The Attorney General (AG) and Forestry Commission (FC) have been sued over the grant of the allocation of rights for commercial logging in the country.
The Writ filed at the High Court by Obed Owusu Addai, a citizen of Ghana and Managing Campaigner of ECOCARE Ghana, a non-governmental organization, is praying for an order restraining the Minister of Land and Natural Resource and Forestry Commission (FC) from entering into any transaction, contract or undertaking involving the grant of a right or concession for the exploitation of commercial timber rights without Parliamentary ratification.
Mr Addai is seeking a declaration that the issuance of commercial timber rights known as “Special permits” or “administrative permits” or “ministerial permits” constituted a transaction involving the grant of a right for the exploitation of a natural resource of Ghana and same was subjected to ratification by Parliament.
He is also praying the Court for a declaration that the interpretation given to Section 20 (2) of the Timber Resources Management Act, 1998 (Act 547) by the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources and the FC that purported to allow the issuance of commercial timber rights known as “special permit” or “administrative permit” or “ministerial permits” without recourse to Parliamentary ratification “is erroneous and unconstitutional.”
The Plaintiff is seeking a declaration that all special permits or administrative permits or ministerial permits involving the grant of a right to exploit timber resources of the Ghana granted by the Minister of Land and Natural Resources or the FC without ratification are null and void, illegal and ineffective.
Plaintiff contends that the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources together with the FC have over the years allocated rights for the commercial logging of timber in a form and manner alien and in breach of the law of the Ghana on the grant of commercial timber rights.
According to the Plaintiff, these illegal rights have been variously been described as “special rights, “ministerial letters or permits’ or “administrative permits”
“Plaintiff says the Timber Resources management (Amendment) Act, 2002 (Act 617) inserted a new interpretation clause in subsection (2) of Section 20 of Timber Resources Management Act, 1998 (Act 547).
The Plaintiff holds that the Ministers for Land and Natural Resources have over the years been issuing these illegal special permits because they have wrongly interpreted the amended interpretation section 20 (2) of the Timber Resource management Act, 1998 (Act 547) (as amended by Act 617) as granting them the power to issue other types of commercial timber rights in additional to those expressly specified in law.
According to the Plaintiff, “the erroneous interpretation of this insertion by Ministers for land and Natural Resources have over the years created a false belief that a Minister for Land and Natural Resources has the power to issue other types of commercial timber rights without the need to follow the laid–out processes for the grant of Timber Utilization Contracts.
He held that “these Special permits are issued without adherence to the required laid-out process for the grant of commercial timber rights prescribed in law.”
“The grant of these Special permits entail an opaque process that ends in the grant of commercial timber rights without the required screening of the permit holders, competitive bidding and most importantly parliamentary ratification.
That a large portion of commercial timber rights granted by the Ministers of Land and Natural Resources and the second defendant (AG) fall within the category of these Illegal “special permits.”
The Plaintiff said the 2020 Technical Evaluation Report of the Ghana Legality Assurance System (GhLAS) revealed a rise in the grant of the Special permits in blatant disregard of the law.
According to the Plaintiff, the report indicated that the number of illegal Special permits granted was increasing steadily.
“The report shows that 124 Special permits were in operation as of 2014, a further 199 special permits were issued in 2018 and 262 were issued in 2020. All in blatant disregard of the Constitution and the laws on the grant of timber rights.”
Plaintiff averred that since the passage of LI 2254, the FC continue to issue their special permits without recourse to the laid down procedures.
He is of the view that the continuous disregard of the provision in Article 268 (10 and Act 547) by the Ministers of Land and Natural Resources and Chief Executive Officer of the FC did not augur well for good governance and sustainable management of the country’s resources.
Plaintiff said he is not opposed to government’s quest to develop Ghana through the utilization of natural resources.
However, he said utilization should be done in accordance with the laws of Ghana.
Plaintiff contended that unless compelled by the Court, the Ministers of the Land and Natural Resources and the Chief Executives of FC would continue in their illegal act of awarding commercial timber rights in the form of Special permits without recourse to laid down processes of the law including the requirement for parliamentary ratification.