Mr Thomas Okyere, the Brong-Ahafo Regional Manager of the Forest Services Division (FSD) has lauded the proposal for the establishment of forestry Courts as a means to prevent the fast depletion of the country’s forest.
He said such Courts, as proposed by Mr Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Forestry Commission (FC), if sanctioned would allow for the expeditious trial of violators of the forestry laws for more deterrent punishment against them.
Mr Okyere who was speaking in an interview with Ghana News Agency in Sunyani stressed the need for the creation of the Courts possibly in all regions with the FC’s own specialised trained prosecutors to fast-track trial of forest offence cases for the pronouncement of more appropriate and severe punishment against offenders.
He said currently punishment for offenders according to the provisions of National Redemption Council (NRC) Decree 243 as amended by the Forest Protection Amendment Act 2002 and the Act 547 that called for the seizure of any tool, equipment and machinery to the state were not deterrent enough.
Mr Okyere stressed the existing laws had made provision for the application of discretionary powers by the Courts and coupled with the unrealistic and non-deterrent penalties per the prevailing circumstances, sometimes the fines in relation to the seriousness of the offences were not drastic enough to deter illegal operators in the timber and wood industry.
He added that the effective implementation of the laws in protecting the forest had some difficult challenges because the institutions prosecuting the offenders were not independent enough for the law to take its natural course. He blamed it on socio- Political interference.
Mr Okyere therefore suggested the need for commitment and effective collaboration of all stakeholders like the traditional authorities and the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies with the FSD to prevent illegal and indiscriminate timber felling that was causing the wanton destruction of the forest.
He also identified shortage of staff like forest guards (FGs) and technical officers (TOS) as contributory factors for fast destruction and unsustainable harvesting of forest resources through the operations of illegal chainsaw operators and timber merchants.
Mr Okyere stated that one of the biggest challenges of the FC was the dwindling workforce because of ageing personnel and cited that the FSD in Brong-Ahafo alone was now short of 150-200 staff.
He attributed the shortfall to non-existence of a professional forestry training school since the closure of the former Sunyani School of Forestry over 15 years ago that was training FGs and TOs and also the ban on employment by the state.
Mr Okyere added that lack of commitment and interest by graduates from the schools of natural resources of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR) to work as FGs and TOs.
He said those who accepted the appointments as FGs and TOs only worked for a while and left for further studies because of either the diploma or first degree background or joined other set-ups for better conditions of service.
Mr Okyere reiterated that the challenge of inadequate personnel to protect and sustainably manage the forest had therefore necessitated the need for the chiefs and community leaders to assist the FSD in managing the situation because “there is presently no replacement for retired FGs and TOs”.