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Gov’t must show stronger will for protection of forest resources

Accra, July 28, GNA –
Stakeholders at a National Forest Forum, have called on government to
demonstrate strong political will to combat illegal forest operations to
protect the country’s forest resources.      

They said political
interferences in illegal forestry issues, including chainsaw lumbering and
logging, were hampering the country’s efforts to clamp down on the
perpetrators.      

The Forum was
organised by the Friends of the Earth-Ghana (FoE-Ghana), in partnership with
the Rainforest Foundation-UK, to provide a neutral platform for the
stakeholders to discuss ways of ensuring effective law enforcement and
political will as well as minimising political interferences to address illegal
forest operations.         

The Forum was on the
theme: “Ensuring law enforcement, improving political will and minimising political
interferences to address illegal forest operations.”      

The participants
called for policy and legal reforms in the wood sourcing and trade in the
domestic market to enhance trade in legal wood.

In a communique issued
on behalf of the Director of the FoE-Ghana, by Mr Enoch Gyamfi Ampadu, the more
than 60 personnel who represented key stakeholders in the forestry sector,
asked security agencies to team up and rigorously sanction perpetrators.    

They said a collective
effort by the Judiciary, the Attorney Generals department, State prosecutors,
Police Service and Forest managers would tighten security measures in the
forest sector.       

They also urged
traditional rulers, especially paramount chiefs who administered Social
Responsibility Agreements to ensure that agreements were well defined to
enhance negotiation and their fulfilment in a more transparent manner.   

The stakeholders
called on the staff of the Forestry Commission to adhere to their professional
ethics in pursuance of their duties so as to minimise political interference in
forest administration.  

“The staff must be
resolute and resolve to act and perform duties with professional standards,”
the communique said.

It called for
mentorship programmes should be intensified to coach the staff adequately for
the job.   

It called for a
multi-sectoral and an inter-agency approach to improve law enforcement and urged
the Forestry Commission, Minerals Commission and the Ghana Cocoa Board to join
efforts to fight against illegal mining and illegal cocoa farms established in
the forest reserves. 

The communique called
for increased public awareness on forest laws, legislations and climate change
for the public and other stakeholders including the media, the judiciary and
religious entities to improve forest for law enforcement.        

The project seeks to
build the capacity of forest communities to monitor, detect and report illegal
forest operations in real time through the application of mobile phone
technology. 

This would help
generate data that would contribute to decision-making processes on forest
resource management, improve detection, reporting and verification of forest
infractions, which would propel the efforts of the Forestry Commission to clamp
down on illegal forest operations.

The participants were
from the Forestry Commission, Minerals Commission, National Forest Forum, Civil
Society Organisations and the Ghana Police Service, Ghana Timber Millers
Organisation, Timber and Wood Trade Associations.

Others were the
Judiciary Council, the media, Ghana Cocoa Board, Forest Fringe Communities,
Office of the Administrator of Stool Lands and the Ministry of Food and
Agriculture.

Below is the full
communique:

“NATIONAL FOREST
STAKEHOLDERS FORUM

JOINT COMMUNIQUE BY
PARTICIPANTS

Friends of the
Earth-Ghana (FoE-Ghana), in partnership with Rainforest Foundation-UK (RFUK) has
organized a National Forest Stakeholders’ Forum(6th July, 2017) in Accra. The
purpose of the forum was to provide a neutral platform to discuss ways of
ensuring effective law enforcement and political will as well as minimizing
political interferences in order to address illegal forest operations in Ghana

The theme of the forum
was “Ensuring law enforcement, improving political will and minimizing
political interferences to address illegal forest operations” in Ghana. The
forum was attended by about 60 forest sector stakeholders, with personnel from
the Forestry Commission, Minerals Commission, National Forest Forum, Civil
Society Organizations (CSOs), Ghana Police Service, Ghana Timber Millers
Organization (GTMO), Timber and Wood Trade Associations, the Judiciary Council,
the Media, Ghana Cocoa Board, Forest Fringe Communities, Office of the
Administrator of Stool Lands, and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

The forum forms part
of implementing activities of an independent forest monitoring project titled
“Community Based Real Time Forest Monitoring Project” funded by Department for
International Development (DFID). The project seeks to build the capacity of
forest communities to monitor, detect and report illegal forest operations in
real time through the application of mobile phone technology. The application
of the technology is to enable community members to collect data on the type
and location of illegal forest operations as and when they happen and transmit
the data to a dedicated platform on a timely manner. The purpose is to generate
data that will contribute to decision-making processes on forest resource
management, improve detection, reporting and verification of forest
infractions. It is also to help the Forestry Commission to take immediate
corrective actions on the illegal forest operations in identified risk areas,
and thus, contribute to strengthening law enforcement, transparency and
accountability. Such a technology would contribute to the efforts meant to
control, minimize illegal forest operations and serve a key independent forest
monitoring and governance tool.

