Ghana: The Menace of Bushfires - Stakeholders Call for Stiffer Punishment

The paramount chief of Ziavi traditional area, Torgbega Kwaku Ayim VII, has cautioned Ghanaians against the indiscriminate burning of bush, which he noted has devastating effects on the environment and human life.

He observed that the current climatic changes, disappearance of certain animal species and medicinal plants could be attributed to the frequent bushfires that the country experiences annually, stressing that if measures were not put in place to curb the situation, it would have negative effect on the country's development.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with this reporter here, the traditional ruler, who also doubled as an educationist, said the ritual bushfires had seen the destruction of the forest in some parts of the Volta Region and other parts of the country, coupled with the destruction of farms and homes, thereby worsening the poverty level of the people.

Torgbega Kwaku Ayim emphasized the need for the country to adopt sound traditional norms and practices relevant in the control of bushfires and other menaces in the country.

He recounted ancient days when traditional values such as hunting were used to protect the environment against bushfires.

The traditional ruler suggested to government to empower chiefs to control and sanction recalcitrant people caught burning bushes.

But he also said the National Fire Service could assist traditional authorities through regular education on modern methods of fire-fighting to augments traditional methods.

Togbega Kwaku Ayim stressed the need for the government to implement policies that would have traditional components in addressing serious national issues in addition to what he termed "the so-called civilization and modern methods".

Touching on land and boundary disputes, he said traditional methods of addressing the problem were the best because the chiefs are the custodians of the land and had a broad knowledge of the people they rule and their traditional boundaries. He said the current mode of resolvingland dispute only succeeded in the dividing families and friends after judgment was passed on such cases.

Contributing, the Volta Regional Public Relations Officer of the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) Mr. JoyKwaku Agbleze, noted that bush fires contributed partly to the as properties worth several billions of cedis are destroyed annually through bush fire.

He said the PNDC Law 229 of 1990 on bush fire is not effective, and called for stiffer punishments against those setting fires to the bush.

Mr. Agbleze said the law was not potent enough to deter people from starting bush fires, and stressed the need to review the law to pave way for tough punishment, saying "when armed robbers are caught, some of their booties are retrieved and returned to their rightful owners, but in the case of bush fire, victims lose everything, as such I recommend that severe sanctions is the only option.

The fire officer, who looked worried about the issue said in spite of the fact that regional offices of his outfit nationwide embark on educational programmes yearly, bush fires continue to be a threat to national security.

He however did not ruled out the simple fact that the service needed to be well equipped to enable it to continue its educational programmes in deprived communities where these bush fires are rampant.

Mr. Agbleze also agreed that traditional rulers should be empowered to play a more active role in such issues. He suggested further that the empowerment of these respectable custodians of the land should include the power to punish culprits of bush fires.

Since the passage of PNDC Law 229 some 16 years ago, a number of offenders were prosecuted while some of them managed to escape judgment, and the long arm of the law is still searching for them.

It would be recalled that in October 2005, one Paul Obeng Amofa, and his two brothers, Thomas and Philip, all residents of Kuradaso near Begoro in the Fanteakwa district of the Eastern region, escaped from the law after they were accused of setting fire in their farm, which spread out to other surrounding plantations.

In that fire incident alone, hundreds of acres of cocoa, teak and palm plantations were destroyed, running into several billions of cedis.

Even though the three brothers insisted an unknown person set the fire, they allegedly fled the country, fearing possible prosecution and the reprisals of those whose plantations were gutted by the said fire.

The Chronicle has gathered from reliable sources that the law is still hunting for Paul, the eldest among the suspects, who may be hiding in Europe.

In Ghana, as in many tropical countries, apart from farmers who may be preparing their lands for the first rains, bush fires are also commonly caused by palm-wine tappers, cigarette smokers and hunters.

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