The significance of comprehensive national forest sector planning processes and an enabling policy environment to sustainable forest management is now widely recognized. Various sector planning efforts around the world are focusing to a significant extent on a common set of principles and approaches, characterized as national forest programmes (NFPs).
"National forest programme" is a generic term for a wide range of approaches used by countries in planning, programming and implementing forest activities. Among the strategic frameworks considered as NFPs are: national forestry action plans started under the Tropical Forests Action Programme or the later country-led national forestry action programmes; forestry sector master plans; forestry sector reviews; national plans to combat desertification; national biodiversity strategies; national environmental action plans; national environmental management strategies; national conservation strategies; and forestry or forest components of national sustainable development strategies or national Agenda 21 strategies. Some 128 countries have developed or updated their NFPs within the past 13 years, and 13 countries have initiated NFPs within the past two years (see Table 5 of Annex 3).
These strategic frameworks represent means of ensuring consistency between national forest plans and programmes and the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) concerning sustainable forest management. NFPs have been endorsed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) and the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF).
IPF endorsed the basic principles of NFPs as identified by FAO (see Box 17). It also emphasized the importance of considering certain factors in implementing NFPs, as follows:
Basic principles of national forest programmes
· National sovereignty and country leadership
The basic principles of NFPs as defined by FAO (1996c) were also endorsed by IPF.
The second session of IFF recognized NFPs "to be a viable framework for addressing forest sector issues, including implementation of the IPF's proposals for action in a holistic, comprehensive and multisectoral manner". IFF agreed on the importance of mobilizing new and additional resources to support NFPs in developing countries and in countries with economies in transition, in particular countries with low forest cover and with fragile forest ecosystems. IFF has asked FAO to present the results of a survey on the status of implementation of NFPs in all countries concerned to the third session of IFF in May 1999.
The importance of accurate data and information on forest resources for national forest planning and global policy dialogue is increasingly recognized. Intensified efforts are being made to identify information gaps, to improve the information base, to harmonize information from different sources and to strengthen national capacities in information collection and analysis. Information management and dissemination are also regarded as increasingly critical. A current initiative to address the problem of information availability is the Global Forest Information System (see Box 18).
The Global Forest Information System
The final report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) underscored the need to improve access to information on forests: "The Panel emphasized the need to review and improve information systems. Attention should be given to worldwide access to information systems that would encourage effective implementation of national forest programmes, increased private-sector investment, efficient development and transfer of appropriate technologies, and improved cooperation" (Commission on Sustainable Development, 1997).
In 1997, several organizations that gather and publish information on forests began to examine the possibility of collaborating on a global forest information system. The proposal for the system responded to the need for accurate, current and accessible information on forest resources. It implicitly recognized the growing significance of electronic information systems, specifically the Internet, as a logical vehicle through which this information could be shared.
To advance this idea, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) hosted a Workshop on Provision of Forest Information on the Web at the eleventh World Forestry Congress in October 1997. The concept of a global forest information system was well received and the organization of a task force to develop it was recommended. Subsequently, the Executive Board of the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO) directed one of its working groups to organize a task force. The task force prepared a proposal for the establishment of the Global Forest Information System. The proposal was discussed and supported by the International Consultation on Research and Information Systems, which was held in Ort-Gmunden, Austria in September 1998 as an intersessional meeting of IFF. In looking at the range of users and their extensive demands, one thing is quite clear: as society gains a better understanding of the value and role of forests, the numbers of those seeking forest information will grow, as will the list of their requirements.
As important as reliable information is to efforts in sustainable forest management, lack of information should not be used as an excuse for inaction. Perfect information will never be available. The collection and management of information is often expensive. Every country must make choices about what information to collect and must weigh the potential benefit of the information with the cost of collecting and managing it. Some countries will simply be unable to afford the information they would ideally like to have. Particularly for these countries, it will be important to develop techniques for planning and management in "information-poor" environments.
Even as the information base improves, it is important to recognize that information is only a tool for analysis. It is the analysis that is critical for sector planning and policy formulation. The capacity of countries to manage and analyse information and to deal with varying interpretations of the same data will become increasingly important as information becomes more accessible.
