General News of Tuesday, 9 April 2013
The activities of illegal chain-saw operators in connivance with some Chinese nationals is fast threatening the existence of the Mole National Park, one of the country’s largest forest and wild life reserves located in the West Gonja District of the Northern Region.
According to painstaking investigations by DAILY GUIDE, the area in the last one and half years has become the mining point for rosewood by these illegal timber merchants including some Chinese companies who travel to Damongo to engage the youth in felling large volumes of trees meant for export to China.
The practice has assumed an alarming proportion in the last couple of months with some chiefs including the Damongo Wura, Jakpa Lemon Tuntumba II and his elders cashing on it to enrich themselves by taking huge sums from owners of long duty trucks and containers that come to load the wood for export.
The felled timber cut into three-meter sized logs, is loaded on 40-footer containers carried by heavy duty trucks, transported by road to the Tema Harbour and exported to China.
Sources uncovered that the merchants secured permits with specific instructions on what volumes of wood to collect by some link men operating between the chiefs and these Chinese companies with the involvement of some power brokers in government.
These illegal activities come with short-term financial benefits, as locals are engaged for the felling with machines/chainsaws acquired for them by these merchants whose operations are further sanctioned by traditional authorities in the area.
The locals after each consignment of loading a truck are paid between GH¢7,000 and GH¢5,000 depending on the size of the truck and the amount of wood it can contain.
The Damongo Wura and his elders also charge GH¢1,000 for each truck irrespective of its size attracting more timber merchants to the town despite criticisms by officials of the Forestry Commission in Damongo who are presently challenged.
According to our checks, at any point in time there are little over 35 long 40-footer heavy duty trucks in the Damongo township ready to cart rosewood from Laribanga, Busunu, Sor No 1 and 2, Kaden, Yazori, Kopoto, Kpulumbo and Bawena to the harbour.
The West Gonja District Assembly which does not benefit from the activities of these illegal lumbering have indicated to DAILY GUIDE that they are equally challenged as the chiefs continue deal secretly with timber merchants in felling the trees.
Several attempts by some concerned youth to clump down on these activities proved futile in view of the fact that community elders were neck-deep in the operations against the interest of the masses.
According to an unnamed official at the Northern Regional Forestry Commission, Messer’s Savannah Investments Ghana Limited, contractors working on the Fufulso-Damongo-Sawla road were given concession by the commission to cut down trees that have been affected by the construction.
He said due processes were followed before these trees on the shoulders of the road were cut by the contractor but these illegal chainsaw operators capitalized on that and invaded the reserve felling trees despite fierce resistance from the commission and authorities of the Game and Wildlife Division.
West Gonja District Director in charge of the Forestry Commission Antwi Bosiako confirmed DAILY GUIDE’S investigations but said little could be done about the matter with the involvement of the chiefs who were illegally giving out the concessions.
He disclosed that attempts by his men to nip the activities in the bud attracted death threats by some chiefs who vowed to incite residents against them disclosing that efforts to seek support of the military in stopping the practice was objected by the Yagbonwura himself.
Mr. Bosiako admitted that the depletion of the reserve had been going on for over a year now, warning of dire consequences on the environment if the chiefs failed to partner the Commission in halting these activities.
When contacted, Damongo-Wura, Jakpa Lemon Tuntumba II, confirmed taking monies from timber merchants but disclosed it was GH¢500 per each truck adding that most drivers evaded this fine and their whereabouts could not be traced.
According to him, he had no idea who was behind the concession given to the merchants but said he had to take the money since the area fell under jurisdiction and therefore could not allow the merchants to inure benefits from the area while he the custodian got nothing.
The Damongo Wura however denied his involvement in felling the trees as alleged but said the service of the youth in the area was solicited in that regard on an agreed amount he was not privy to.
Secretary to the Yagbonwura, a certain Chief Libbo confirmed that the issue of illegal logging had been brought to the attention of the Yagbonwura’s Secretariat but indicated that no official communication from the operators or Assembly had been received to that effect.
He denied the Yagbonwura’s involvement and said it was the Damongo Wura who took royalties from the operators through his customary land secretariat for projects.
The activities of the illegal chainsaw operators which are seriously threatening the Mole Game Reserve, however came in the wake of concerns that the area was also being poached by some unscrupulous persons.
The poachers hide in the thick vegetation during the rainy season to hunt four different species of antelopes, while the elephants with a population of about 800 are killed for their tusks.
Oliver Chelewura, Tourism officer, claimed that the lucrative money Chinese businessmen paid for the tusks was encouraging the poaching of elephants, compelling game wardens to involve some poachers in a shootout.
The Game Reserve which is the biggest in the country and covers an area of about 4,577km was established in 1971 and is home to more than 94 different mammals, 33 species of reptiles, 300 species of birds, four species of monkeys and 700 species of plants.