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06.04.2004 General News

Forest Watch holds Press conference on timber rights

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Accra, April 6, GNA - Forest Watch Ghana, a civil society advocacy coalition on the Forestry sector on Tuesday called for a strict adherence to competitive bidding in the allocation of timber rights. The Coalition said when that was done, it would help realise the full market value of Ghana's timber of about 70 million dollars annually, instead of the 18 million dollars currently being recorded and also help eliminate corruption and waste.

"It would also improve the Forestry Commission's (FC) capacity to regulate forests and ensure more money for district assemblies, communities and resource owners," Mr Albert Katako, Representative of the Coalition said at a press briefing in Accra.

At the briefing, the Coalition launched its 2004 campaigns on the "Competitive Bidding in the Allocation of Timber Rights and the Greater Transparency on the part of the Forestry Commission"

The Coalition, made up of 15 non-governmental organisations, including CARE International, Friends of the Earth, Ghana Integrity Initiative and other individuals was formed last year with the aim of working together to improve Ghana's forestry sector.

During the briefing, Mr Katako, who is also the Coordinator of CARE International, said though the 1998 Ghana's law specified competitive bidding for timber rights to all stakeholders, the Forestry Commission had ever since, organised only one exercise of the bidding process which was done last year. Mr Katako alleged that after that exercise, the Ministry of Lands and Forestry through the FC had reverted to the old system of allocating timber rights to people without regards to the law, a situation he described as very disturbing.

He said currently, seven out of every 10 Ghanaians depended on forest resources for their livelihood, and that had attributed to destroying about 84 per cent of Ghana's forest cover in less than 100 years. He described the rapid deforestation over the last 10 years to a rush to cash in on cheaply priced timber rights before the system was rationalised, laws that provided a disincentive to forest communities and the communities' lack of information about the dangers and possible solutions.

Mr Katako also pointed out that Ghana's Constitution, FC Act and Charter, Forestry and Wildlife Policy and several FC procedure manuals, all obliged the FC to be proactive in informing communities and other stakeholders about its activities, "but it has refused to do so".

"Currently, the FC does not provide enough information to communities. Income disbursement reports, for example, are five quarters behind schedule and only capture actual disbursement without stating targets".

"Annual reports, budgets plans and financial statements, which should go to the sector Minister and through him to Parliament are also in arrears", the Coalition alleged, adding that, 'Forest Watch will pressure the FC to improve performance in that area".

Professor Kwame Karikari, Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa, who chaired the function called for greater vigilance over natural resource rights issues, and tasked the media to play a greater role in advancing the socio-economic aspirations of the ordinary Ghanaian.

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