THE CONTINUED existence of the country's forest is seriously threatened by increasing deforestation than ever before and it is feared that if steps are not taken to check the situation, the next generation would be completely deprived of any forest in the country.
Documents on the nation's forest indicate that from 1909 to 1990, over 80% or 6.6 hectares of forest cover had been lost. These worrying figure notwithstanding, it clear from records that state managers of the country's forest had literally refused to ensure the protection of the forest sector from unscrupulous encroachers. Recent satellite imagery on forest reserves suggests that even in state-managed forest reserves, the rate of deforestation has been as high as 95% over the last 15 years.
The Chronicle's investigations into issues in the forest sector show that the Ministry of Lands, Forestry and Mines, which is the ministry responsible for the management of the country's floral resources, has not shown any serious commitment towards the preservation of the sector.
Despite the ministry's supervision of the non-implementation of timber laws and the sectors minister's claim that no timber company had successfully gone through the Timber utilization Contract (TUC) policy the paper can report that a number of timber companies are operating in the nation's forests under the pretext of having TUCs.
The minister, Prof. Dominic Fobih, told The Chronicle in an interview in his office that no timber company had been fully granted a TUC. He claimed that as far as he was concerned, no timber company was operating with a TUC and that he could not however tell if there were some companies operating illegally.
Though documentary evidence printed from the website of the forestry commission named 23 timber companies which had been declared as TUC Bid winners as far back as November 2003, Minister Fobih insisted that TUCs have not been fully granted to any company.
Prof. Fobih, who had to be reminded that the bid winners were declared in 2003 and not 2004 as he was claiming, told the paper that, though the bid winners had been declared and cabinet approval sought there were still other processes required before the full granting of TUCs to the bid winners.
He explained that the companies that had been declared as bid winners were yet to present to his outfit their social responsibility plans for the communities where they would be operating after which parliamentary ratification would be sought before the bid winners could legally operate.
The minister's explanation amazingly meant that the companies did not present their social responsibility proposal or plans before they were declared as bid winners and also implied that20 months after his ministry had declared the 23 companies as bid winners, they were not operating but still waiting to be cleared.
Though the minister said he was not aware that any company was operating with a TUC, the Member of Parliament for Asutifi South Hon. Collins Dauda, who is also a ranking member of the Parliamentary select committee on Lands and Forestry, had earlier complained to the paper that some timber companies were operating illegally in some forest reserves in his constituency.
He maintained that as far as he was concerned, the companies were operating illegally because no TUC had been ratified by parliament to make them legal as required by law.
"It is not true that companies are not operating with TUCs. I can tell you that Scanstile Mim Company Limited and Oti Yeboah Company limited are currently operating in the Asukese forest reserve," the legislator said.
Meanwhile, Forest Watch Ghana (FWG), a local forest preservation-oriented group has also condemned the way state institutions have allowed the nation's forest to be excessively abused.
Officials of FWG say if the current rate of deforestation was not immediately checked, the nation could be plunged into a serious crisis in the near future.