Thursday 31st March, 2022 will be recorded in the annals of Ghana’s forestry sector as one of its most remarkable days. On this day, the current Cabinet, at its 26th meeting, approved the conversion of 156 timber concessions and permits into Timber Utilisation Contracts (TUCs), introduced as a major policy reform in the forestry sector to provide for a competitive system of allocating timber resources.
The Cabinet move brings an end to the 25 year-old quest for legal timber in Ghana and paves the way for Parliament to ratify the conversion in accordance with article 268(1) of the Constitution, and section 9 of the Timber Resources Management Act, 1997 (Act 547).
Stakeholder commendations for Cabinet
This has attracted high commendation from representatives of various sector stakeholder groups, as the move signals an end to the saga of the issuance of Forest Law Environment Governance Trade (FLEGT) licences or Timber Legality licenses. Ghana has missed several deadlines because of the issue of non-conversion of extant timber leases, among other factors.
The Vice-Chairman of the Kasa Initiative and Coordinator of Forest Watch Ghana, Albert Katako, hailed the approval saying: “This is a very big relief and a demonstration of government’s commitment to the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). So we congratulate government for finally giving approval for Parliament to ratify this conversion that has been standing for 25 years”.
In an interview, he noted that Cabinet’s action will positively impact the status of Ghana’s timber products. “This alone will probably transform most of our illegalities to legal ones overnight. So we are very very close to legal”, he said.
Elvis Oppong Mensah of Civic Response and Legal Working Group, applauded sector Minister Samuel Abu Jinapor for ensuring Cabinet’s action on the extant leases after so many years of inaction. “The problem has not been with the ministry, but with some of the ministers – who did not even want the ratification in the first place. But now, we have a minister who was willing to push it, and for the first time it went to cabinet and was not withdrawn”, he observed.
He believes this will bring several benefits to the sector and the stakeholders. “It will limit the discretionary allocation of timber resources, and ensure that access to timber would be transparent with accountability working”. Also, with this development, “communities will be benefitting from forest resources through signing of Social Responsibility Agreements (SRAs), which they can take advantage of during the period of the issuance of special permits for accessing timber”, he added.
The Vice Chairman of the Forest Industries Association of Ghana (FIAG), Alex Dadzie, says the industry is very happy with Cabinet’s move. “This is a big hurdle that we have crossed that the industry is really happy about, for it had hampered efforts to issue FLEGT licences for our work”, he said, adding, “now industry has the vim to continue its work, especially exports, as the issue of illegality has been taken care of”.
On behalf of FIAG, Mr. Dadzie stated: “I give Cabinet the thumbs up, I give the Minister a thumbs up, I will give the Parliament Sub-Committee on Land and Forestry also a thumbs up for what they have done to move the industry forward as far as legality is concerned”.
For his part, Director of Timber Validation Board (TVB), Chris Beeko, said: “My immediate reaction was a huge relief, seeing the process has an end after all”. Having been assigned to the VPA, which is part of the FLEGT process, following the signing on the 20th of November 2009 of the Agreement on trade in legal timber between Ghana and EU, he and his team helped to put in place the needed systems including the Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS).
Chris witnessed the country’s failure to meet several deadlines for issuing FLEGT licenses as well as EU’s recent unfavourable stance in continuing the process.
The genesis of the issue
When the Timber Resources Management Act, 1997 (Act 547) came into being, one provision was that within six months of it coming into force, all timber leases should be converted to TUCs and ratified by Parliament. And because government did not do that, everything timber produced was illegal. Even when in April 2004, the first and only competitive bidding for TUCs was held, because the process was incomplete, Ghana’s timber was still regarded as 100 % illegal, as there was no compliance with the law.
This created a gap in the supply of raw material for industry; and to address the gap, government allowed Timber Utilisation Permits (TUPs) to be issued for commercial logging. But this also resulted in another illegality, because TUPs are meant for community projects. The EU-funded FLEGT was introduced to help curb illegalities in the sector.
The Essence of the Cabinet approval
By this approval, Ghana will become the first African country to meet the EU requirement to trade in legal timber and the second in the World, next to Indonesia. It also affirms government’s commitment to ensure the legal and sustainable management of Ghana’s forest resources.
And Parliamentary ratification will provide government with the legal backing to fight illegal trade in timber, both on the domestic and international markets. It will enable the country to derive appropriate revenue from holders of these contracts through the payment of Timber Right Fees and other statutory charges, and put Ghana back on track in discharging her obligations under the VPA to issue FLEGT licenses by the end of 2022 to cover all timber exports to the EU Market.
The ratification will support the fight against deforestation and forest degradation arising out of illegal harvesting of timber; enhance environmental and natural resources governance as well as contribute to the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1, 2, 13 and 15 on no poverty, zero hunger, climate action, and life on land, respectively.
Deputy Minister Benito Owusu Bio is positive that as soon as Parliament resumes in the first week of May 2022, the House will take the needed action to ratify these long-overdue TUCs. His certainty has to do with the fact that most members are already sensitised on the matter, and had been involved in passing the LI that request that ratification be done so that timber rights will be legal.
As part of the preparation toward the ratification process, civil society groups on forestry and natural resources have planned to organise a dialogue on the issue with members of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Lands and Forestry before Parliament reconvenes.
The PVB Director explained that after Parliament ratifies the conversion, Ghana will have to formally announce this development to the EU, before the country can issue her FLEGT licences. This will be done at a meeting of the Joint Monitoring Review Mechanism, which is the VPA’s Joint Implementation Committee between Ghana and the EU. The EU representatives will then inform their Jurisdiction that ‘Ghana is ready’.
Chris said this notification process is a crucial step, “because this has to be lifted in their system in the EU, so that Ghana’s licence will be recognised by their system”.