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Opinions of Friday, 11 December 2015

Columnist: Thompson, Kofi

Parliament Must Pass Tough New Laws To Save The Remainder of Ghana's Forests

By Kofi Thompson

Ghana's Parliament needs to quickly pass tough new laws, which will enable the minister responsible for the protection of the remainder of Ghana's forests, to confiscate to the State, all the equipment and vehicles, used by illegal loggers throughout Ghana.

It is instructive that the new draft law designed to curb illegal gold mining that compels the minister responsible for mines to confiscate all the equipment, products and accoutrements used by illegal gold miners, has sent shock waves, through the heavy equipment hiring sector - and many of those hiring out their excavators to illegal gold miners, are suddenly withdrawing them from galamsey sites across the country.

A similar new law targeting all those involved in illegal logging - and the entire value chain of the illegal chainsaw lumber business - ought to ensure that in addition to having their vehicles and equipment confiscated by the State, all those arrested and prosecuted for their involvement in the illegal chainsaw lumber value-chain, are made to face mandatory jail sentences of not less than 15 years with hard labour, if their guilt is proven in the law courts.

All state officials, including Forestry Service officials, and those working for the security agencies, who are prosecuted and found guilty of aiding and abetting illegal loggers; and the rest of those involved in the value-chain of the illegal chainsaw lumber business, must also face mandatory jail sentences of not less than five years.

At a time when Ghana is being impacted so negatively by global climate change, it is only such a tough new law, which will make it possible for our country to halt the rapid loss of Ghana's remaining forest cover.

For those who are intimately familiar with our forest reserves, what is occurring in them is horrifying and truly apocalyptic - and the helplessness of the poorly-renumerated Forestry Service officials on the ground to confront those working for the wealthy criminal syndicates busy destroying our forests with such impunity, is heartbreaking.

That painful reality, was driven home forcefully to me last night, when I had a phone call from an Akyem Juaso informant, at around 8 pm, informing me that illegal logging was going on in the area of the Atewa upland evergreen rain forest at Akyem Juaso, known as "Thompson" and "François" - which border Forestry Service reserve boundary pillars numbers: 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97 and 98.

Some of us have fought to stop such egregious crimes against Ghanaians, for nearly 20 years now, at great personal risk. However, today, at age 62, though the spirit is willing to continue that fight, one's body is too ill and weak, to continue doing so.

One is therefore now concentrating on putting together a proposal for a crowdfunding campaign, to secure funds to start building what will be the longest forest canopy walkway in the world - with 16 bridges and measuring over a thousand meters long, in the first quarter of 2016.

One's hope, is that the income-generating opportunities for micro-entrepreneurs in Akyem Juaso, Saamang and Osino, who will be able to cater to the sundry needs of the thousands of visitors who will travel to Akyem Juaso to traverse the canopy walkway weekly, will lead to a complete halt in the illegal logging, illegal gold mining and illegal hunting now destroying an area of rainforest designated a Globally Significant Biodiversity Area (GSBA), which is the watershed for three major river systems - the Densu, Ayensu and Birim - and provides valuable ecosystem services to millions in southern urban Ghana in terms of their drinking-water supply.

The forest canopy walkway will enable the Chiefs and people of Akyem Juaso to turn our section of the Atewa Range upland evergreen rainforest, into a living laboratory that will serve as a global centre of excellence, for biodiversity researchers from all over the world.

As someone who is aware of the massive destruction being caused by illegal loggers in the Atewa upland evergreen rainforest - despite the valliant attempts by a poorly-resourced Forestry Service to try and halt the egregious harm being done there - I can now see that only the passage of tough new laws by Parliament will save the remainder of Ghana's forests.

In the meantime, the Forestry Service Division of the Forestry Commission, and those in charge of national security, should monitor the activities of one Yaw (Tel: 0201353146), who is allegedly a leading illegal logger producing large quantities of chainsaw lumber, in the Akyem Juaso section of the Atewa Range upland evergreen rainforest.

It is amazing how as a people we seem to forget that the brutal civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, were fueled by selfish and greedy people just like the Yaws of our country.

When apprehended, the security services ought to obtain permission from the law courts, to examine the bank accounts of such super-criminals, whose niche is felling trees illegally to produce bush-cut chainsaw lumber - and they will see just how much in taxes they are evading: on top of their rape of our forests that constitutes a crime against humanity at a time of global warming.

The Yaws of our homeland Ghana are just like the ruthless and amoral individuals in Liberia and Sierra Leone, who were prepared to maim and kill tens of thousands of their fellow human beings, in order to get their murderous hands on diamonds, timber and gold.

The fact of the matter is that the illegal loggers, illegal gold miners and illegal sand-winners, in the Ghana of today, are potentially tomorrow's rebels and terrorists - in case that horrifying possibility escapes the geniuses currently in charge of national security in our country.

The question that those currently in charge of national security must answer is: Why, when there is only one route out of the forest at Akyem Juaso, for those who produce the illegal chainsaw lumber in the forest, to evacuate their bush-cut lumber to Osino, have they not posted honest and patriotic men and women permanently along the road from Akyem Juaso to Osino junction, to photograph/video all such truckloads of illegal bush-cut chainsaw lumber, and arrest those transporting them?

If Parliament finally passes tough new laws, which will make it possible to arrest and prosecute all public officials aiding and abetting those involved in illegal logging - as well as all those involved in the entire value-chain of the illegal bush-cut chainsaw lumber business - one doubts very much if the destruction of the Atewa forest will continue at the same rapid pace it presently is.

In light of the suffering millions of people are experiencing, as a result of extremes in weather caused by global warming, Ghana's Parliament needs to act quickly, before Mother Nature turns her wrath on Ghanaians, and exacts her revenge on present and future generations of our people - as just punishment for the ongoing brutal gang-rape that she is being subjected to, by illegal loggers, illegal gold miners, illegal sand-winners and illegal hunter