Saturday, August 2, 2014

Forestry sector needs consolidation of its laws — Forest watch

By Edmund Smith-Asante, DODOWA
Mr Samuel Mawutor
Ghana's Wildlife and Forestry sector is currently governed by 27 different laws which makes for uneasy referencing, the Co-ordinator of Forest Watch, a coalition of non-governmental organisations working to improve forest governance, Mr Samuel Mawutor, has stated.

He said, for instance, that, the Forest Protection Act, (NRC Decree 1974) prescribes a list of offences, which suggests that laws passed after that act did not talk about offences,  which is not the case.

In an exclusive interview during a three-day training workshop for journalists on good forest governance at Dodowa a fortnight ago, Mr Mawutor said the numerous pieces of legislation made it difficult to prosecute people for forest violations because they were scattered.

The training was on “Exploring media entry points for Ghana’s FLEGT/VPA process” and was organised by Civic Response, a non-governmental organisation with support from the EU and UKAID among other agencies.

Old laws
Mr Mawutor said some of the laws were dated as far back as 1892 and 1927, explaining that the numerous laws, some of which speak to the same issues, were as a result of the ad hoc ways that were adopted to fix problems.

He, therefore, asked for a speedy clean-up and consolidation of the laws on Wildlife and Forestry, which should be initiated by the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and given to the Attorney General to finalise for civil consultation.

“When we talk about consolidation, we mean that all these laws need to be brought together and fit in a certain nice way to make meaning,” he explained.

The Forest Watch Co-ordinator gave an example of how seven principles of defining legal timber had been teased from all the laws.

These, he enumerated as the source of timber, the allocation process, the harvesting procedure, transportation, processing, how it is traded and fiscal obligations.

“One of the things civil society wants to see is that the greater benefits of naturally occurring trees are given to the farmers who nurture them rather than the current situation where if any benefit comes it goes into the consolidated fund,” he stated. 

Ghana logging out of sustainability
Mr Mawutor also expressed concern that at Ghana’s current rate of logging, in no time there would be no more trees to be felled in Ghana’s forests.

 He said although the annual allowable cuts (AAC) of trees was one million cubic metres from both forest and off-reserve areas, currently, 3.5 million cubic metres were being felled according to official estimates, adding that 84 per cent of the logs on the domestic market were illegal.

Stating that the AAC was set in 1994, he remarked, “So we are saying that between 1994 and now the forest condition hasn’t changed, it has remained constant, and therefore we can be logging at one million cubic metres a year?

He said logging was now being done unsustainably, because even the one million a year estimate had been exceeded by 2.5 million, which means that in 10 years, 35 million (cubic metres) are felled, instead of the projected 10 million m3 during the same period.  

“There is no way we can still maintain that sustainable level without reviewing the annual allowable cuts,” he said.

 According to Mr Mawutor, legal timber means it was from sawn mills which had the requisite licences to fell the trees and for now the only wood products that could be labelled as legal are the plywood.

Saying the country was institutionalising corruption, he explained that “if a chainsaw cuts a tree in the bush, it is illegal. If we see it on the road, it is illegal, immediately it enters the market, it is not illegal.”

He said although there were efforts to address the illegality, they were a long shot away.

The Forest Watch Co-ordinator said the illegality was not only being promoted by chainsaw operators, but also timer contractors who did ‘voodoo’ tree felling, where logs illegally felled were under-declared.
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