The enactment of a new legislation that addresses entrenched forest governance challenges in Ghana has been touted as a critical milestone on the way to full implementation of the country's Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union.
The Timber Resources Management and Legality Licensing Regulation 2017, which was passed on November 3, 2017, addresses issues that forest stakeholders have raised through the VPA process, and makes the necessary changes to Ghana's legal framework to meet the terms of the VPA.
"Among other things, the new law clarifies the allocation of all timber rights and will increase transparency and benefits for communities," said a brief by the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism of the Ghana-EU FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement.
Musah Abu-Juam, Technical Director, Ghana Ministry for Lands and Natural Resources and Benoist Bazin, Team Leader for Infrastructure and Sustainable Development, Delegation of the European Union to Ghana jointly appended the brief to say that "The new law clarifies the granting of special permits, which civil society groups had contended was discretionary and undermined transparency and accountability. It requires existing special permits to be converted into Timber Utilisation Contracts (TUCs).
"It also addresses a longstanding need to convert into TUCs all concession leases that expired when the Timber Resources Management Act 1998 came into force. The Act required conversion and the payment of timber rights fees by the holders, but this could not happen," the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism document indicated.
As well, the new law makes provision for a one-off payment of the timber rights fee -- rather than an annual payment -- and requires that the conversion process takes place within the next six months. It also introduces small-scale TUCs for the first time.
The provisions of the law also require all companies acquiring any commercial logging permits to negotiate Social Responsibility Agreements with adjacent communities and explicitly restate the representation of civil society on the Timber Validation Committee, as stated in the VPA.
There are also provisions for public access to information on forest resource management.
The law further clarifies that no timber rights are subject to automatic renewal, and it replaces the term 'competitive bidding' with 'competitive procedure', so that competitive bidding can be one form of competitive award, but not the only option available.