Rapidly evolving international economic relationships, such as trade liberalization and the dynamic movement of capital and corporations across borders, and above all, national policy concerns, continue to drive national policy agendas.
Despite great variability among countries, three broad shifts are apparent. National policy-makers have become more aware of the complex nature of policy reforms and the uncertainty of their effects. The interrelationships between forests and other sectors of the economy are also better understood. Finally, there is a greater recognition that policy statements mean little in practice without strong institutional capacity to implement them.
Debates focusing on policies for sustainable forest management have highlighted the complexity of cause and effect relationships and the uncertain consequences of policy reforms. During the past few years, policy analysts have focused on such issues as the underlying causes of deforestation, the effects of trade liberalization and the impact of structural adjustment policies, but the practical policy implications of these analyses are still far from clear. Their differing conclusions have highlighted the fact that the same policy measures can produce very different results depending on the national (and local) circumstances.
For example, there is intense argument about whether trade liberalization leads to better forest management and conservation or, instead, to forest depletion. Many environmentalists warn that trade liberalization policies facilitate the unrestricted operation of some transnational forest corporations that have a history of using economically and environmentally unsustainable and socially regressive methods of production. However, advocates of free trade argue that trade liberalization policies result in economic expansion and that - as demonstrated by the experience of industrialized countries - greater income levels lead eventually to more sustainable forest management.
Also, some analysts have pointed out that economic adjustment programmes promoted by international institutions have augmented pressure on forest resources. They contend that these programmes have often resulted in higher unemployment and the collapse of small business enterprises, which in turn lead to unsustainable use of forest resources, i.e. increased clearing of forests for agriculture and/or overharvesting of forest products, particularly fuelwood (as people fall back on it as a household energy source). Others observe that greater economic affluence resulting from economic adjustment leads to improved long-term environmental management and lower rates of deforestation and degradation.
These examples illustrate the great uncertainty about the consequences of national policies. It is extremely difficult to isolate the effects of individual policies.
The complexity of policy effects is leading to increased attempts to account for intersectoral linkages in the design of national forest policies. Some countries have accepted that, despite expected increases in agricultural productivity, additional forest lands will inevitably be converted to agricultural uses. Relatively limited attention, however, is accorded to the design of sound policies which would contribute to more effective land use transitions. The situation is similar with other sectors that have considerable impact on forests, such as mining, oil and natural gas exploitation, agribusiness expansion and infrastructure development. Attempts to integrate intersectoral considerations into policy design for greater efficiency and effectiveness are still comparatively weak. Similarly, policy reforms in other sectors generally still give little importance to spillover effects on the sustainability of forests. There have, however, been some initiatives to provide compensation in return for benefits provided by forests to other sectors. For example, Costa Rica has created a system of payment for hydrological services of forests, and in the United States, New York City has created markets for forests' watershed protection services. In other cases, pressure from environmental groups has forced policy-making bodies to give greater attention to these issues.
Various governments have tried to deal with weaknesses in policy implementation by broadening the responsibilities of the private sector and by focusing on a few key areas of the interface between the public and private sectors. Some countries have launched initiatives to privatize control and management of forest resources and functions traditionally in the hands of the public sector. Many governments have also attempted to improve the interaction between the private and public sectors, mainly by eliminating some "perverse" subsidies, by tackling illegal and corrupt activities and by rationalizing forest concession policies.
Privatization. Some countries, disappointed with the poor results and inefficiencies of government agencies' management of public forest resources and forest-based companies, have taken some radical steps to privatize these resources. Colombia has recognized and assigned formal property rights to lands that have been held by rural populations under traditional land tenure systems. Honduras has experimented with the privatization of large areas of the country's pine forests and has sold various public forest-based companies to private interests. The United Kingdom and New Zealand have further consolidated their privatization programmes started in the 1980s (see Box 19). Other countries, such as Peru, have given serious consideration to the privatization of a number of forest areas and functions.
