In September 2013, the impropriety and abuses of rosewood salvage permits and licenses by timber merchants within the development catchment areas of the Bui dam and the Fufulso-Sawla road compelled the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources to impose a ban on rosewood, which took effect on the 1st of January, 2014.
Interestingly, the announcement barely served to worsen the situation for the northern region of the country, as merchants and chainsaw operators expanded their coverage into the region and increased the volumes of rosewood, cut, transported and exported out of the country.
These merchants were now operating several miles and miles away from the development catchment areas, for which they had been given salvage licenses to operate, very much in contrast to existing Acts and Legislative Instruments regulating forestry and the timber industry in Ghana.
After the 1st of January, 2014, despite the ban, new permits ‘tagged’ as exemptions were received by District Forest Offices permitting certain companies to collect billets before the perennial fires of the northern regions burn them.
These permits only served to allow new grounds to be covered by these merchants and their chainsaw operators, making sure all the standing rosewood tree species were felled. The destruction wrought by these merchants and chainsaw operators left no fallow land untouched, as they covered every acre of the woodland savannah for rosewood. Forest reserves and even the nation’s premier protected area, Mole National Park in the north has not been spared the destructive activities of these chainsaw operators and merchants. The only reason why a rosewood tree was not cut was mainly because it was too small to be of merchantable value.
Several attempts by environmentalists, youth associations and distraught assemblies for concerned agencies like the Forestry Commission, the Police and other apparatus of state to act decisively to halt the destruction fell on deaf ears until now, seven months later. Wow!
So much damage has already been, since the second issue of salvage permit by the Forestry Commission beyond the catchment of the Bui and Fufulso-Sawla, where actual infrastructure development was taking place and for which these ‘Salvage Permits’ were invoked in the place.
It is however good news to all who have spoken against this destruction, to hear his Excellency the President of Ghana, add his voice publicly to ‘reinforce the ban’, and no better place to do it than at a meeting at the National House of Chiefs. I couldn’t agree with him more, when he reiterates the fact that, our environment sustains life and as such, if we do not take steps to halt the environmental degradation that is ongoing, in decades to come our children and grandchildren will live in a Sahelian environment.
The above notwithstanding I have a few observations and questions listed below, from the statement of the statement of the President which I quote below,
“In this regard I have asked the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources to impose a ban on the harvesting of rosewood forthwith and further impose a ban on the export of rosewood from this country.”
My observation here is that, the President’s statement shows how poorly enforcement and compliance of the earlier ban was effected by all concerned agencies and the need for more proactive actions by state agencies to curtail what is becoming the scourge of the savannah areas now.
The first question relates to the statement signed by the outgoing Minister of Lands and Natural resources, Alhaji Inusah Fuseini. If the outgoing Minister has come out with a statement to indicate that the ban is still in force, did it have to take the Ministry seven (7) long months to send out a reminder that the ban was still in force, especially when the harvesting and transport of rosewood across the many police barriers and export of the commodity was in full glare of the public and the responsible agencies mentioned by the President.
Finally, if indeed the ban was still in force, why did the Forestry Commission continue to issue permits, tagged as exemptions from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources?
Clearly, there have been a lot of abuses, and the President rightly pointed it out. But the question is, what is the Presidency going to do about these abuses? What agencies and faces are behind these abuses? The public needs to know. Too many environmental abuses go unchecked and such leaving perpetuators to just refine their acts and tweak existing Acts and regulations in their favour. The rule of law must be upheld.
In his statement at the National House of Chiefs, the President stated that we are a country of rule of law and among other things; we cannot allow a few small groups of people to plot and create so much hurt, pain and insecurity in our communities.
The President has called on the Forestry Commission, law enforcement agencies and the customs division of GRA, in and along the country’s borders to expedite action to curtail this illegal trade through ensuring compliance of rule of law. Otherwise these agencies that are empowered by the state through tax payer’s money should be held responsible for the hurt, pain and insecurity in our communities caused by environmental destruction of fragile savannah ecosystems today.
In as much as I congratulate the President again for his statements on the ban, and want to remain hopeful, I want to be sceptically now and ask, “To be or not to be”.
Will the reinforcing statement by the President of the state and subsequently by the outgoing Minister of Lands and Natural resources curtail rosewood logging in the savannah eco zones of the country or like all previous announcement of bans, the speeches and statements will fade with the closing of the news bulletin, leaving the few groups of perpetuators of this environmental abuses to go on with business as usual?
Until the long rosewood transport trucks cease moving and the loud noises of chainsaws stop and the pile of cut rosewood logs clear from the roadsides in the woodland savannahs of the three regions in the north, I still remain sceptical and believe this is just another charade, to make us believe ‘they’ are really concerned about the destruction going on in the northern savannah regions of Ghana.
I sincerely want to be proved wrong, so I reiterate the need for the Forestry Commission, the Police and the GRA to put their smart watchful lenses on and help check the activities of these illegal chainsaw operators and timber merchants, stripping the already fragile landscape of the three northern regions bare.
The rule of law must be upheld. We must all work hard to avert the future hurt, pain and insecurity in our communities as a result of environmental destruction of fragile savannah ecosystems today.
Let’s do this for Ghana tomorrow. Let’s do this for nature.
Long live the President!