The majority of logging permits in use in Ghana will not fall within the legal definition the country has agreed with the European Union (1), documents obtained by Global Witness reveal. Analysis of over 800 permits handed to logging companies in Ghana (2) shows the majority of timber being cut and exported carries a high-risk of being illegal. This could land European importers with a substantial jail term or heavy fine, under the EU’s new Timber Regulation (EUTR) which came into force in March 2013 (3). These revelations come ahead of a high level progress meeting this week between the EU and Ghana on measures to stamp out the trade in illegal Ghanaian timber.
“Ghana’s logging permits are in a mess. Of six types of permit issued by the authorities to logging companies, only two fall within the government’s own definition of what is legal. Until the government gets its house in order European buyers should consider all Ghanaian timber products as extremely risky, and make sure they are doing thorough checks along their supply chains,” said David Young, Forest Sector Transparency Campaigner at Global Witness, who conducted an independent review of the lists of permits.
A briefing prepared by Global Witness calculates that 300 of the 800 permits are currently operable, covering 15,500 km2 – an area three-quarters the size of Wales (4). Types of permit clearly recognised in the legal framework, such as ‘ratified Timber Utilisation Contract’ account for 3,100 km2 in total, while other kinds which are not recognised in law such as ‘Leases’, ‘Harvesting Rights’ and ‘Entry Permits’ cover a much greater area – roughly 12,400 km2.
The new list also directly contradicts a register of permits published by the Ghana Forestry Commission “to show proof of the legal sources of wood” in anticipation of the advent of the EUTR (5). The Timber Regulation requires importers to assess risk and avoid the import of illegally harvested timber into Europe.
Young said “We have seen two lists – the one the Government of Ghana made public before the new regulations kicked in, and one it sent us. The numerous inconsistencies suggest the first step in ensuring legality – the allocation of permits – is not working. Buyers should be worried about that: if they are caught importing timber cut under an illegal permit they could face up to two years in jail in some jurisdictions.”
As well as the EU Timber Regulation, an EU-Ghana Voluntary Partnership Agreement was formally agreed in 2010. This stipulated that Timber Utilisation Contracts ratified by parliament should be the principal means of obtaining a right to cut timber. Yet the new evidence shows only twenty per cent of current permits fall into this category. The legal definition included in the Voluntary Partnership Agreement will apply as soon as a new Legality Assurance System is in place to track timber from source to market.
Furthermore, under legislation passed over a decade ago, new permits must be obtained through an open, competitive tendering process, and pre-existing Leases should be converted. This has not happened in the majority of cases, and the Ghanaian State and its forest-dependent peoples have lost millions in revenue foregone as a result.
Samuel Mawutor, spokesperson for the NGO group Forest Watch Ghana responded to the analysis by saying, “We are proud of the extensive consultative process undertaken to agree the legal definition, which clearly states that Timber Utilisation Contracts can only be issued through competitive bidding. So why is it that of 300 permits listed by the Forestry Commission only seven are shown as being obtained through a competitive process? It is a very bad sign for efforts to protect what remains of Ghana’s forests” (6).
David Young warns “The European Commission and the Government of Ghana meet this week to discuss progress on the VPA. Standardising logging permits so that they conform to the constitution and the laws of Ghana, and reversing the historic under-pricing of timber rights, should be high on their agenda”.
Contact: David Young, Global Witness: +44 7854 047826 [email protected]
Notes to editors:
(1) The Voluntary Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Ghana was ratified in March 2010. See www.euflegt.efi.int/portal/home/vpa_countries/in_africa/ghana/. It includes a legal definition that is the basis for determining whether a legality licence can be issued. This covers the source of the timber, permit allocation, timber harvesting operations, transportation, processing, trade and fiscal obligations, all referring to Ghana’s laws. This legal definition will come into play only when a Legality Assurance System and other arrangements are completed. The Forestry Commission anticipates this will be in early 2014 (see www.fcghana.org/news.php?news=57).
(2) In response to a request for information, the Ghana Forestry Commission provided to Global Witness seven lists of permits in a letter dated 7 February 2013. These have been made available to the public here: www.globalwitness.org/ghanapermits
(3) The EU Timber Regulation came into effect on 3 March 2013. It prohibits the import of illegal timber and places a responsibility on importers to check their suppliers. Penalties are determined by individual EU countries but could be up to two years imprisonment or a 50,000 Euro fine.
(4) A comparative analysis of these lists carried out by Global Witness can be downloaded www.globalwitness.org/ghanapermits
(5) Ghana Forestry Commission published on 21 March 2013 a list of ‘Timber Companies with valid Timber Holdings’, see http://www.fcghana.org/news.php?news=57.
(6) The Timber Resources Management Act of 1998, and subsequent amendments, stipulate the following stages in allocation of a Timber Utilisation Contract: (i) consent from landowner community, and other preliminary procedures; (ii) awarded through a two-stage competitive bidding process; (iii) signed by Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, on the recommendation of the Forestry Commission; (iv) compliance with other initial contacting stages; and (v) ratification by Parliament. See http://www.fcghana.org/library.php?id=15.
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