.... Award of Timber Contracts
The Member of Parliament for Asutifi South, Alhaji Collins Dauda, has accused the Minister of Mines, Lands and Forestry, Prof Dominic Fobih, of awarding the first batch of the Timber Utilization Contracts, without parliament's approval, as the constitution demands.
Alhaji Dauda, who doubles as MP and NDC Shadow Minister for Lands and Forestry, said while parliament was waiting to analyze the procedure for the selection of the contracts, the contractors had already started working on the lands meant for TUCs.
According to him, apart from breaching the constitutional provisions, the minister has also caused financial drainage to the government since the contract was supposed to be very competitive to maximize revenue.
He described the minister's action as null and void and also a ploy to satisfy what he described as his selfish interest since the contract was not transparent.
In an interview with the Chronicle last Friday, Alhaii Dauda wondered how Prof. Fobih could administratively allocate the TUCs that were supposed to go through competitive bidding.
He emphasized that the minister had flouted also the constitutional provision, which required that all TUCs must be ratified by parliament.
When contacted on the issue, Prof. Fobih told the Chronicle that he was not aware that contractors had started working on the TUC's since his office had not given them approval.
"If the contractors have started working on the lands then I am not aware of it," he said, adding the MP's allegation should be treated as information so that "we can investigate."
He said in no time the ministry would present the allocation of the TUCs before parliament since cabinet had approved them.
He intimated that the ministry had delayed in presenting the allocation of the TUCs to parliament because just about the time it wanted to present it, parliament went on recess.
Prof. Fobih explained that because of the long nature of the procedure for the allocation of TUCs, the contractors might have felt frustrated and started working on the lands because they might have gone for loans to win the contracts and had to pay for the interests on the loans.
The paper learnt that in 2000, the NDC government granted 42 TUCs covering 3,041 square kilometers of timber resources to 30 companies.
Subsequently there was a total of 192 applications for timber rights from 69 companies. However of the lot, 30 companies were qualified for the award of the TUC.
On November 2, 2000 the contracts were ratified by parliament in accordance with article 268 of the constitution.
When the current government took over the mantle in 2001, the process seemed to have become very slow, and thus compelled a Member of Parliament, Mr. John Kwekucher Ackah, to quiz the then Minister of Lands and Forestry, Prof. Kassim Kasanga, in parliament, why the TUC had not yet been implemented.
Prof. Kasanga, in his response, noted that all the TUCs had been withdrawn and reverted to the pool of expired TUCs.
He said when the new government took over, numerous petitions were received from some timber companies to register their dissatisfaction in the manner in which the TUCs were allocated Further, Prof. Kasanga indicated to the parliamentarians that the ministry had to review the contract allocations with a view to bringing about transparency, equity and sustainable resources development.
He said the government detected that the allocations were made contrary to the relevant provisions of the Administrations of Lands.
He stressed, "In our review process, we detected an anomaly, which in our opinion, rendered the TUC allocation null and void."
He said seven out of the 30 companies that were allocated timber felling rights actually had more than 103 square kilometres as per that particular allocation or grant.
Again, it was identified that one of the companies that benefited from the allocations had extant TUCs of more than the stipulated aggregate TUC area of 621 square kilometers, as specified by the law.
Prof. Kasanga assured parliament that as soon as the TUC was awarded it would be made known to the parliament for consideration and ratification by resolution.
He stated that the allocation of the contracts would then be made based on competitive bidding as approved by cabinet to maximize revenue.
However, Prof. Fobih, the current Minister of Lands and Forestry, had decided to turn things around without taking into consideration the implications of his administrative decisions, the paper was told.