2 June 2008

Ghana: State Collusion Breeds Corruption In Timber Sector

Accra — Forest Watch Ghana (FWG), the umbrella body of civil society organizations operating in the forestry industry has pointed out that state complicity is to blame for massive corruption in the country's timber sector.

" Out of 600 timber concessions, only five meet the requirements for timber license and I have always maintained that 100% of all the timber that leave the shores of Ghana are illegal; and in all these the State is an accomplice in the massive corruption," says Mr. Tweretwie Opoku, a legal practitioner and a member of FWG.

Mr. Opoku made these scathing attacks last Friday at a civil society consultative forum on the recent Government and European Union (EU) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) negotiation. He was speaking on Legal Standard in reference to the VPA.

He said the corrupt practices have contributed to making the timber sector ungovernable and regretted that a lot of the personnel in the forestry sector do not even know the laws of the sector.

The meeting was under the aegis of the World Wide Fund for Nature-West Africa Regional Programme Office (WWF-WARPO), International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and FWG, and brought together chiefs, lumber brokers, chain saw operators, timber merchants, NGOs, the media, among others.

In December 2006, Ghana and the EU formally initiated the process of negotiations on the VPA. This agreement, an important component of the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT), when finalized, will put in place measures to ensure good governance practices in Ghana as well as reduce the trade in illegal logs between producer countries such as Ghana and the EU markets.

The VPA requires the Government of Ghana to ensure that timber products entering the EU market meet legality standards agreed on by both parties. A road map for the VPA negotiation process has been developed with and it is expected that Ghana and the EU will conclude negotiations by the end of July 2008.

As part of the VPA, Ghana must adopt a participatory process that takes into consideration views of the all different groups and institutions with an interest in the forest and timber trade within and outside the country. The key stakeholders including CSOs, the timber industry and state sector institutions must all participate in making decisions affecting the forestry sector. This process must influence and lead to a consensus on the contents of the negotiations. It was these and other concerns that formed the basis of the civil society forum.

According to Mr. Opoku, between 1909 and 1990, Ghana lost 80% of its forest with 65,000 hectares vanishing annually. He said concerted efforts from all stakeholders are needed to halt this destructive trend.

Rebecca Dottey, Co-ordinator of FWG, presented the CSOs' recommendations on Ghana's VPA. Some of these include the demand by communities for the right to manage and harvest their forests with technical support from Forest Commission and the right to enjoy the benefits of their labour and investment among others.

The CSOs endorsed initiatives to track wood supply and want an independent and autonomous Timber Validation Entity (TVE). They again recommend the inclusion of local communities in the Independent Forest Monitoring (IFM) process. They also desire a West Africa regional Wood Tracking System (WTS) to cover the increasing sub Saharan timber products trade.

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