Re: Challenging Heights’ Dangerous Proposition

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    Challenging Heights sighted the above article on Peacefmonline.com recently. Apparently, this commentary was first published in the July 9, 2010, edition of the Business and Financial Times (B & FT) newspaper and widely carried in online and electronic media. This was in response to our press statement on the subject.
    In the said press statement which Challenging Heights released, we had raised issues on the removal of the tree stumps in the Lake Volta. Our argument had been that the removal of the tree stumps in the lake, if not done properly, could rather result in the loss of more lives than we could save.
    The B & FT was worried about our comments, and questioned our motive for the statement. The B & FT editorial went further to state that “positions such as that adopted by Challenging Heights rather fuel the notion that NGO’s, in our side of the world, only seek to enrich themselves by misrepresenting the challenges of the underprivileged, pretending to be seeking their welfare”.
    Challenging Heights is equally concerned that there is gradually emerging a subculture in Ghana where there is an attempt to attack anybody or group who raises issues that one disagree with. The most recent attack has been on IMANI Ghana when they criticized Government on the XTS Korea housing deal. The following is a quotation from IMANI’s response to the attacks they received: “We at IMANI, and indeed, we speak for many civil society actors, are growing quite frankly tired of motive-questioning by some senior apologists and independent contractors of governments any time serious national issues are on the table for discussion. These groups should be reminded that their official role in this Administration and any future ones is to assist in illuminating the public about issues independent analysts raise. They have a greater burden not to question the motives of people who are contributing to national discourse in their private capacity with limited resources”. Challenging Heights could not have agreed with IMANI the more.
    At least B & FT could have taken our statement as an expression of opinion, and probably disagreed with us without necessarily descending into vilification and motive-questioning. We would have also hoped that B & FT would have analyzed the issues we had raised, and pointed to us which of our concern has been taken care of in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) document of the project.
    We are pleased that B & FT is very concerned about the disasters on the Lake Volta. Challenging Heights has also been very much concerned about the continuous endangering of lives on the lake as a result of accidents. That is why in January 2010, Challenging Heights acquired a 25-seater boat with two brand new outboard motors to particularly help with rescue efforts in the unfortunate event of any disaster.
    It will also interest you to note that between 2009 and 2010 alone, Challenging Heights supported a total of 2,112 children and women, many of whom were children rescued from the Lake. In the just ended year 2010, Challenging Heights supported a total of 1,185, many of whom were rescued from child labour on the lake. Additionally, many of our staff are survivors of child labour on the Lake Volta dating back several years. So Challenging Heights has sufficient knowledge on the situation of the Lake Volta, and is doing several things to complement the efforts of government to address the problems.
    Now to the substantive issue, we have noticed rather unfortunately that Ghana’s Parliament has passed the law giving a go-ahead for CSR to carry out the removal of the tree stumps. But the issues raised are still unaddressed. Please note that Challenging Heights is not against the removal of the tree stumps. Our statement was clear on this. We will be happy to have all the tree stumps thoroughly removed. But our concern is; which way do we want to go? Do we want to stop the boat disasters on the lake, make a lot of money, and risk the lives of more children, more women, and more fishermen or we would rather address the inherent danger before attempting to remove the trees to save more lives?
    We wish to challenge any lake and fishing expert to read the ESIA report and to assess whether the issues we have raised are not legitimate.
    There are several issues that we have raised including the loss of livelihood by the fishermen, but in this rejoinder, we wish to raise three issues only concerning the challenges we anticipate, which we wish B & FT would have addressed its mind to. In the first place, the company is not going to remove all the trees from the lake. According to both the ESIA and the officials we spoke to, the company is going to remove only tree stumps that will serve economic purpose to them, something they called loggable trees. What this means is that trees with no economic value will not be removed. Obviously this means the risk of accident on the lake still exists as more of the trees on the lake have no economic value, at least not the value that CSR is seeking.
    Secondarily, the trees are not going to be removed. According to the ESIA document, the company is actually going to CUT their target trees, which means that trunks of more trees are going to get submerged, to the oblivion of fishermen. This will necessarily increase the risk of fishermen getting their fishing nets entangled each time they cast their nets, and this will increase the risk of having children drown in the lake since they are the ones mostly forced to remove entangled nets.
    The final issue in the ESIA document that we wish to raise in this rejoinder is that of the potential loss of livelihood as a result of the project. Simply put, the generation of noise in the process of felling the trees, and the absence of the trees themselves will certainly disturb fish breeding and sustenance in the lake. We believe this is one of the reasons why you branded our statement as ‘petty’. Perhaps it is because, respectfully, B & FT does not understand the basic issues of fishing in the lake, otherwise such a fundamental issue could not have been branded ‘petty’.
    Challenging Heights believe we should not allow the economic value or the short-term benefit of the project to compromise the greater good of the people, and that is why we have raised the red flags which we still stand by. We observe that a lot of people are ignorant about the issues here. A number of people have simplified the issue to mean that “the tree stumps are causing numerous accidents and therefore we should jubilate once the trees are going to be removed”. If the issues were that simple, we would not have bothered to raise concerns.
    We wish to serve notice that the passage of the law to allow the removal of the tree stumps is not an end in itself. At the appropriate time, we will return to the issues. Like every well-meaning Ghanaian, we have a civil interest in knowing that this very important national economic and social activity is undertaken, though with no aggravated risks to our children.
    Challenging Heights is also ready to put our boat at the disposal of any group who will like to take a voyage on the lake to understand the issues practically.
    Source: James Kofi Annan (Executive Director)