Privatization of public forests in
the United Kingdom and New Zealand
Both the United Kingdom and New Zealand have privatized significant portions of their State-owned forest resources since the early 1980s. The approaches taken to privatization differed between the two countries, with the United Kingdom pursuing a gradual disposal policy and the New Zealand Government choosing to sell most of its forest plantations over a short period.
Privatization was introduced as a major policy initiative of the incoming Conservative government in 1979. Sale of State-owned forests started in the mid-1980s, with the intention of rationalizing the management of the State's 900 000-ha forest estate. Targets for the revenue from sales of forest and the area to be sold were set by the government (£150 million, or about US$315 million, and 100 000 ha by the year 2000).
Forests were sold by competitive tender or negotiation. By March 1997, the Forestry Commission had sold 66 000 ha and raised £75 million (about US$120 million). The forests sold were mostly the conifer plantations furthest away from district offices or those that in some other way were difficult to manage. Forests providing significant non-timber benefits generally were not sold. Nevertheless, concerns began to be raised in the early 1990s about the loss of public access to privatized forests - outdoor recreation being a major use of State-owned forests in the United Kingdom. In response, the Forestry Commission initiated a policy of giving local government the opportunity to enter into formal and legally binding access agreements for areas of forest about to be sold.
Complete privatization of the remaining State-owned forest estate was considered in 1994. This was rejected, however, on the grounds that: it was unlikely that the whole resource could be sold all at once for a reasonable amount; the sale would be legally and administratively complicated, and thus expensive; and the public would resist such a move.
The policy of gradual disposal therefore remained, with annual area targets similar to before. The new Labour government, however, has halted all sales for the time being.
The New Zealand Government announced in December 1987 its intention to privatize public assets that had commercial functions, including forests. The primary reason for selling government assets was to reduce public debt. The main rationale for forest asset sales, however, was probably ideological - namely, the belief that it was inappropriate for the State to own commercial forests. Only forest plantations, which supply most of the country's wood production, were sold; all publicly owned natural forests were transferred to the Department of Conservation. A series of sales took place between 1990 and 1996, resulting in the purchase of about 510 000 ha of forest plantations.
A major objective was to produce a more efficient, internationally competitive forest sector. A particular concern was the need to provide security of supplies to processors in order to attract new investment in forestry value-adding industries. The sale of forests to enable processors to integrate supplier functions into their current operations was seen as a means of achieving this end.
The process had two phases. First, government forest plantations (and processing facilities) were transferred to a government-owned corporation. Following the development of commercially viable operations, the assets were put up for sale. The purchaser bought the trees and fixed assets, but acquired only a lease on the forest land from the government under a tradable Crown Forestry Licence. The buyers included New Zealand forestry corporations, several Asian-based companies and an American company.
An important question in any privatization process is whether the sale should be open to foreign investors. In New Zealand the decision was relatively straightforward. Revenue maximization was most likely to be achieved by placing as few constraints on the process as possible and by maximizing bidding competition. The government recognized that overseas investors had potentially greater access to capital and were consequently more likely to invest in new processing facilities. This has generally proved to be the case. The entry of foreign investors into the forestry sector has had a number of positive effects: it has encouraged introduction of new technologies, improved market awareness and opportunities and increased efficiency through enhanced domestic competition. The major drawback was a negative public perception of foreign control of resources.
Perverse subsidies. Some countries have taken steps to eliminate or substantially reduce subsidies in the forest sector or in other sectors (e.g. transportation, agriculture and cattle ranching) that have had unintended negative effects on forests. These policy reforms have frequently been helped by the spread of fiscal austerity measures and in some circumstances by the reduction of international markets for the subsidized products. (Arguably, this was the case of policy reforms that eliminated subsidies to cattle ranching, which coincided with receding international markets for beef.)