The forum had
presentations on issues such as ; i) emerging illegal forest operations at the
district level, ii) Governance challenges in addressing illegal forest
operations, iii) Role of law enforcement in addressing illegal forest
operations, iv) Addressing inter-agency gaps in dealing with illegal forest
operations and v)  Prospects of Voluntary
Partnership Agreement (VPA) for legal wood trade.

In view of the issues
raised and discussed, the participant made the following recommendations for
the immediate attention and action by the Government, Forestry Commission and
other forest sector stakeholders:

1.       In order to improve forest law
enforcement, there should be increased public awareness on forest laws and
legislations and climate change for the general public, the media, the
judiciary, religious entities and other stakeholders. There should also be easy
access of the laws to the general public as a means of improving public
knowledge on these laws. This could be done through public discussion on radio,
media advocacy, press releases, and also through the sharing of the laws on
websites of government institutions such as the Forestry Commission, Ministry
of Land and Natural Resources, Minerals Commission, etc.

2.       To minimize political interference in
forest administration, the Forestry Commission staff should be resolute, and
should resolve to act and perform duties with professional standards and
ethics, and as well work in accordance with the laws and administrative
procedures. Mentorship programmes among the forestry staff should be promoted
to ensure that the new generation of forest managers will be committed to
ensuring sustainable management of the forest resources.

3.       The government must demonstrate political
will in the fight against illegal forest operations just as have been exhibited
in the illegal mining case. There should minimum political interferences in
dealing with illegal forest operations such as chainsaw lumbering and logging,
conversion of forest in to agriculture lands such as cocoa farms and illegal
mining in the forest reserves. Also politicians, traditional authorities, and
other persons in high places should not use their offices to interfere with the
forest law enforcement processes that are initiated by forest sector officers,
law enforcement agencies   and other
related institutions.

4.       There should be a multi-sectoral and an
inter-agency approach to improve law enforcement and dealing with illegal
forest operations. The Forestry Commission, Minerals Commission and the Ghana
Cocoa Board could team up to monitor illegal mining and illegal cocoa farms
established in the forest reserves.

5.       To bridge the gap between the Judiciary,
the Attorney Generals department, State prosecutors, Police Service and Forest
managers, there should be a sustained effort for these agencies to consult with
each other to facilitate prosecution process of forest offenders. The Forestry
Commission could initiate actions to engage these agencies at the district and
national levels to ensure effective collaboration to ensure effective
prosecution of offenders. There should be sustained programmes to train the state
prosecutors on the forest laws and regulations to ensure that the right charges
are preferred against forest offenders. The trained forest prosecutors should
also collaborate with the Ghana Police in prosecuting offenders.

6.       The involvement of the traditional rulers
(especially the paramount Chiefs) in the administration of the Social
Responsibility Agreements (SRA) should be well defined to regulate their role
in the negotiation and fulfilment of SRA. There should be transparency and
accountability in the agreement and execution processes.

7.       As means of strengthening the forest
sector law enforcement, the Forestry Commission could channel some of its funds
the Police Service to support capacity building and resource them to carry out
proper investigation and evidence gathering into illegal forest operations to
ensure effective prosecution of offenders.

8.       There should be improved transparency and
sharing of information within and among forest sector stakeholders and the
general public. There should also be major policy and legal reforms in the wood
sourcing and trade in the domestic market to enhance trade in legal wood.

It is expected that
these recommendations and actions points will be duly considered and
implemented to contribute positively to minimizing illegal forest operations
across the country.”

SIGNED

Enoch Gyamfi Ampadu

For: Director, Friends
of the Earth-Ghana.

27/07/2017

GNA

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