How subsidiary state institutions can make their voice heard

01 November 2018

Much has been written about the role of social mobilisation in putting limits on what extractive industries can do, but much less on how subsidiary institutions in countries like Peru work to impose constraints.

A recently published study by Maria-Therese Gustafsson and Martin Scurrah looks at the way in which Peru’s Environment Ministry (Minam) has managed to prevail over other more powerful state institutions (like the Ministry of Energy and Mines, MEM) through strategic alliances with other actors in civil society. 

Specifically, they look at how Minam has made progress in enforcing participatory zoning and land-use planning. They argue that weak agencies are forced to rely on creative alliance-building with social actors to gain greater policy autonomy.

The article traces how land-use planning policies evolved following the establishment of Minam in 2008, especially under the aegis of former environment minister Antonio Brack. Such policies were seen as important innovations in development planning rather than as an explicit block to mining activities. Their salience probably peaked in 2011 when the new Humala administration espoused the idea of land-use planning as a way of deciding which areas were suitable for extractive activities and which not.

The window of opportunity, it seems, slammed shut with the row in government at the end of 2011 over the Conga project when land-use criteria were deployed by those who sought to stop this giant mining project in Cajamarca from going ahead.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, appointed minister in 2011, sought to defuse the issue, but continued pressing for proper land-use planning behind closed doors and in conjunctions with decentralised layers of government.

Drawing also on experiences from other relatively ‘weak’ institutions, such as the Culture Ministry and the Defensoría, the study concludes that “the ability to adapt speed, timing and framing to the reigning political context is highly consequential for weak agencies’ ability to strengthen institutions affecting the interests of powerful actors”.


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