Illegal and corrupt activities. Illegal and corrupt activities have acquired greater visibility in a number of countries. Brazil has formed a Presidential Commission to investigate the magnitude and effect of illegal and corrupt activities in the forest sector, with a view to reducing their incidence through policy reform. Malaysia has taken decisive steps to recapture revenues lost because some 20 unscrupulous corporations had actively engaged in transfer pricing. The World Bank has formally declared an attack on illegal activities and has begun to impose loan conditions to induce the creation of mechanisms for reducing the impact of corruption, based on independent third-party scrutiny.
Forest concessions. During the past few years Bolivia, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Suriname and other countries have changed their forest concession policies in order to reduce or eliminate waste, foster more sustainable forest utilization and management and promote the well-being of local populations. New policies incorporate various mechanisms (which had been suggested by experts repeatedly in the past but rarely adopted in practice) for assessing concession values on the basis of timber volumes extracted rather than areas involved, for establishing performance bonds and for supporting third-party monitoring (see Box 20).
Pricing forest concessions
The government is the main owner of forest resources in most countries. Governments issue formal permits - forest concessions - to individuals or private corporations to manage certain areas of public forest for timber production. Forest concessions grant exclusive rights to assess forest production potential, to harvest wood or other forest products and to manage a specified area of public forests for a certain period. Here, the term is taken to be synonymous with "forest utilization contracts".
Harvesting of forests creates forest economic rents, which are returns from forest harvesting beyond those that could be earned by the best alternative use of productive resources elsewhere in the economy. Governments can capture part or all of the economic rent through a variety of forest charges, including taxes, charges per volume harvested, area charges and exploration fees. If these rents are not captured by government, they accrue to private concessionaires in the form of exceptional profits.
The amount of money paid to the government by the concessionaire through the various forest charges often bears little relationship to the market value of the resources and to the forest rents generated. This unsatisfactory situation is common in both developed and developing countries. As a result, during the past few years several forested countries have reformed their forest concession policies. These reforms should increase economic efficiency, improve forest management and lessen social and environmental impacts of concessions on public forest lands.
Large areas of forest are under concessions in some countries, and various companies are aggressively seeking new concession contracts in resource-rich countries. In Guyana, one company in 1991 obtained logging rights for almost 1.7 million hectares, or 8 percent of the country's land area. By 1997, about 30 percent of Guyana's forests were reported to be under concession contracts. More than half the closed forests in Indonesia are managed under timber concession schemes. In 1995, 2.4 million hectares of Suriname's forests, or 16 percent of the country's resources, were under concession management. Venezuela's forest concessions covered some 3 million hectares in 1995, but the five-year National Development Plan contemplates an expansion to 10 million hectares. Virtually all of Cambodia's forests, except those in national parks and protected areas, are now under forest concessions.
Various analyses have indicated that governments granting forest concessions often capture only a small proportion of the forest value. While the estimates (and the assumptions used to make the estimates) are frequently debated, evidence strongly suggests that in many cases governments capture less than 50 percent of forest rents, and often much less.
Why is this underpricing in forest concessions important? Underpricing encourages logging companies to use wood wastefully because it is inexpensive. Companies may obtain access to public forest areas that are far larger than they could otherwise afford, and they may rush to harvest only the most valuable wood. Inefficient wood processing companies survive because the raw material is inexpensive. Exceptional profits also create greater uncertainty about how long the concessionaire will be able to hold the profitable public concession, thus creating an incentive for quick and careless logging. In short, underpricing of wood reduces the concessionaire's incentive to invest in more sustainable forest management practices. Furthermore, and particularly in the case of developing countries that face a chronic shortage of funds, undercharging for timber concessions deprives governments of a source of revenue, thus making it more difficult for them to fulfil their responsibilities as stewards of the nation's forest wealth. Difficulties created by less than satisfactory rent capture become more serious in situations where structural adjustment policies have reduced forest department budgets. In these situations, the need to increase forest rent capture in timber concessions is more acute. Failure to capture economic rents also considerably weakens the case of forest departments in developing countries seeking increased financial support from the national treasury or from international donors.
