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Forest sector still faces challenges- Report

By GNA

Accra, March 27, GNA - The 2012 Transparency Report Card for the forest sector, has revealed that despite efforts to improve transparency and good governance in the area, there were still challenges that needed to be addressed.

According to the report, the Forestry Commission had maintained discretionary control over timber rights allocation and limited access to information, while forest fringe communities had continued to be marginalised from forest management.

The report, which was launched by the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development (CIKOD) in Accra on Wednesday, called on the authorities to put in place measures to resolve long-standing problems.

It said issues such as tree tenure, conversion of older concessions, regulation of the domestic lumber market, and collection of due revenues and fees from the logging industry, had continued to be delayed rather than prioritised.

Under CIKOD's joint projects namely, 'The Governance Initiative for Rights and Accountability in Forest Management (GIRAF)" with funds from the European Union (EU), the project sought to promote good governance in the forest sector in Ghana through advocacy for community rights and accountability of duty bearers in the sector.

Mr Willie Nartey, Director of CIKOD, said forest governance in Ghana was now at a crossroads because while there were encouraging signs on paper, it remained to be seen whether it would result in actual reforms in practice.

He said support from international development partners was still needed, but beyond 2012, it appeared they were withdrawing from measures like natural resources and environmental governance sector budget support mechanisms.

'Without this support, there is a risk that initiatives that enhance civil society engagement and monitoring could be stifled', Mr Nartey said.

Nonetheless, he said, there were a number of opportunities for change in the forest sector in Ghana.

Mr. Nartey said the new forest policy sets out visions for management of Ghana's forest that had been developed in consultation with civil society to address issues such as community forest management.

He said the Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the EU established a framework for verifying the legality of timber products and civil society had managed to get the Forestry Commission to acknowledge concerns over the lack of transparency procedures in its granting of administrative permits'.

Mr Nartey said civil society representation on national policy discussions had improved greatly in recent years and initiatives supported by making the forest sector transparent had also developed progressive examples for improving management of local development projects.

'Notably among the initiatives are transparency charter with the Chiefs of the Brong Ahafo Region and the bye laws on natural resource management by the Wassa Amenfi East District Assembly. These bold initiatives should be supported and replicated across the country,' he said.

Regarding public information, Mr Nartey said, the slow process towards passing the Right to Information Bill into law reflected a lack of commitment on the part of the government.

He said without a legal framework to compel public authorities to disclose information, a culture of discretion had continued to prevail and civil society needed to continue building campaigns to demand information on use of natural resources.   

Osahene Kweku Aterkyi II, President and Omanhene of Kukuom Traditional Area Council, said: 'we need to manage our forest resources effectively so that in the next 300 years, we might get enough forest more than what we have now'.

He said the report would come to nothing if there were no interactions to sell the ideas with the stakeholders and commended CIKOD for its efforts in the forest sector.

GNA