Two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have put the cause of the recent boat disaster on the Volta Lake on the doorstep of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission.
The Centre for Housing Rights and Eviction and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and Peoples' Dialogue noted that the tragedy was the result of the use of force by the officials of the division to evict settlers from the Digya National Park.
At a press conference in Accra yesterday, the African Co-ordinator of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Nana Oye Lithur, who spoke on behalf of the NGOs, called for a formal end to all forced evictions from the park till appropriate relocation and compensation for loss of homes and livelihood had been provided.
That, she said, should be done in consultation with the affected persons, ensuring that an alternative location was within a reasonable distance from the affected persons' source of livelihood.
Nana Lithur, while commending the government for setting up a committee of enquiry into the unfortunate tragedy, threw a challenge to it to include in the terms of reference for the committee an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the forced eviction.
“While we welcome the announcement of the setting up of a committee of enquiry into the boat disaster of April 8, 2006, we are disappointed that the terms of reference were narrowed to the incident and do not include an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the forced eviction of the settlers,” she said.
She said the committee also failed to address the issue of the continuation of evictions by the Wildlife Division, which could result in further human rights violations and deaths.
Nana Lithur expressed concern about what she described as the “government's slow and late response” to the boat disaster, after the evictions between March 11 to March 20, 2006, without food, drinking water and medical supplies being given to the settlers.
She said government agencies, including the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO), the district assemblies and the Ghana Health Service, failed to respond to the plight of the evictees before the disaster.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Harbours and Railways, in collaboration with the Ministry of Forestry and Mines, has set up an eight-member committee to investigate the Volta Lake disaster.
The committee is to investigate the cause of the accident, which resulted in the loss of human life, and establish the actual number of human lives which were lost as a result of the accident.
The committee has Justice Kofi Essel Mensah, a Circuit Court judge, as Chairman.
The other members are Prof Eric Quaye, University of Cape Coast, Capt Aaron Turkson, Regional Maritime Academy, Commander Moses Beick-Baffour, Ghana Maritime Authority, Mr Bright Obeng-Boampong, Volta Lake Transport Company Limited, A.S.P. George Yeboah Afari, Ghana Police Service, Dr Mamaa Entua-Mensah, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and Mrs Bernadette Esa Chinery-Hesse, Ghana Maritime Authority.
The Minister of Harbours and Railways, Prof Christopher Ameyaw-Akumfi, who announced this at a press conference in Accra on Tuesday, said the committee would examine the extent to which the Wildlife Division's evacuation exercise was linked to the disaster.
He said the committee would also investigate and make recommendations on matters related to the accident.
The minister said the committee, whose work would begin immediately after its inauguration, would be given five weeks to complete investigations and send a report, which will later be submitted to the government.
Prof Ameyaw-Akumfi urged Ghanaians to exercise restraint in the comments they made about the disaster until the results of the investigations had been made public.
The Minister of Mines and Forestry, Prof Dominic Fobih, pleaded with Ghanaians who had been affected not to be sentimental about the disaster but wait for the report of the committee.
He advised the media to be cautious of what they reported so that they did not inflame passions unnecessarily.