Underpricing in forest concessions is one of the many "perverse" policy interventions that make sustainable management of forest resources difficult to achieve. Remedial actions in forest concessions must include much more than just getting prices right. Other dimensions of concession policies such as the type of charge introduced (area fees, volume charges, taxes, etc.), the length of concession contracts, procedures to avoid or minimize corruption and the degree of competition encouraged in forest markets are also important. However, establishing prices that would increase the government capture of economic rents is, without question, an important step for improved forest management and economic efficiency.
A number of countries are actively trying to introduce policy reforms to eliminate pricing and other policy distortions in forest concessions. In 1994, the Government of the Canadian Province of British Columbia, convinced that forest charges were far too low, nearly doubled stumpage prices. This led to a dramatic 120 percent increase in forest revenues, with no indication that less wood was harvested by private corporations in the two years after the stumpage price increase. In 1993, investors reportedly offered Guyana area fees that were 150 times established rates (Sizer, 1996). Cameroon, following advice from the World Bank, implemented a bidding process in 1995 to assign concessions. Bidding was expected to increase competition and produce prices closer to the economic value of timber. It did; government revenues rose more than fourfold between 1995 and 1996. These are clear indications that forest charges were far too low before the policy reforms were introduced.
Similar steps taken in Costa Rica, Ghana and Malaysia succeeded in dramatically increasing the government capture of economic rents from forest concessions. Guyana and Suriname have also attempted, with varying degrees of success, to stop indiscriminate granting of forest concessions at very low prices until procedures and institutions could be put in place to price and administer forest concession contracts effectively.
One may ask why such reforms have not been more common or have not been initiated sooner. In many cases, underpricing of wood arises from a desire to promote forest-based industrial development, to increase log exports or to make forest lands more accessible to poor rural populations. At least part of the reason for the persistence of underpriced wood in timber concessions lies in the political complexities of introducing reforms that would increase prices to concessionaires. The faulty forest concession systems that predominate in many forested countries of the world owe their existence and persistence to the influence of powerful vested interests that benefit from the perpetuation of the agreements. These interests exert their political muscle to prevent change. Another plausible reason in developing countries is related to the weakness of public forest administrations. Improved forest pricing in forest concessions requires the institutional capacity to assess values, to negotiate agreements and to monitor and impose implementation of the new rules. This institutional capacity is weak or non-existent in many developing countries. The fact that some developing countries are effectively implementing pricing reforms despite institutional weakness, however, indicates that when the political will exists, substantial improvements are feasible.
As a corollary to the policy and institutional developments discussed above, recent years have witnessed a significant acceleration in the revision of forest-related laws around the world. Not surprisingly, the results of these law reform efforts have been extremely varied. They have taken place within the context of vastly different legal and political traditions, reflecting a wide range of economic, ecological and social variables.
It is possible, nevertheless, to identify several trends that have achieved prominence over the last decade. Broadly speaking, forest law in the 1990s is moving away from a regulatory approach focused primarily on government management and policing of forests as economic resources. It increasingly recognizes the multiple interests involved in or affected by forest management, with greater attention given to the environmental and social roles of forest resources and a new emphasis on the involvement of a wider range of public and private actors.
This section reports on four areas in which a reorientation of national forest laws is evident: local forest management, the environmental functions of forests, forest management planning and the granting of forest utilization contracts.
Local forest management has received a great deal of attention in recent forest law reforms, especially with respect to community-based activities and the realignment of power and responsibilities between central and local governments.
Historically, forest laws in many countries have tended to be inhospitable to local forest management. Although older laws have often given recognition to limited usage rights, they have provided little scope for local people to play a meaningful part in the planning and management of forest resources on which they may have depended for generations. In many cases, the State has arrogated this role to itself through the creation of State forests. In other contexts, national law may have left the tenurial status of forest areas unclear, giving weak or no legal protection to existing community-based tenure systems and providing no alternative mechanisms by which local groups or individuals might assert effective control.
Efforts to address these shortcomings in recent legal changes have taken various forms.
