Institutional mechanisms: governance of IFAS

Institutional mechanisms like a clear mandate and governance structure are necessary for a river basin organization to be accepted as a legitimate forum for negotiations by all riparians. As we show in the following, this aspect is the weakest part of IFAS and considerably restricts its potential as a water diplomacy actor.

As mentioned earlier, some sub-bodies of IFAS had before existed as distinct entities, while others were established only several years after IFAS was created. This history has left an imprint on the mandate and structure of IFAS: it has no single mechanism that would unite its three main bodies (EC IFAS, ICWC, and 1CSD) to ensure concerted action. The 1999 agreement "On the Status of IFAS and Its Organizations” assigns the status of an international organization to IFAS, but also to the “organizations of the IFAS” individually. Thus, the Executive Committee of IFAS, the BWOs, and SIC ICWC all have their own legal status, without specifying their hierarchy within the IFAS system and regulating their relations.1' Regulatory documents of these institutions show several inconsistencies and are not reciprocally linked and there is no interaction in the planning of activities. As a result, there is no joint “corporate identity” and all bodies act rather independently of each other.18 It depends on the respective chairmanship to create a joint visibility, and only the Kazakh Chairmanship 2009-2012 did so effectively with a website and other outreach material.

Another governance challenge relates to the rotation of the location of EC IFAS according to the chairmanships: since countries could not agree on a permanent location, the EC IFAS is located in the respective country of the chairmanship. Thus, the Executive Committee has been located in Almaty (1993-1997), Tashkent (1997-1999), Ashgabat (1999-2002), Dushanbe (2003-2009),19 and again in Almaty (2009-2012). Tashkent (2013-2016), and since 2017, Ashgabat. This places a burden on the host governments to allocate adequate resources for the work of a temporary secretariat and train new staff to support it. But also for donors it means that assistance for capacity development of staff, office equipment, website development, and similar are lacking sustainability. Every three years, institutional capacity development has to start from scratch. In addition, the establishment of the new chairmanship, including its approval by all IFAS member countries,

the nomination of the chairperson, the hiring of new staff, and provision of facilities take up to 1.5 years.20

Ensuring equitable water allocation across sectors and countries would require IFAS to act impartially across sectors and countries. However, it is dominated by national and sectoral interests. The country delegates at EC IFAS and ICWC—national representatives subordinated to their government—have usually little room for maneuver in negotiations, receiving very strict instructions from the capitals. This concerns also operational or declarational decisions made by EC IFAS and ICWC, and countries have vetoed proposals by other countries out of principle, not based on the matter at hand.21 In a political culture where decisions are taken top-down and often require the highest level to make a decision, this rigid guidance reduces considerably the effectiveness of decision-making based on water management considerations.

In addition, the chair of EC IFAS acts, with some notable exceptions, usually not as the head of a regional organization, but upon his22 respective government’s directives. In several cases, the chairperson was not released from his national government function. With a few exceptions, the technical staff of EC IFAS is always national staff from the country that has the chairmanship.23 All important and strategic decisions of IFAS are taken by Summits of the Heads of States or meetings of the Board. However, as relations between the member countries became more tense, such meetings became less frequent. For example, after the April 2009 IFAS Summit in Almaty, no meeting of the Council of the Heads of States took place until August 2018 in Ashgabat, and no IFAS Board meeting took place between 2010 and the end of the Uzbek Chairmanship in 2016, paralyzing the organization’s political decision-making. Thus, precisely in the sort of difficult times when IFAS would be most needed as a water diplomacy actor to bring countries together, it cannot act due to its dependence on the countries’ leadership. It is therefore hardly in a state to counterbalance and mitigate tensions but is instead a victim of them.

In its sub-bodies, in particular the ICWC, decision-making is dominated by the water and agricultural sector. Representatives of the energy sector from all parties are invited to take part in meetings as guests. While Tajikistan some years ago merged the water and energy agencies into one ministry, for Kyrgyzstan it means that its representatives in ICWC might not have the domestic authority to enforce compliance with the decisions by the energy sector.24 The downstream countries, represented by their powerful ministries of water resources and agriculture, were able to prevent the full involvement of the energy

Prolonging or resolving water conflicts 237 sector as demanded by the upstream countries and the integration of their energy security concerns in the mandate.

While Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, where the economic importance of agriculture is outweighed by the fossil fuels industry, were open to discuss this issue during the 2010 2011 reform efforts, Uzbekistan, with the most powerful agricultural lobby, resisted. As a result, 1CWC is still perceived as being mainly concerned with ensuring that upstream reservoirs release water in due time and sufficient quantity to meet the needs of irrigated agriculture in downstream countries.25 IFAS is a continuation of Soviet water management with respect to some of its bodies (the BWOs and SIC ICWC), its rules (water quotas), and even its staff. In 2003, a UNDP expert mission report noted: “[e] ssentially, the structures in place in 1987 have remained intact, and the principles and persons driving this structure remain at the center of institutions that exist today.”26 In 2019, this assessment is still valid.

These shortcomings have long been visible and voiced by some riparian countries as well as donors. In 2009, when Kazakhstan took over the rotating chairmanship of IFAS, it therefore started efforts to discuss the reform of its institutional structure. On 29 April 2009, it hosted an IFAS Summit of the Central Asian Heads of States in Almaty. In their joint statement, the presidents emphasized the need “to further improve the organizational structure and the contractual and legal framework of IFAS in order to raise the effectiveness of its operation.” A group of more than 60 experts from all member countries, supported by GIZ and UNECE, developed proposals on improving IFAS’ structure and its regulatory framework. The proposals included three possible options as to how to improve its functioning: (1) to strengthen the existing structure of the regional cooperation mechanism; (2) to create a new regional organization; or (3) to establish separate international river-basin commissions for the Amudarya and Syrdarya.27 All options foresee also the inclusion of Afghanistan into the structure. In addition, rules of procedures for the rotation of the chairmanship were developed, as was a draft institutional treaty to replace the more than two dozen separate, obsolete, and sometimes contradictory documents that serve as the legal basis of IFAS.

However, the proposed reforms were not adopted by the IFAS Board due to the resistance of Uzbekistan. When it took over the chairmanship in 2013, the reform efforts stalled. As a consequence of frustration with the lack of a reform process and perceived neglect of its interests, Kyrgyzstan officially froze participation in IFAS in May 2016. Only under the Turkmen chairmanship did another IFAS summit take place in August 2018, in the city of Turkmenbashi, and discussionsabout reforming the structure were reopened. Kyrgyzstan, attending the summit as a guest, announced that it was considering restoring participation.28

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >