THE CONTROVERSY surrounding the illegal felling of teak from a state forest reserve near Offinso in the Ashanti Region, continues to deepen.
Already, the Forestry Commission (FC) has registered its discomfort with aspects of comments made by two top officials of two key ministries over the smoggy development carried in the media last week.
The FC, the institution mandated by the Constitution of the Republic to protect, manage, regulate and develop the forest resources of the nation has rejected certain claims attributed to Messrs H. A. L. Imbeah and E. H. Cobbina, Chief Director of the Ministry of National Security and Head of the Non-tax Revenue Unit of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning respectively, which, in the opinion of the Commission, sought to justify certain illegal timber deal that was exposed by The Chronicle on December 12, this year.
The two top public officials were reported in the media commenting on, among others, benefits gained by the State through the establishment of the One Stop Collecting Point (OSCP), a body set up by the National Security Ministry in collaboration with other revenue agencies to help avert illegal timber deals especially in the teak sector, and the arrest of people connected to Mr. Richard Asante Bediako, a Member of the OSCP.
The two officials made the comments after The Chronicle had reported the illegal felling of 291 teak trees in the forest reserve by people connected to Mr. Richard Asante Bediako.
In responding to some of the comments attributed to two officials through a rejoinder, the FC noted, "The report which was mainly based on presentations made by Mr. E. H. Cobbina and Mr. H. A. L. Imbeah, attempted to justify the acts of Mr. Richard Asante Bediako, a Member of the OSCP based at the Ministry of National Security "
The FC further noted that Mr. Bediako, " who is known to the Commission as the Managing Director of RICASBED Co. Ltd, a timber harvesting and processing firm, applied for a permit to harvest teak trees within the Forestry Commission's established forest plantations."
The Commission indicated that following the application, a 30-hectare reserve was approved and demarcated for the company within compartment 1 of the Afrensu-Brohuma Forest Reserve and labeled Compartment 1B.
It pointed out that on November 28, 2006, the Commission communicated to the company, certain requirements that it ought to comply with before the Commission could give the required permit for the company access the compartment allocated it for logging. The requirements included a 100% payment of ¢1,188,600,000 and signing of a social responsibility agreement with communities fringing the reserve, among others.
"On the 3rd and 4th December, 2006, however, in an apparent blatant disregard for law and order, Mr. Bediako together with some chainsaw operators unlawfully entered the Afrensu-Brohuma Forest Reserve and felled 291 teak trees from compartment 1A, a 45 hectare area allocated to Messrs J. A. Harvest Ltd.,
another timber firm after threatening the Plantation Supervisor in charge of the Reserve if he attempted to enter the Forest Reserve to stop his operations and verbally assaulting another official of the Commission at Akumadan," the rejoinder said.
The Commission further said, "It is therefore unfortunate that in an attempt to justify this crime, Mr. Cobbina is alleged to have attributed the incident to a miscommunication between the Forestry Commission and Forest Service Department (FSD)"
It concluded that, " Mr. Bediako does not own a concession in the Afrensu-Brohuma Reserve as alleged by Mr. Cobbinah. Bediako and Ricasbed Co. Ltd have no permit to harvest teak trees within the reserve. The Commission and the Ministry of Lands Forestry and Mines are determined to assist the law enforcement agencies prosecute this case and all other forestry offences.