The committee that investigated allegations that government officials were complicit in the illegal felling of rosewood says it has found no substantial evidence of such claims.
According to highlights of the committee’s report released by the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, the committee said it “did not have adequate evidence to establish corruption cases against any official of government.”
The report, however, admitted that there were “several institutional weaknesses and lapses in the Rosewood trade; from the community level to the ports of exit.”
It said this was largely due to the “highly informal nature” of the trade.
The Committee, in turn, recommended an “extensive interagency collaboration between the Forestry Commission, the Police, the GRA-Customs, and the Intelligence agencies in ensuring that movement of banned and endangered tree species such as Rosewood is brought to a complete halt.”
“Effective collaboration between GRA-Customs and TIDD at the port of exit is very essential especially in the identification of wood species before exports,” it added.
The investigative committee was commissioned after the US-based Environmental Investigation Agency's (EIA) said the government was failing to clamp down on illegal rosewood export despite the ban on the commodity.
The committee was tasked to investigate allegations of corruption as reported in the EIA's publication , examine all anomalies with respect to rosewood salvage permit, transportation and export trade and make recommendations for appropriate action to be taken to halt the flouting of the law.
It was headed by a Deputy Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Benito Owusu-Bio.
The release of the highlights of the report comes after the Member of Parliament for Builsa South, Dr. Clement Apaak, accused the government of trying to cover up corruption in the enforcement of the ban on rosewood.
The MP claimed that the investigative committee already “consists of the same group of people who have allegedly been involved in the illegal trade.”
Dr. Apaak further said the Special Prosecution’s investigation into the matter will be more credible.
“That independent investigation will rather provide us with a clear picture of exactly what has been happening and will most likely indict the real NPP kingpins and senior forestry commission officials who have been involved in this trade.” Find below highlights from the committee report
General Allegations of Corruption:
I am glad to state that the Committee did not have adequate evidence to establish corruption cases against any officials of government.
However, the field investigations revealed that there are several institutional weaknesses and lapses in the Rosewood trade; from the community level to the ports of exit. This is due largely to the highly informal nature of its trade; which is composed of communities who informally harvest the timber for sale to agents, who then aggregate for sale to Rosewood traders and who in turn resell to the buyers (mostly Chinese).
Several impounded truckloads of Rosewood which had no documentation to salvage or transport Rosewood, had managed to evade several checkpoints including the Police, National Security and District BNI officials, and had only been arrested at points very close to the harbor. Data capture of Rosewood exports at the port was questionable as TIDD statistics of exports largely did not conform with GRA Customs Export data capture.
The Committee recommends extensive interagency collaboration between the Forestry Commission, the Police, the GRA-Customs, and the Intelligence agencies in ensuring that movement of banned and endangered tree species such as Rosewood is brought to a complete halt. Effective collaboration between GRA-Customs and TIDD at the port of exit is very essential especially in the identification of wood species before exports.
Allegations made by the EIA on Rosewood export volumes:
The allegation by the EIA that Ghana has exported over Six million Rosewood trees between the period 2012 – 2019 is a gross over-estimation of Ghana's Rosewood export trade volumes. Based on the inventory data available, Ghana does not have that quantity of merchantable Rosewood trees to be harvested and exported during the period in question. The Committee's assessment showed that the actual Rosewood timber harvested for the period 2012 -2019, using the Chinese import data is 489,766 (Four Hundred and Eighty-Nine thousand, Seven Hundred and Sixty-Six) trees and not Six Million (6,000,000) as inaccurately stated by the EIA. The EIA methodology used in the calculation of number of trees harvested in Ghana is not scientific and cannot be accepted.
The Committee on the other hand, admits that there are significant differences between the volumes of Rosewood timber imported by China and exported by Ghana, due principally to the deliberate misclassification and mis-declaration by freight forwarders, as a result of a lack of institutional capacity in GRA-Customs in relation to timber species identification.
Allegations made by the EIA on CITES Permits for Sale
The Committee was unable to prove the allegations made by EIA that CITIES permits were for sale based on investigations of witnesses; both material and persons. The video footages and other materials from the EIA did not provide enough evidence of collusion.
The then Focal Person for CITES Permits Nana Kofi Adu Nsiah has challenged anyone who claims he paid monies to him for CITES permits to come out and proof the allegations.
The Committee recommends that a forensic audit of the CITES Secretariat at the Forestry Commission of Ghana be conducted by the BNI or any other State Intelligence Agencies to establish the veracity of the allegations made.
Forging of CITEs Permits
The Committee's investigations revealed that a number of permits issued for Rosewood were diverted to Vietnam and the volumes approved on the permits were altered. Collaboration with Vietnamese Customs showed that some companies produce such fictitious documents at the blind side of Ghanaian officials.
The committees recommends that a similar forensic audit should be conducted on some selected companies who have been engaged in this fraudulent export trade.
Legalization of Illegal Timber:
The Committee disagrees with the EIA assertion that illegally harvested Rosewood timber should not be seized and auctioned under the laws of Ghana. We are of the strong opinion that any illegally harvested timber seized by the Government of Ghana or by its relevant Security Organs or Institutions, which is subsequently auctioned following due process under the relevant Laws of Ghana is Legal Timber.
This process is enshrined in law, which guarantees that the State can through its legal statutes ensure that the integrity of its natural resources can be safeguarded and value can be generated from it.