Bureaucratising co-production: Institutional adaptation of irrigation associations in Taiwan

Wai-Fung Lam
The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong; dwflam@hkucc.hku.hk

Ching-Ping Tang
National Chengchi University, Taiwan; cptang@nccu.edu.tw

Shih-Ko Tang
National Chengchi University, Taiwan; 109259006@nccu.edu.tw

ABSTRACT: In 2020, Taiwan’s 17 irrigation associations were bureaucratised to become management offices of the Irrigation Agency under the government’s Council of Agriculture. This change marked the end of the parastatal mode of irrigation management that has in past decades played an important role in fostering Taiwan’s agricultural and economic development. As these parastatals have always been hailed by the international water research community as exemplars of co-production and state-community synergy, the change is baffling. While irrigation management in many places around the world has been moving towards a higher degree of decentralisation and self-governance, Taiwan seems to be moving in the opposite direction. How can we make sense of this change? What are the driving forces behind it? Does the bureaucratisation of the irrigation associations signify a failure of the co-production model? By tracing the evolution of irrigation institutions in Taiwan, this study examines the dynamic of institutional change as a response to the island’s changing political economy. The study shows that changes in the macropolitical-economic context prompted the Taiwanese government to reconsider two imperatives that underlie the institutional design of irrigation associations: robustness trade-offs and the modus operandi of co-production. The bureaucratisation of irrigation associations was an institutional manifestation of the adjustment of the two imperatives in adapting to the changing political economy.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation associations, robustness trade-offs, co-production, institutional change, Taiwan