30 May 2006

Ghana: Forestry Commission Takes Stringent Measures On Illegal Teak Operators

Berekum — AS PART of measures to curtail the stealing of teak in the forest reserves, the Forestry Commission (FC) has taken some pragmatic steps to ensure that only legally processed teak billets are shipped out of the country.

Following this, the plantations department of the FC has intensified its monitoring activities to clamp down illegal teak operations.

Instead of using force on the illegal operators, which sometime received some fierce resistance, the department has now employed what was described as 'a diplomatic approach' to confiscate teak billets.

Conducting The Chronicle round some sites of confiscated teak billets in Berekum, the Brong Ahafo Regional Zonal Manager, Mr. Joe Ackah, disclosed that his outfit had confiscated thousands of teak billets from which the nation could have lost several millions of cedis to unscrupulous timber men.

In recent times, The Chronicle had exposed some collaboration between some forestry officials and illegal operators that was causing the nation loss billions of cedis into private pockets.

Mr. Ackah accompanied a ministerial investigative team from Accra, tasked to investigate The Chronicle's front page story on March 28 this year, headlined "Officials, dealers bleed forestry, ...billions lost from dodgy licensing rackets nationwide".

He told the paper that the plantation department had conducted a search into operations of some mobile sawmills in and around Berekum and Japekrom, where teak stealing was rampant.

He disclosed that about ten uncertified mobile sawmills were identified, basically in Tein II and Paamu/Berekum forest reserve.

Mr. Ackah disclosed to The Chronicle that during their rounds, they were able to impound over 1,200 teak billets now dumped at the Berekum District office of the Forestry Services Division.

The Zonal Manager said, "We were able to confiscate these without any force or resistance from both parties - forestry and illegal operators. He added that all the billets piled up were meant for export and could have caused the government several millions of cedis.

Asking to explain how these massive stealing could go on, Mr. Ackah replied that it was due to the lack of logistics and capacity on the part of the FC and also the lack of cooperation among the police, the community and the FC.

A member of the investigative team, Mr. Clement Brown, also the head of the Plantation Department of FC, hinted that the Commission as part of its measures to ensure only genuine teak were shipped out of the country, had put teams on the roads leading to Accra to inspect containers carrying teak from the hinterland.

According to him, the surveillance of teak movement would not be left in the hands of the regions alone.

It was disclosed that the team had recently impounded eight containers carrying teak from Brong Ahafo and Ashanti regions en route to the Tema harbour for shipment.

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