Accra, March 29, GNA - The Forestry Commission, under its new Validation of Legal Timber Programme (VLTP), would roll out a computerised log tracking system by January 2006, to improve the monitoring of timber harvesting, processing and exporting. The system would improve the collection of forest revenue, eliminate informal payments between industry and forest officials, block avenues for illegal timber and alignment of timber harvesting within sustainable limits.
Professor Dominic Fobih, Minister of Lands, Forestry and Mines, on Tuesday stated at a consultative workshop on the VLTP, in Accra, that the Programme was also to ensure that timber for the international market was of verified legal origin.
The workshop attracted actors in the wood-working industry: Foresters, Loggers, Lawyers, Members of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Forestry, the Forestry Commission Board, Traditional Land Owners, Nongovernmental Organisations, Community Based Organisation and some Development Partners.
The workshop was provided a forum for the stakeholders to interact and discuss relevant issues under the Programme, which is being undertaken and financed solely by the Government of Ghana, with technical assistance from Societe General.
Discussion papers on the VLTP are expected to be ready next May, followed by identification and procurement of the tracking system in September 2005, after which installation and testing would commence in October 2005.
Professor Fobih, who was opening the workshop, said reforms in the Forestry Sector over the last six years were to achieve a regime of good governance through effective monitoring and law enforcement. Significant among the reforms are the introduction of a competitive bidding process for the allocation of timber resources and the review of disbursement of timber of the value for timber (stumpage).
Professor Fobih announced that the previous 40 per cent off-reserve areas share of stumpage for Traditional Authorities and District Assemblies had been reviewed upwards to 60 per cent under the VLTP, and Forestry Commission would now have 40 per cent.
He said a decision would soon be made for the sharing arrangement for on reserve timber when on going studies were completed.
On Ghana's entry into the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union (EU) for the export of legal timber, Professor Fobih said Ghana would work to develop a timber-licensing scheme that would ensure that products being exported to the EU were accompanied by certificates assuring the Union's market of legal compliance.
The objective for entering into such an Agreement was to secure a bigger and sustainable share of the market through the promotion of verified legal timber products, and thereby seek the support of the EU to offer sufficient incentives to the Ghanaian industry to ensure adherence to the licensing scheme.
"The incentives should be sufficient to deflect any temptation on the part of the industry to export to Sub-Regional markets, where evidence of legality is not required," Prof Fobih said, and called for efforts to sustain the Programme.
Mr Anthony Boachie-Dapaah, Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission, observed that the activities of illegal loggers posed a serious threat to forest management and said illegal logging was not dying because of underhand dealings by human elements, who had the responsibility to check the practice.
"The State and stakeholders continue to lose huge amounts of revenue because of the inefficiency or the failure of the current tracking and control system to detect manipulations like species substitution, under-reporting of harvested volumes, and representation of trees outside yield as part of yield," Mr Boachie-Dapaah said.
Dr Emmanuel Dzokoto, Member, Forestry Commission Board, said under the VLTP, the Commission would regain security of tenure over raw material resources to plan future capital and human investments for maximum returns.