There are varied definitions of common property that exist in various contexts. Its application and use is, therefore, determined by the specific context. Our definition of common property is in relation to real tangible property. Common property in this context of real properties can be defined as a property that is collectively owned by public or a community to which every member of the community has equal right to use and access. Sometimes, the government can own common property. Where government owns common properties, all citizens have a right to use it in various activities. The ownership and product of that property belong without divisions to all members (Chopra & Gulati, 21).
The common holding of the property has been faced with various problems. One of the problems that face the common ownership of property is that smooth cooperation cannot be realized without interventions of a higher authority who come with clear rules and regulations. The general behavior of common persons renders it unlikely for any individual to act for the interest of common goal or group to which he or she belongs. Under normal circumstances, individuals are self-centered and always take action that is only for their own good. This makes coordinating and managing such a group difficult. Another problem is that of over utilization of common property that is brought about by competitions from members entitled to that property. In the Philippines, there was a great destruction of coastal ecosystem that was brought about by over utilization of natural resources and destruction of coastal forest cover. Coral reefs started experiencing a downward spiral in terms of depletion and this affected fish production (Agbayani & Siar, 156). This brought the attention of the government and the international organizations like World Bank (Jodha, 92).
Another obvious problem of common property is the lack of excludability especially on the side of economic returns. Due free entry and exit for these properties such as fishing, during peak seasons, especially in times when weather patterns can allow a good environment for fishing, there is an increase in the number of people entering in the sector and reduces the number of catches as well as the returns for these catches. This makes fishing to be expensive, therefore, exerting pressure on the prices of fish. These increased prices of fish will further increase the number of fishermen. The process of causation may go on resulting into a serious complication on the local economy, as well as exploitation of resources through overfishing (Hardin, 5). Moreover, competition has emerged as one of the serious problem in proper functionality of common property management. This competition arises as individuals knowingly ignore the idea that they could all benefit equally if they all exercised restrain in utilization of the common property. Instead, everyone engages in over utilization for fear that if he or she does not do it, others will. This self-centered kind of thinking contributes in instigating a harmful cycle that finally ends up in depletion of the resource and imbalance in the ecosystem (Haefele, 20).
Although there are a number of serious problems that are encountered in utilization of common properties, not everything has been privatized or brought under some cartels to manage these properties. Most governments have done little in matters concerning the use and access to common property although some general principles have been put in place. In addressing common problems faced in utilization of common property, some learners have advocated that privatization can be the answer to these problems. They believe that, through privatization, these properties are brought under a single management that have discretion over the use of the property and that can effectively impose rules and regulation in matters of utilization while at the same time excluding parties that are not needed. Those who advocate for privatization argue that the private control of the property could help in reducing or eliminating chances of over utilization of the property (Acherson et al. 19). Government regulation has also been seen as another way of curbing down over exploitation of these properties. Government can institute rules and regulation and at the same time put limit and impose fines for those who exceed or violate these rules. The above two possible solutions of solving these problems of common property usage have not been fully applied for some reasons. This is because it is not in all cases where privatization can be applied. Different approaches are used for different properties. In the case of privatization some properties, cannot be fully privatized owing to the externalities associated with them. Externality can roughly be defined as a feature of a certain property that makes it impossible for any party to exclude others from deriving some utility from the property. This makes the government and private agencies think that it is more logical for the property to be used by all than being privatized. There are also areas where privatization cannot be a better way forward due to government’s domestic policies. Another thing that makes government’s full control and regulation to become inadequate is due to the cost involved in maintenance and protection of the property from the tendencies of over exploitation (Robert, 87).
The above principles are applicable with limitations. Limitation of these principles leads to application of informal practices to ensure that competition and adverse effect on the environment are mitigated in the course of utilizing these properties. The local government in the state of Maine, for instance, has done little in controlling lobster fishing. According to the government, anyone can go fishing so long one has a license. This means that anyone can have a free entry in this sector. In the ground, this is not what has been happening. Various gangs have come together to establish territories, such that no one can intrude areas that are within their territorial jurisdiction. This has created some form of exclusion thus hindering free entry since free entry brings unnecessary competition. This territoriality in Maine has been exercised in two forms namely nucleated area and perimeter defended territory. Nucleated areas are relatively easy to enter for purposes of fishing if someone is known to the members, while perimeter defended areas are harder to join. Due to these informal modes of control, entry has been limited and has resulted into situations whereby anyone who intrude the areas controlled by any of the gangs would be met by the wrath of the gang members. It is not in Maine alone where informal groups have come out to govern the proper use of the common property. In India, informal village councils have been formed to maintain proper use irrigation schemes. Councils here have been involved in chasing wild animals away from the scheme so that they cannot destroy crops as well as punishing individuals whose domestic animals are found destroying the crops. They also help in irrigating crops as well as offering other services of connecting people to the water sources such as the government’s water canals. This informal village council has helped in solving problems associated with the use of common property (Acherson et al. 16).
It is clear that, for proper use and peaceful utilization of common property, there are many measures required since the issue of common property is very problematic in nature. For instance, the government should encourage informal groupings as they help governments in attaining the desired level of cooperation, as well as the proper use of common property.
Agbayani R.F& Siar, S.V. Problems encountered in the implementation of community based fishery resource management project. Pg 149-160. In P.S Pomeroy (ed) community management and common property of coastal fisheries in Asia and pacific: management and experience.1994.
Chopra, K. R., & Gulati, S. C. Migration, common property resources and environmental degradation: Interlinkages in India's arid and semi-arid regions. New Delhi, India: Sage Publications. 2001
Haefele, E. T. The Governance of Common Property Resources. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.2013
Dolsak, N., & Ostrom, E The commons in the new millennium: Challenges and adaptation. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.2003.
Acheson, J. M., & International Symposium on Modernization in Fishing Industries and Communities. Metal traps: A key innovation in the Maine lobster industry. Maine: University of Maine.1978
Jodha, N. S. Common property resources: A missing dimension of development strategies. Washington, D.C., U.S.A: World Bank. 1992.
Hardin, G. J. The Tragedy of the commons. New York: Phoenix.1971.