It has been over a month now since news broke that five ready for export containers of rosewoods have been impounded at the Tema Port and seizure notices placed on them as a result of the vigilance of Energy Commission officials. Through their intelligence and surveillance, they suspected the containers which had arrived at the port were containing illegal charcoal and sought to get them inspected.
Lo and behold, after inspection, it was discovered the content was illegal rosewood logs. Interesting enough, the Forestry Commission which has the mandate to enforce government’s ban on the harvesting, transportation and export of rosewood from our shores refused to show up when they were initially invited to go inspect the containers.
It remains amazing how rosewood logs can be harvested in the savannah areas or middle belt of the country and be transported all the way through various road checkpoints across the country to the Tema Port without being detected. Where are the police, Forestry Commission, customs officials and all the other law enforcement bodies along the long routes from the Savanna to the Coast?
This goes to confirm the view expressed by the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources Samuel Abu Jinapor before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee last month, when I posed a question on the continuing harvesting and export of rosewood, that a cartel is responsible for these illegal activities which are destroying our forests and threatening our environment.
The question that then arises from the Minister’s admission is, what is stopping government from going aggressively after the syndicate involved in the illegal trade, prosecuting them, jailing them and setting them as examples to the rest of the members of the cartel? What is stopping government from firing the Forestry Commission officials who are so derelict in their duty and are allegedly neck-deep in these illegal activities that they allow anything at all to pass without cracking the whip? What is stopping the Minister from using the power that the state has vested in him to crack down on the syndicate involved in these illegal activities?
There have been numerous previous findings from investigative works done by the Environmental Investigative Agency and media houses in the country that point to the operation of this cartel. But no action is taken against them. Why should it be so? Action is needed now.
The five (5) containers impounded at the Tema Port provide a good opportunity for new minister Samuel Abu Jinapor to show the world that he is not just a tough-talking minister but has the capacity to bring perpetrators of this illegal act to book. This incident is a true test of whether he will become a lame-duck accomplice of the illegal rosewood business like his predecessors, or he will actually put the interest of his constituents in Damongo and other parts of the country, including Builsa South, ahead of the interest of the cartel and stop the illegal trade.
What is clear is that the cartel as he acknowledged which is responsible for this, is testing him. If he allows them to win this test and doesn’t take any action against them, it will open the flood gates for other such illegal activities under his watch. He should be decisive and deal with those involved, “no matter whose ox is gored,” and jail those involved in this illegal activity.
Public confidence in the capacity of the state to protect the environment is waning and this is a good opportunity to reverse the tide.
I was shocked to hear Deputy Lands and Natural Resources Benito Owusu Bio tell the media on a visit to the port that they are still looking for the owners of the containers. Records are obviously available at the Customs Division at the port that details those who brought the containers to the port. They can then lead us to those who harvested the logs illegally if they were not responsible. This is not rocket science. Why is it taking so long to find those responsible? We will only struggle to find those responsible if there is a deliberate effort to cover up. Let’s lift the veil off the cartel and put Ghana’s interest first.
Let me commend again the team at the Energy Commission that first detected this illegal act. I am reliably informed that their lives are currently under threat from the cartel as strange men have been going to the port trying to fish them out. The police must act now to protect the lives of these dedicated public servants so they are not harmed by this criminal syndicate.
The writer is the Builsa South MP
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