7 January 2013

Ghana: Forestry Commission, DCE Fight Over Classroom Block

Akosombo — The Eastern Regional Manager of the Forest Services Division of the Forestry Commission, Mr. Atta Owusu, has threatened to drag the District Chief Executive (DCE) for Asuogyaman, Johnson Ahiakpor, to court if he insists on building in the Sapawsu forest reserve of the Eastern Region without written permission from the commission.

Making his intentions known to The Chronicle, Mr. Owusu said the reserve, which was constituted in 1957 with a total size of 15 square kilometres, was not only a reserve, but also a Globally Significant Biodiversity Area (GSBA), with some of its species not found anywhere else in the world.

Mr. Owusu alleged that the DCE, in fulfilment of a campaign pledge to the people, had commenced the construction of a six-unit classroom block in the forest reserve without permission, and could be jailed for two years under the law.

He accused the DCE of interfering with the law in ordering the release of two men arrested by forestry security-military taskforce.

The DCE admits asking that the men be set free because their arrest was illegal, as he had secured written permission from forestry commission for the construction of the classroom block. He said the construction was necessitated by the need to stop schooling under trees, and not because of an election promise.

The Regional Manager warned that profiting from the country's forests without due regard for their sustainability, could make Ghana a net importer of wood in the next 20 years, and made a passionate appeal to the government to halt the move by the DCE to build in the area, since his actions were an affront to the forest protection amendment ACT, 2002.

Mr. Owusu said it was an offence under sections 1(a) and 1(b) the ACT for any person to, among other things, build in a forest reserve without the written consent of a competent forest authority, and liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding 500 penalty units, or to imprisonment not exceeding two (2) years or to both.

He indicated that his outfit was poised to fight, not only the DCE, but any other person or group of persons involved in any illegal forest operations such as chainsaw operation, forest degradation, and illegal farming.

He further called on Ghanaians to support the government's plantations-development programme to secure and renew the forest resources, in order to optimise the flow of benefits from the forests.

He stressed that securing the forest resources required the joint stewardship of stakeholders with ambitions to pursue profitable and responsible forestry activities, while continuing to show consideration for nature.

He indicated that as a regulatory body, the Forestry Commission would collaborate with stakeholders to ensure prudent forest governance, resource development and stewardship.

On a visit to the reserve last week, this reporter saw massive clearing of part of the reserve, and ongoing construction work, with a corresponding destruction of about 300 different spices of plants cultivated by the Commission.

Two persons, Wisdom Ameyome, 24, and Ocloo Emmanuel, 67, were arrested by the Commission's security and military taskforce in the process, and subsequently handed over to the Akosombo police.

The two have since been discharged by the police on the instructions of the DCE, who described the arrest as illegal and unnecessary.

The DCE, according to reliable information, promised the chief and people of Marime, a farming community within the district, during the 2012 electioneering campaign that the Assembly would build a classroom block for them in the reserve if they voted massively for the NDC, which they apparently did.

When contacted, the DCE denied constructing the six unit classroom block for the people because of political promise he made to them during the 2012 electioneering campaign, but confirmed instructing the police to release the two suspects, since their arrest was unlawful and an affront to the laws of the land.

According to him, he was surprised that the two were arrested, because the site was given to the Assembly by the Commission, after thorough consultations with the Regional Manager and a former Regional Minister, Appea Kubi.

He explained that the Assembly decided to construct the classroom block for the Nyameben Primary School, the only school under trees in the area, in order to improve teaching and learning.

To this effect, his office wrote several letters to the Regional Manager through the District Manager, appealing to the Commission to allocate a portion of the reserve for the construction.

He, therefore, ordered the District Engineer and Town and Country Planning to move to site, after it was allocated by the Commission, only for the two to be arrested by the security taskforce.

The Regional Manager of Forestry Commission, however, described the DCE's claim to have the necessary authorization, as a palpable lie, since no officer of the regional office or district had given any written permission to the Assembly to start work in the reserve.

But the DCE has indicated his readiness to construct the school block in the reserve with or without permission from the Commission, come heaven and earth.

According to him, he would not be intimidated by any threat to abort the construction of the school, and that as far as he remained the DCE of the area, the construction of the six unit classroom block would go in the reserve.

He described the arrest of the two persons who were working at the reserves as illegal and an affront to the law, hence his ordering the police to release them immediately.

Mr. Owusu disclosed that the law prohibits the construction of permanent structures and establishment of farms in forest reserves without permission, and would, therefore, instruct the military cum forestry taskforce to destroy farms and the structures in the reserves, in accordance with the constitutional mandate given to the Commission.

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