First, there has been a proliferation of new mechanisms for the devolution of forest management to local communities, user groups or households through site-specific arrangements such as co-management agreements, community forestry leases, the delineation and titling of village territories and related devices. Nepal's 1993 Forest Act offers a notable example of this approach, providing for the turning over of portions of national forest to local user groups which agree to manage the areas in accordance with an approved plan. A range of variations on this approach may be found in recent laws or regulations in a growing number of countries or jurisdictions, including (to name only a few) Cameroon, Guinea, India, Laos, Madagascar, the Philippines, South Africa, the United Republic of Tanzania, the Province of British Columbia in Canada and a number of countries in Latin America.
Second, some countries have accorded increasing recognition to the historical land or territorial claims of local peoples. The 1997 Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act in the Philippines is an important recent example of this phenomenon. The rights of indigenous communities figure prominently in several Latin American laws. A number of other countries, including Australia, Canada, South Africa and several countries in central and eastern Europe, are engaged in restoring the lands of dispossessed communities and individuals, which may include natural forests or commercial plantations.
Third, as discussed in detail in the previous section, many countries have moved to decentralize various aspects of forest administration to local government bodies. This change may be reflected either specifically within forest legislation or more generally as part of an overall revision of local government law. Again, examples can be found in all regions, from the Sahel to Southeast Asia to Latin America.
These three categories are indicative only; they do not capture the full variety of approaches being tried throughout the world. Moreover, they are not mutually exclusive, and often overlap or operate concurrently. For example, in the case of several West African laws, where management of some forests has been decentralized to the level of the commune, the local government may have the opportunity further to devolve management over specific subareas through a contract with local users.
While there is unmistakably a higher profile given to local forest management in recent legislation, many of the reforms are characterized by significant limitations and ambivalence, both on paper and in practice. Forest authorities in some countries, for example, have embraced the concept of community-based management mainly in areas where forest resources are already depleted; there is frequently a reluctance to share control over richer, more intact areas, even where there is evidence that the health of the resource is due in large part to the long-established informal stewardship of local people. In many co-management schemes, government forest departments continue to retain most of the important decision-making power, including the power to draft and approve management plans and to decide about the selection of species, the marketing of harvested products and the use of benefits by the contracting group. The long-term security of the rights granted or recognized under local arrangements may be unclear, either because the term of the agreement is very short or because the government has wide power to terminate the agreement for poorly defined reasons. And in some instances, legal provisions that appear to protect the traditional rights of indigenous peoples may be so weakly or ambiguously drafted as to be unusable.
In short, there is a continuing need to find workable legal arrangements that provide or recognize meaningful and secure rights for local forest managers while allowing a flexible response to vastly different local conditions and an appropriate balance between various interests. It is very likely, therefore, that this will be an area of law that continues to experience significant evolution in the years ahead.
Environmental concerns have never been absent from forest legislation. Nevertheless, particularly in the aftermath of UNCED, national forest laws now more explicitly reflect the environmental importance of forests than they did in the past. This concern is prominently articulated in the preamble or statement of objectives of many new laws, which now routinely refer to environmental objectives of forest management and to the country's international environmental obligations.
How these general goals are given specific legal content varies greatly from country to country. A variety of techniques is used in recent legislation:
The increasingly environmental slant of forest legislation, coupled with the emergence of environmental law in many countries around the world, has led in some cases to significant, if avoidable, legislative confusion. Forest laws and general environmental laws are not infrequently drafted with overlapping and conflicting provisions, reflecting unclear mandates and institutional jealousies. As forest law continues to develop in scope and complexity, it is increasingly important for lawmakers to strive to calibrate its provisions more precisely with related bodies of law.
Forest management plans have long been a feature of forest laws. Nevertheless, there is a discernible trend towards more widespread and detailed attention to planning in forest legislation and a broadening of the objectives of the planning process. Laws increasingly require planners to consider a wide range of ecological and social issues that might previously have been outside the purview of traditional forest management planning. In addition, a hierarchy of plans may be called for, with plans for local management units required to be consistent with an umbrella regional or national plan.
Planning procedures in recent forest laws can also provide an important point of intervention for public participation in the design of forest management. It is increasingly common for laws to require public notice at various stages during the planning process, opportunities to comment, public meetings and access to preliminary drafts of plans.
