The negligence of state institutions, including Parliament, to review Ghana's Timber Rights Fees (TRF), popularly known as 'Forest Fees', meant for the state is having rippling effects on the Mills-led government and the Grace Bediako 'cooked figures' middle-income country.
The TRF is the rent timber companies pay for their concessions annually. This means that for the past six years, the country has lost millions of Ghana cedis to timber companies. This whopping amount could have been used to undertake development projects such as schools and health infrastructure, provision of potable water to deprived communities, and upgrading of roads in forest-rich communities.
The Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organisational Development (CIKOD), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Ghana, which has been drumming ceaselessly on revenue losses and non-transparency in Ghana's forest sector, added: "If we had charged the right fees, the timber sector could have created more jobs for the teeming unemployed youth in the country."
In CIKOD's report entitled "Making the Forest Sector Transparent," which is an annual transparency report card, in 2010 revealed that District Assemblies in forest-rich communities did not disclose the amount of royalties they received from the Forest Commission (FC) and what they used the royalties for.
One can, therefore, deduce that these assemblies are in the habit of misappropriating forest royalties meant for undertaking development projects for the benefit of the people. Also, the least said about the portion of the royalties which goes to the chiefs in trust of the people, the better.
Apart from the revenue losses, Ghana stands to lose all its native forests in 25 years if it doesn't reduce its current clearance rate of 65,000 hectares per annum.
The West African nation's forest cover has declined to 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) from 8 million hectares in 1990, Samuel Afari Dartey, Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission disclosed last year.
Indeed, Ghana's forest sector has, for several decades, been a major foreign exchange earner for the West African country, contributing between 4 and 6 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). It also accounted for 11 per cent of export earnings between 2000 and 2006, as well generating employment for the people.
However, this contribution comes from mainly the formal sector, consisting of regulated industries in timber and timber products. The informal sector, characterised by small and medium forest enterprises (SMEFEs) broadly covering forest products, non-wood-forest products and forest services, is largely neglected, even though their contribution to livelihoods and resource sustainability outweighs that of the formal sub-sector.
Framework for Transparency
Ghana's general democratic environment allows freedom of speech, association and worship, and this augurs well for the demand for transparency and public accountability. Since the advent of the mass media in the 1990s, there has been a geometrical improvement on free speech in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member country.
Sadly, with regard to freedom of access to information, which enhances transparency in governance in all facets of the Ghanaian society, the country is still lagging behind. Even accessing forest royalties' information and others from the Forestry Commission is like climbing Mountain Afadjato, the highest mountain in Ghana, at an altitude of 885 metres (2,904 ft).
It is, therefore, not surprising that many Ghanaians do not know the amount of revenue generated per year. How much royalty is paid to communities on whose lands these resources are situated, and how much goes to the state. The one in-charge should let Ghanaians know.
Furthermore, the most important document that defines the transparency requirements for the Samuel Afari Dartey-led Forestry Commission is the Service Charter, which was instituted by the erstwhile Kufuor government to provide customers' right to information in the forest sector. Amazingly, there is very little knowledge of the existence of the Service Charter for the FC.
The 2009 and 2010 reports, which were conducted by CIKOD with funding from the UKaid from the Department for International Development, covered six districts in the Western and Brong-Ahafo regions, revealed that less than 10 per cent of people in these regions know or have seen the revised 2008 FC Service Charter.
The six districts which took part in the surveys were: Tarkwa Nsuaem, Wassa Amenfi East and Juabeso, all in the Western Region, and Sunyani Municipal, Goaso and Dormaa in the Brong-Ahafo Region.
In cases where there would be disclosure disputes, the FC Service Charter does not give any dispute settlement arrangements, except to say that "wherever possible, we shall place complaint forms and boxes at vantage locations in our offices to facilitate customer feedback."
Civil society organisations, including CIKOD, have observed that since the preparation of the Service Charter in 2008, no new initiatives have been developed to deal with transparency and confidentiality norms, except as provided for in the Service Charter. Much was made by the government of the time (Kufuor-led government) to introduce service charters for all the public services, but since then, there is little evidence of performance monitoring against these commitments in the FC or elsewhere, while some of these public service institutions have misplaced copies of these useful service charters.
