This is the Ghana update for Forest watch special: VPA update November 2016.
Official VPA status: in implementation since 2010
Ghana has taken some major steps towards addressing the chief obstacles holding back delivery of FLEGT-licensed timber. It is anticipated that the second joint assessment of the Legality Assurance System (by the EU and the Government of Ghana) will take place before the end of 2016. A positive outcome of this assessment would allow for an announcement of Ghana’s readiness to begin issuing FLEGT licenses.
The government is going to court to resolve an impasse with the timber industry about how to convert existing logging permits to Timber Utilisation Contracts (TUCs) by bringing them in line with the latest legal requirements, and paying communities unpaid Timber Rights Fees associated with the existing licences. A clear set of criteria for permit conversion has not yet been developed, including the method for determining the owed Timber Rights Fee, the maximum duration and size of the logging contract, negotiation of Social Responsibility Agreements (SRAs) and parliamentary ratification of the contract.
A checklist for validating compliance with SRAs has been developed and has been integrated into the audit documents for legality assurance system (LAS) auditors. This SRA checklist was a collaborative effort between forest civil society and the forestry commission.
There is general consensus between stakeholders particularly government and civil society on special permits. Legally binding guidelines for special permits have been included in a new legal instrument, which will face parliament this month (October). The instrument was based on guidelines jointly developed in 2015, and eliminates the provision for special permits (also sometimes called ministerial permits), which would have allowed companies to sidestep normal obligations around competitive bidding, ignore size and time limits on concessions, and avoid due process. The instrument also creates a new category of small scale concession permits, up to a maximum of 10km2, which civil society have not objected to.
As a show of good will, the government has finally made information on existing ‘special permits’ publicly available. It has also agreed to support efforts to publicly release information from the wood tracking system, although there hasn’t yet been any discussion about which kinds of information will be provided or how it will be made accessible. Information about the area and duration of logging permits is currently produced by the Forest Services Division, but not regularly updated on the ministry website. EFI has shared best practices with stakeholders on how to improve transparency, and civil society is now engaging with government to clarify their system for making the information available.
The Government is expecting some funding from the FAO FLEGT facility and other sources to complete about 35 management plans before the end of 2016. The traceability system is also expected to have an end-to-end trial run to identify any gaps that need to be addressed. Some electrical equipment is being acquired by the government to ensure that the district offices have better internet connection to access the wood tracking system for their work. The Timber Validation Committee which in Ghana’s VPA addresses FLEGT license complaints is already doing its work. The Independent Auditor has also done some witness audits and is expected to publish a public summary of the report soon.
This is an entry from the latest Forest Watch special VPA update, an occasional publication by LoggingOff and Fern. The VPA update provides a roundup of developments across countries involved in VPA processes, from a civil society perspective. This edition is from November 2016.