This paper argues that the continuing failure of environmental governance by the state lies not only in inappropriate actions taken by the responsible agencies, but also in the way bureaucratic structures have evolved to limit their policy choices. Whether effective or not, the state continues to be dominant in determining the use (and non-use) of natural resources in many parts of the world.
Based on a detail case study of Thailand, the paper draws two major conclusions: First, inter-departmental conflict has historical roots that have shaped the present policy environment. New mandates and responsibilities are continuously added on top of the policy space. Because the Thai government established vested interests in the field of production in its formative period in order to expand commercial activities and generate revenue, a more recent mandates to conserve resources were left with little room. The late-coming departments are often pushed into performing mandates that limit them to the area of research and planning, often in isolation with the authority to enforce regulations. This asymmetric division of labor induced not only policy inaction among the departments who dared not step into the territories of other departments, but also provided a safe haven for production-oriented departments. Second, bureaucratic competition is often controlled by pre-existing veto players—i.e., those who now belong (and originally belonged) to the production sector and developed strong vested interests in the status quo. The way bureaucratic division of labor occurs gives us hints on why innovative institutions perform poorly. Environmental projects that ultimately aim to regulate production must identify the key veto players and incorporate them strategically from the outset if they are to advance their objectives.