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17 February 2017

Forestry advocacy group charges Lands minister to sanitise forest sector

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Civil society organisations, working in the forest sector have charged the new Minister for Lands and Natural Resources for to go beyond issuing a directive to restore sanity in the forestry sub-sector.

The directive they say calls for an action plan to deal with illegal logging, illegal mining and illegal encroachment in forest reserves.

They say it further halts all special permits issued after December 10, 2016, all operations of loggers with expired permits including logging of rosewood and finally bans all rosewood exports.

According to them, it is a good approach to sanitizing a sector which is bedevilled with immense challenges, including endemic corruption, breakdown in professionalism and overbearing negative influence of politicians.

In a press conference Wednesday, they said the rosewood situation can best be described as “complete insanity.”

Ghana illegally exported rosewood amounting to 10 percent of the global trade in 2016 and the problem keeps escalating as exports in the banned wood continue in flagrant defiance of the previous directives banning rosewood exports.

“Exports for June 2016 were 467 percent higher than that of the corresponding period in 2015. A total of more than 9,000 40ft containers bearing 292,000 m3 of rosewood were exported from Ghana to China between January 2014 and June 2016,” it said.

“What is appalling about this development is that majority of rosewood timber harvested in Ghana originates from the highly sensitive savannah ecosystem, which is prone to desertification,” they quizzed.

According to them, while Ghana has been making noticeable progress in efforts to reduce illegal logging with the implementation of the FLEGT-VPA and the contribution of many NGOs, the abuse of political power has caused an upsurge in the illegal practice in some parts of Ghana; some forest encroachments have been masterminded by politicians, particularly in parts of the Western Region.

They said “galamsey activities also continue to threaten the integrity of our forest and land resources everywhere and sadly, it seems resource managers have accepted it.

“We have looked on with concern the wanton disregard for the forestry laws of Ghana and the ineptitude of the Forestry Commission and law enforcement agencies to bring these illegal activities to a halt.”

They noted that the situation portrays negligence and a lack of commitment to the Service Charter of the Forestry Commission, as well as its own Vision and Mission.

“We strongly believe that the abuse of permit allocation in the sector did not begin from December 2016 and therefore if you really want to sanitize the sub-sector you would need to dig deeper into logging and mining contracts which date some years back,” they emphasised.

These are some issues which we wish to bring to your attention:

1. We have reason to believe some Timber Utilization Contracts (TUC) and Special Permits issued between 2014 and now (2017) were questionably awarded. We have heard that about 15 new TUCs have been issued since 2014. There is, however, very little information available to allow civil society to effectively play its watchdog role of interrogating and investigating the contract awarding process.

2. Some companies have also been granted questionable mining permits to destroy Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas including Tano Offin, Subri, Upper Wassa, and Fure River forest reserves. In the last two forest reserves, we have observed that these operators have hired muscle-bound armed men to protect their operations. Local communities like Juabo, Sraha in the Upper Denkyria West continue to protest against this. These operations need to be shut down immediately.

3. Again we are aware of the high illegal timber racketeering in Goaso Forest District in the Brong Ahafo Region. The scale of this illegal logging is huge. The illegal loggers operate in broad-day light and with total impunity. Forest managers and their military task forces have been incapacitated as some politicians give backing to this illegal logging. We believe this is one of the biggest illegal logging syndicates in Ghana currently, which must be stopped.

4. We also know that presently, about 30-50 40ft containers of rosewood and other species are harvested from the savannah regions each week. Honorable Minister, this is not an area to encourage logging of any species because it is prone to desertification. We need a directive barring logging and trade of all forms of timber species including rosewood, ebony, and papao.

As activists in the sector, we believe that to truly sanitize the sub-sector it requires a few more steps to be a game-changer. We, therefore, recommend the following:

a. That you request the Inspector General of Police to investigate the sub-sector.

Alternatively, you may set-up a multi-stakeholder investigation panel, including members of Civil Society. The task would be to investigate the procedure and award of all logging and mining contracts in Ghana since 2013, as well as the rosewood mess; to identify illegalities and accomplices; and recommend actions against such individuals and companies.

b. That the findings of the Committee should be implemented without prejudice.

We would like to congratulate you on your appointment as Minster for Lands and Natural Resources and once again laud you for your bold directive. You will find in us, (the NGOs listed below), your strongest ally in working to ensure sustainable use and preservation of our resources for development.

Source: Ghana | Myjoyonline.com

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