Role of Finnish Government and consultant in Thai forestry planning criticised

30 Nov

An IUCN report points out “serious flaws” in Jaakko Pöyry’s Thai Forestry Sector Master Plan.

By Chris Lang. Published in Watershed Vol. 2, No. 2, November 1996 – February 1997.

A US$4.7 million masterplan which would radically alter the management of Thailand’s forests – including suspension of the popular 1989 logging ban – is awaiting Thai Cabinet approval. Earlier this year, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) issued a critical review that pointed out “serious flaws” in the design and methodology of the Thai Forestry Sector Master Plan (TFSMP).

Funded by the Finnish aid agency FINNIDA, the TFSMP was carried out between 1990 and 1993 by Jaakko Pöyry Oy, the world’s largest forestry consulting firm, and Thailand’s Royal Forestry Department (RFD). Since the inception of the TFSMP in 1990, Jaakko Pöyry has been widely criticised for its overwhelming industrial forestry bias in the plan by local people’s groups and NGOs. In 1993, these groups called on the government of Finland to suspend all institutional and financial involvement in the implementation phase of the TFSMP.

The IUCN review, commissioned by FINNIDA in 1995, agrees with these concerns. The review states that “if implemented either partially or in full, the Plan would have many widespread permanent social, economic and environmental impacts. There is widespread concern in Thailand that unless the Plan is placed in a wider social and resource management context, and key land use and tenure issues addressed, the balance of these impacts could be strongly negative. The review team found no evidence to refute [these] views.”

The review is equally critical of a wide range of aspects associated with the TFSMP: “. . . the project was established with serious flaws in its design and methodology”; 80 per cent of consultancies went to international consultants, who were “almost exclusively Finnish or Swedish and none spoke Thai”; “to save time” Jaakko Pöyry relied on “existing and secondary data, with minimal effort on data verification and collection of new primary data”; the TFSMP process involved an almost total lack of formal external monitoring or peer review of reports produced; policy recommendations as they stand “could be used to promote the interests of existing elites at the expense of more equitable forms of development”; “. . . the Plan overlooks the whole question of indigenous people and their customary use and rights”; and, on the issue of the rights, fate and future of the “millions of citizens now residing in gazetted forest lands . . . the Plan is strangely silent”, instead presenting a “business as usual” approach which has failed to protect local communities’ rights whilst promoting the development of plantations and the pulp and paper industry.

Eero Reinius, Vice President of Jaakko Pöyry Consulting Oy, when asked to comment about the review’s criticism of the company’s role in the TFSMP said: “Our role since the beginning was restricted as a ‘facilitator’ of the project. However, when undertaking this role, it is possible that people had a misleading impression. The master plan is a continuous process and someone has to submit the first edition.”

While the TFSMP awaits Cabinet approval, Jaakko Pöyry has drafted a 23 month “Handing-over Plan” as part of the TFSMP’s implementation phase – a move which according to the IUCN review “lends support to critics who view it as a means for perpetuating the consultants’ presence in RFD rather than providing focused technical assistance.”

Reinius defended his company’s proposal for continued involvement by stating that the handing-over plan is “not 23 months but actually only a one-year plant to build up the information and technical database” and was requested by Thailand’s forestry department.

Mr. Reinius made these comments during a two-day meeting on “Finland and the Forests of the World” organised by a coalition of Finnish environment and development organisations in Helsinki in October 1996. The meeting debated Finland’s role in promoting industrial forestry planning in the countries of the South and included participation from NGO groups in south and south-east Asia, high-ranking officials from the Finnish government and its agencies, senior executives from Ahlstrom, Jaakko Pöyry and Enso corporations as well as academics and students from Helsinki University.

In July 1993, Larry Lohmann wrote a detailed critique of Pöyry’s role in the Thai Forestry Sector Master Plan: Translation Politics: Villagers, NGOs and the Thai Forestry Sector Master Plan.

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