It is difficult to generalize about the legal status accorded to management plans. In government forest contexts, where a forest department is responsible for producing a plan, laws have often been silent about the plan's legal effect. Nevertheless, even in such cases a number of forest laws now specifically require that administrative action on the part of forestry officials - such as the granting of licences or other permissions - must be consistent with an approved plan. In other situations, such as timber concessions or community forestry agreements, the plan may in essence be considered part of the contract itself.
Despite the prominence given to management plans in legislation, their application on the ground has tended to lag far behind in many countries. In this area, there is often a disparity between the vision of those drafting the law and the capacity of government or private forest managers to implement it. Part of the problem may be in terminology, where reference to a "management plan" conjures up a more complicated and expensive instrument than is feasible or desirable to prepare in a particular context. Cameroon deals with this issue by requiring relatively simple plans in community or private forestry.
The importance of sound policies concerning the pricing and award of concessions and other forest utilization contracts has been discussed in detail above. From a legislative perspective, many older forest laws and regulations are remarkably silent as to what procedures and criteria should govern the awarding of forestry contracts. As a result, in many parts of the world the granting of forestry concessions tends to be a secretive affair, often conducted at high political levels on an ad hoc basis. Not infrequently foresters find that concessions are presented to them as a fait accompli by their political superiors, without technical criteria taken into account.
The general trend in recent years has been in the direction of spelling out in some detail the steps leading up to the awarding of a contract, sometimes in principal legislation, sometimes in regulations, or most often in a combination of the two. Such legal frameworks set forth, for example, the basic mechanical elements of an auction and bidding system, such as the content of the call for bids, the form and content of submissions, deadlines and decision-making time frames and the professional qualifications and independence of auctioneers. Laws may also specify when government can use non-economic criteria to distinguish among competing bids. A country may, for example, want to give weight to certain non-quantifiable characteristics of the bidding entity; for instance, the Bolivia law of 1996 gives certain preferences in concession awards to indigenous people in the vicinity.
Specifying the process of awarding contracts may be helpful in a number of ways. It promotes greater transparency and accountability in decision-making and helps provide a level playing field for potential contractors. It can also help ensure that technical specialists are involved in the decision-making process, as opposed to simply finding decisions foisted on them. Finally, a well-ordered, consistent process of evaluating and granting contracts may better promote the interests of third parties and the public at large. It can contribute to reducing the chaos and conflict that has emerged in some countries where carelessness or worse has led to the issuing of overlapping concessions or to the partial or complete disregard of existing rights within a concession area.
The purpose of this brief survey has been to provide a sampling of recent developments in national forest laws. It is, of course, not exhaustive in either geographic coverage (the emphasis has been on developing countries and countries in transition) or the issues discussed. As is also evident, the focus here has been on written law. There are of course often great discrepancies between the content of law and its implementation on the ground. Any number of factors may contribute to this discrepancy - insufficient political will, weak institutional capacities, overburdened court systems, the absence of suitable incentives for participation or compliance by stakeholders, financial difficulties, corruption, etc. These factors do not lessen the importance of establishing sound and coherent legal frameworks. They do serve as a reminder, however, that law reform should, above all, be an exercise in realism. Laws that rely on resources that governments do not have or that require abrupt reorientations of institutional or social behaviour are likely to fail. Effective legal reform requires an assessment of the capacity and willingness of government and others to implement new legal strategies, a commitment to monitoring the effects of legal changes over time and a responsiveness to the results of that monitoring.
33 This section is based primarily on a review of laws and law reform processes under way in Africa, Latin America, North America and central and eastern Europe. As used in this summary, the terms "law" and "legislation" generally refer to principal legislation as well as associated regulations and other subsidiary legal documents. "Forest law" should not be thought of as a stand-alone body of legislation that is specific to the forestry sector. Though most countries have principal forest laws, the legal framework governing forest resources is properly conceived of as comprising laws covering a wide range of issues of relevance to forests, from trade and taxation to environment, land use and agriculture.