27 June 2005

Ghana: Forest Watch Joins Legal Tussle

Accra — Forest Watch Ghana, (FWG) a civil society coalition campaigning for equitable and accountable forest governance says it has instructed its lawyers to join the legal action between the Forestry Commission (FC) and the Ghana Timber Association in the High Court in Takoradi in the Public interest.

The court action according to the organization relates "stumpage fees" which timber companies pay to the Forestry Commission, chiefs and district assemblies for the trees the industry consumes.

The Ghana Timber Association, (GTA) is challenging the FC's claim that the industry is in arrears to the tune of about 30 billion cedis.

But the GTA says the manner in which the Minister for Lands, Forestry and Mines, sets stumpage rates is unlawful and that the method the commission uses to measure the volume of timber trees to which this rate is applied is inaccurate and unfair.

The GTA is therefore asking the court to stop the commission from publishing the list of defaulters and from stopping defaulters from logging.

At a press briefing in Accra, a member of the Forest Watch Ghana's Management Committee, Mr. Don Kris Mevuta, explained that his organization believe that the actual accrued and unpaid stumpage fees is several times the commission's claim and that chiefs and district assemblies alone are probably owed 40-60 billion cedis.

He said the legal tussle is a re-run of a long-standing tussle between the state and the industry. "The industry has consistently sabotage efforts to reduce logging activity to sustainable levels and make loggers pay the full economic value of trees. This is the only way to ensure that the timber industry contributes optimally to national development and does not just enrich timber men', he said.

Mr. Mevuta recalled that the state has always backed down from such confrontations allowing the industry to plunder our forests. He alleges that the state's response to the challenges facing the industry has not been encouraging. Saying, "Forest Watch finds it strange that two months after the GTA challenged the minister's exercise of statutory discretion, the government has not applied to join the action and defend its record and policy".

He added that currently, the state and civil society cannot afford to back down in the face of the industry's sham.

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