cheema, 1983; Larson, 2002; Jackson & Gariba, 2002).

In the area of fiscal decentralization Rao (2003) argues that in order for decentralization to be effective, it must be extended to the lowest possible government level. However, in order to ensure the potential benefits of increasing subnational financial powers, it is important to develop appropriate institutions at these levels, as well as build the appropriate level of capacity within these institutions.

Research Questions

In light of the current research on the human resources, financial and administrative capacity issues, and utilizing Hildebrand and Grindle’s capacity framework (1997), four major research questions are addressed in this study:

• What is the present state of capacity within Vietnam’s waste management sector, and what efforts have been employed to increase this capacity?

• What are the main institutional and human resources capacity constraints in the waste management sector, and what can be done to overcome these limitations?

• What is the present level of institutional, and specifically policy, cooperation within the various state agencies responsible for waste management in urban areas and what are the key limitations to improving the level of cooperation?

• What financial and administrative alternatives have been, or could be, pursued by Vietnam to increase its waste management capacity in urban areas?
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