According to Global Witness. Global Witness, the majority of logging permits in use in Ghana will not fall within the legal definition the country has agreed with the European Union. Documents obtained by Global Witness reveal. Analysis of over 800 permits handed to logging companies in Ghana 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. 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.
"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.
Global Witness calculates that 300 of the 800 permits are currently operable, covering 15,500 km2 – an area half the size of Belgium. 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.
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".