Linking Journalism with the Web of Life
The Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organisational Development (CIKOD), a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Ghana yesterday disclosed that since 2005, the Forestry Commission (FC) had not revised the country’s Timber Rights Fees (TRF) popularly known forest fees meant for the state.
TRF is rent that timber companies pay for their concessions annually. This means that for the past six years the country lost over millions of Ghana cedis to timber companies operating in the Middle-income country.
The Executive Director of CIKOD, Mr Willie Laate, and Mr Kingsley Bekoe Ansah, an official of Forest Watch Ghana revealed this at a media interaction in Accra. They added that timber companies are therefore paying meagre fees to the government.
“If we had charged the right fees, the timber sector could have created more jobs” for the teeming unemployed youth in the country.
Presenting a report entitled “Making the Forest Sector Transparent” which is an annual transparency report card 2010, Mr Laate who led researchers to undertake the report called on the Forestry Commission to “intensify their education and awareness campaigns in the communities in response to the 1994 Forest and Wildlife policy of collaborative forest management”.
He emphasized that the FC should work towards ensuring transparent and accountable forest governance and ensure that “the provisions within their Service Charter are adhered to”. This Mr Laate believes will enable the FC to win the interest of the other stakeholders and make them build more confidence.
The report which was conducted by CIKOD with funding from the UKaid from the Department for International Development covered six districts in the Western and Brong-Ahafo regions.
These districts are: Tarkwa Nsuaem, Wassa Amenfi East, and Juabeso, all in the Western region, while Sunyani Municipal, Goaso, and Dormaa in the Brong-Ahafo region.
The report findings astonishingly revealed that 80% of people in the two regions are neither aware of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) nor of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) signed between Ghana and the European Union (EU) in 2007, which aimed at ensuring that only legal timber enters the EU market.
The report further indicated that most community stakeholders (90%) and district assemblies (70%) expressed their lack of knowledge of the various agreements signed by government. Importantly, almost all the timber companies were unaware of REDD and VPA which have direct bearing on their operations.
Based on the findings, suggestions are made for different stakeholders to improve transparency and good governance in the forest sector.
To this end, the Executive Director of CIKOD, passionately called on his colleagues civil society organizations to press for the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill, which is currently rotting in the shelves of Parliament.
Mr Laate did not mince his words to urge the district assemblies to “disclose the amount of timber royalties they receive and what they use the royalties for. Any physical projects such as publications, community buildings or bridges, should be labeled as funded from royalties, to enhance transparency.”
For FC, the outspoken Mr Laatee admonished the commission to ensure that the provisions within the Service Charter were adhered to, by publishing an annual performance assessment against the Charter.
By Masahudu Ankiilu Kunateh, Senior Development Journalist, The Chronicle, Ghana
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