Forest Watch to join forest legal battle
Accra, June 22, GNA - Forest Watch Ghana (FWG), a civil society coalition campaigning for equitable and accountable forest governance on Wednesday announced that it would apply to join the ongoing legal battle between the Forestry Commission (FC) and the Ghana Timber Association (GTA) at a High Court in Takoradi in the public interest. The coalition said it has applied to join the Attorney General as a co-defendant representing the Minister of Lands Forest and Mines to ensure that all relevant perspectives were brought before the court for resolution.
Consequently, it has also instructed its lawyers to take fresh action against GTA members, Forestry Commission and Government on the timber revenues and the Timber Utilization Contracts (TUSs) to raise the stakes significantly.
Mr Don Kris Mevuta, a member of the FWG stated this at a press conference in Accra to throw more light on the problems facing the forestry sector of the country. The coalition, which was formed last year by a non-governmental organisation (NGO's) interested in the efficient management of the nation's forest resources, has its aim in creating greater public awareness for the protection of what remained of the country's forest cover.
Mr Mevuta said the coalition was seeking an injunction against logging by any timber company whose permits did not conform to the standards set by the Timber Resources Management Act and payment of undisputed stumpage together with accrued interest. He said the FWG has contacted a number of landowning stools to join the action as well as making available defaulters list of some members of the GTA to enable specific communities to identify their abusers and take action against them.
Mr. Mevuta also said the actual accrued and unpaid stumpages that timber companies paid to chiefs and the District Assemblies were far in excess of 60 billion cedis and not the 30 billions cedis the Commission claimed. He explained that the current legal tussle between the state and the industry was a re-run of a long-standing one, adding that the state in the past had always backed down from such confrontation and allowed the industry to plunder the forests.
Mr Mevuta accused the timber industry of consistently sabotaging efforts to reduce logging activity to sustainable levels and make loggers pay the full economic values of trees. He said the coalition also expressed concern about the state's response to the GTA challenge as not encouraging since two months after industry's action the government had not applied to join the action and to defend its records and policy. "The GTA is flexing its muscles today as it has done many times in the past in the belief that politicians and technocrats will once again retreat from confrontation and allow the industry a few more years of unrestricted plunder".
The case as explained by Mr Mevuta was that on April 27, 2005 the GTA, one of the several associations representing timber companies filed a law suit seeking an injunction to prevent the Commission from collecting outstanding stumpages, publishing defaulters names in the media or stopping defaulters from logging.
The GTA's writ offers two justifications for its demand; first, it argues that the Minister of Lands, Forestry and Mines has not observed statutory requirements for determining stumpages rates. Secondly, it claims that the Commission uses unfair method in calculating the volume of wood in respect of which stumpage is chargeable, thereby inflating the amount of stumpage payable and imposing unreasonable hardship on companies.