Monday, September 19, 2011

Too Many Laws Spoil the Forest?

Forestry-related laws and regulations might be difficult to respect in some cases, especially for small producers and disadvantaged rural communities, who may not have the means to follow costly and complex legal requirements or who are excluded from benefits of nearby forests.

There is a correlation between numerous regulations, corruption and "informal" (or illegal) economy are which are synonymous with developing countries which tend to have an overabundance of regulations (World Bank, 2004). Where there are many laws, one is sure to find a weak policy framework, and vice versa. That's why I have been very concerned with the many laws in Ghana's forest sector and how it is impacting on our forests. After all the laws reviewed so far, some more laws were enacted from the year 2000, all in an attempt to ensure sustainable forest management in Ghana.

The Forest Plantation Development Fund Act, 2000 – Act 583
Act 583 established a Forest Plantation Development Fund to provide financial assistance for the development of private commercial forest plantations, to provide for the management of the fund and to provide for related matters. Funds for this fund were to be generated from the proceeds of the timber export levy imposed under the Trees and Timber Decree 1974 (NRCD 273) as amended by the Trees and Timber (Amendment) Act, 1994 (Act 493); grants and loans for encouraging investment in plantation forestry; grants provided by international environmental and other institutions to support forest plantation development projects for social and environmental benefits; and moneys provided by the Parliament of the Republic of Ghana for private forest plantation purposes.

The Forest Plantation Development Fund (Amendment) Act, 2002 – Act 623
ACT 623 was enacted to amend the Forest Development Fund Act, 2000 (Act 583) to enable plantation growers, both in the public and private sectors, to participate in forest plantation and to provide for related matters.

The Forest Protection (Amendment) Act, 2002 – Act 624
ACT 624 was to amend the Forest Protection Decree 1974 (NRCD 243) to provide for higher penalties for offences therein and to provide for related purposes.

Timber Resources Management (Amendment) Act, 2002 - Act 617
This ACT is an amendment of the Timber Resources Management Act 1997. This Act is to exclude from its application land with private forest plantation; to provide for the maximum duration, and maximum limit of area, of timber rights. It also provides for incentives and benefits applicable to investors in forestry and wildlife and to provide for matters related to these.

Despite all these laws, even the lay man is yet to be convinced that our forests are being managed sustainably. The laws are being broken with impunity! Powerful people in society are behind illegal logging making loggers enter forests boldly and cut trees because they know they can get away with it. Forest fringe communities and poor farmers are being compelled to break laws because they claim to have no choice because the laws are restricting them from accessing the very resource they live with. Discriminatory land tenure systems and even restriction of subsistence use by people whose livelihoods depend on forest products have contributed to a lack of local responsibility for sustainable forest stewardship. One of the fundamentals of good legislation is that laws are communicated to and understood by those stakeholders most affected by them. Clear laws ensure compliance, reduces wrong interpretation of the law and facilitates the task of the judiciary. Bureaucratic procedures, complex laws, corrupt practices making illegal operations more profitable than legal activities, weak law enforcement, and low penalties for offenders have all contributed in making our laws ineffective.

It is worth noting that sometimes a complete review and redrafting of the entire forest legislation might be the best approach. (FAO, 2005)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Some Forest Legislation after Independence till 1999

Going through legislation has been a difficult thing and this has resulted in the long break. Finally, I am back! This time we will sample some of the laws that were passed in the forest sector after independence. Let's focus on those that came into being from 1957 to 1999

The Forests Amendment Act, 1957

This is a further amendment to Cap 157 (The Forest Ordinance, 1927) after independence. The amendment of the principal Act concerns regulation making powers of the Governor in Council and the extension of that power so as to apply regulations to areas constituted as Forest Reserves by by-laws made by the appropriate local authority. In the case of conflict between local by-laws and a regulation, the provisions of the regulation shall prevail.

The Forest Protection Decree, 1974 (NRCD 243)

NRCD 243 declared any specified damaging of trees, cultivation, creating fires, obstructing of water flows, hunting or fishing or grazing or trespassing of cattle in a Forest Reserve without a written permission of the competent forest authority to be an offence. This decree mainly replaced the offence creating sessions of the Cap 157 and, for the first time, took a serious look at persistent offenders and forest officers who took part in forest offences by conniving with law breakers. Under this decree, persistent offenders were banned from engaging in timber business and forest officers found culpable were summarily dismissed. Duties and powers of Forest Officers were specified. The NRCD 243 was a major step to ensure a strict protection of Ghana’s forest.

The Concessions Act 1962 – Act 124

The Concessions Act 1962 – Act 124, prohibited the creating of forest reserves by local governments; it removed the role of courts in granting timber concession and transferred that role to a Minister of State, and vested all timber rights in the president acting as a trustee for the owners. This law was deemed appropriate by the government of that time when it wanted to control the commanding heights of the economy.

The Trees and Timber Decree, 1974 (NRCD 273)

This decree aimed at protecting trees and timber and regulating their cutting, transportation and export. It required timber merchants to register property marks with the office of the Chief Conservator of Forests. The timber merchants were required to mark the stump of each tree they felled and the logs with their unique registered property marks. Areas outside forest reserves but having a good stocking of timber were declared temporarily protected areas until the timber was harvested.

Forestry Commission Act, 1980 - Act 405

This Act provides for the establishment of the Ghana Forestry Commission. The functions of the Ghana Timber Marketing Board, the Forest Products Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Forestry Department and the Department of Game and Wildlife shall be exercised under the supervision of the Commission.

The Trees and Timber (Amendment) Act, 1994 – Act 493

This Act to amended the Trees and Timber Decree, 1974 (N.R.C.D.273). This act placed punitive levies on the export of certain timber species in log form and on the export air-dried lumber. This law aimed at encouraging the development of the local timber industry through processing of the harvested logs beyond the saw-milling stage. It was expected to add value to the logs before export and also to create employment. In effect, this Act supports the objective 2 of the 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy.

The Timber Resource Management Act, 1997 - Act 547

This Act streamlined the process for granting rights to harvest trees and extract timber (timber rights) to ensure the sustainable management and utilization of timber resources. The act is intended to contribute to achieving the conservation and sustainable development of the nation’s forest resources, as indicated in the aim of the 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy. In the act, harvesting timber without obtaining a Timber Utilization Contract (TUC) was made an offence. Going contrary to this provision attracts a fine of 1000% of the timber or imprisonment for 6 months to 2 years, and confiscation of the timber, tools, equipment and machinery.

Timber Resources Management Regulations, 1998 - L.I. 1649

This Legislative Instrument follows the Act 547 and provides rules and regulations to guide the implementation of Act 547. Under the Act 547, the contract holder enters into a contract with the Government to utilize and manage the timber resource on stated Terms and Conditions.

The Forestry Commission Act, 1999 - Act 571

This is an ACT to re-establish the Forestry Commission in order to bring under the Commission the main public bodies and agencies implementing the functions of protection, development, management and regulation of forests and wildlife resources and to provide for related matters. The Commission is a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal and may sue and be sued in its corporate name. The re-established Forestry Commission is responsible for the regulation of the utilization of forest and wildlife resources, the conservation and management of those resources and the co-ordination of policies related to them.

So Ghana's forest sector has not lacked regulations! Then, the question is, "how has these legislation impacted on our forest resources?"