On REDD, the CIKOD's 2010 report findings astonishingly revealed that 80 per cent of people in the two regions are neither aware of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), nor of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) signed between Ghana and the European Union (EU) in 2009, which is aimed at ensuring that only legal timber enters the EU market.
The report further indicated that most community stakeholders (90 per cent) and district assemblies (70 per cent) expressed their lack of knowledge of the various agreements signed by government. Importantly, almost all the timber companies were unaware of REDD and VPA, which have a direct bearing on their operations.
Access to Decision-Making Process
No legally recognised mechanism for public participation in decision-making exists in these forested-communities, but, various platforms are evolving for public participation. Forest Forums in some forest districts provide a limited opportunity for citizens' inputs into discussions.
To add up, there is a national forest forum comprising representation of members from various forums at the district level. It is not yet very national in character, especially because only 35 districts out of the 170 districts in Ghana have forest forums.
A review carried out by Civil Response on the status of the forest forums in the country at the beginning of 2010, concluded among others that the forums have inadequate linkage with key policy-making institutions and platforms at the district (district assembly environmental and forestry sub-committee) level, and this affects policy uptake of issues generated at the forums. There is enthusiasm among those who participate, but it is not very representative, and women's participation is generally very low.
Right to Consultation
It will sadden you to know that Ghana has not ratified the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 on the right to free prior consultation, but rather ratified the older Convention 107 with its provision on the recognition of the rights of Indigenous and Tribal People, and this is still in force.
There are, therefore, no specific laws related to the implementation of Convention 169. However, the Directive Principles of State Policy, as continued in the 1992 Constitution Chapter 6, Article 37 Clause 2 (a), directs the State to enact appropriate laws to assure "the enjoyment of rights of effective participation in development processes..." On the basis of this, citizens have made demands for consultation in various development activities, including timber harvesting.
Additionally, the procedure for the grant of timber rights, as contained in the Timber Resource Management Regulations LI 1649 on identification of lands suitable for the grant of timber rights, upholds the right of land owners and those with interest in land slated for timber allocation to be consulted.
To have an understanding of the level of consultation on various issues related to resource allocation and forest government, stakeholders were to indicate whether or not they were consulted on specific issues like the allocation of Timber Utilisation Permits (TUPs) and Non Timber Forest Products (NTFPs), and the decisions on allocation of forest areas for extra-sectoral activities such as mining.
According to CIKOD's report, the most important issue on which people are consulted on seems to be those relating to non-sectorial activities in which 26 per cent of people indicated that they are consulted. For allocation of NTFPs and TUPs (which incidentally are the resources community members are particularly interested in), there is a 17 per cent consultation. While these levels of consultation are very low, it is a great improvement as against 2009, when it was only 6.5 per cent.
The need to acquire permits for the harvesting of timber resources and some Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) are clearly indicated in law. For instance, Act 547, LI 1649, LI 1721, but for other NTFPs and environmental services there is no clarity on the permit regime. For timber resources, specified FC officials are identified with limits on what permits they can or cannot give, but with other products, there is a lot of discretionary power for the officials.
According to CIKOD, in some instances, the institutional responsibility for the allocation of non-products is blurred. The lack of clarity on permit regimes for other timber resources played out some few years ago in the approval by Parliament for a company to harvest trees under the Volta Lake. There was a long delay from the third quarter of 2006, when Parliament ratified the agreement, until November 2010 for approval, because, among others, institutional oversight for the project was still not clear, with the ministries of Transport, Energy, and Lands and Natural Resources, the Volta River Authority (VRA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) all getting into the fray at one time or the other.
Additionally, by law, timber resource allocation for commercial purposes is expected to be through a process of bidding, after which the winner is issued with a Timber Utilisation Contract (TUC) which is ratified by Parliament. But, many people in the forest-rich communities have inadequate knowledge about this.
In order to improve transparency and good governance in the forest sector, the Forestry Commission should provide a PDF version of the disbursements of royalties from timber resources to enable others to assist in its reproduction and disbursement. The same Commission should publish royalties in the print and electronic media.
On the whole, to enhance revenue mobilisation in the forest sector, the state institutions and Parliament must work hand in hand to ensure that laws governing the sector are strengthened.