The Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Mr Samuel Abu Jinapor says, he believes strongly that, the controversial Legislative Instrument (L.I. 2462) was passed with well-motivated reasons after it was sponsored by the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology. The L.I. 2462 titled ‘Environmental Protection (Mining in Forest Reserves) Regulations’ was passed in November 2022. According to Environmental activists, the 2018 Environmental Guidelines excluded Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas (GSBAs) such as Tano Offin and Atewa Range Forest Reserves from any mining or exploration but under the new L.I., however, the President can approve mining in these uniquely critical areas if it is “in the national interest”. The Environmental activists revealed that, they only became aware of the passage of the new L.I. in March 2023 at a workshop organised by the Environmental Protection Agency. Reacting to the controversies surrounding the passage of the new L.I. at a nature crime workshop organised for Journalists by the US Agency for Global Media in Accra, Mr Jinapor noted that it was passed based on sound reasoning. He said “The law was sponsored by the Ministry of Environment, Science, Innovation and Technology and I do know that the law was promulgated on sound reasoning and the Executive Instrument is laid in parliament for 21 days to allow critique or input from all of us”. With the controversy that the new L.I. has generated, Mr Jinapor was of the opinion that, the focus of all stakeholders should be on the issuance of forest entry permits. Referring to the new L.I., the Minister said “But for me, that is not the issue and the most important point I have to make is that, pursuant to the law of the country even me the Minister, I cannot enter a forest reserve without a forest entry permit, so whatever activity one wants to take in the forest reserve require a forest entry permit. So if I grant a license or a lease for any company to be engaged in mining or whatever activity in the forest reserve, the final authorization required to be able to enter the forest having gone through the EPA permits, and the rest, the final authorization is the forest entry permit”. Addressing a press conference in June this year, some CSOs in the environmental sector rejected the new L.I. saying that, it would grant unfettered access to the destruction of the already depleted forest reserves in the country. They argued that, new L.I. aims to support permission for mining across 100% of Ghana’s forest reserves without taking into consideration the rural communities whose environmental rights are being completely ignored. But the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources believes that, the focus of all stakeholders should be on the guidelines, protocols and the exercise of discretion in relation to the issuance of the forest entry permit. He told the journalist who asked him the question about the new L.I. at the workshop “I think the focus should be on the guidelines, protocols, and exercise of discretion in relation to the issuance of the forest entry permit. Yes, the L.I. you referred to was sponsored by the Ministry of Environment for reasons I know are well-motivated but fundamentally, regardless of the L.I. there is a substantive act of parliament that requires you to secure a forest entry permit before you can enter into a forest reserve”.
Workshop in session
He revealed that, in order to provide the needed checks and balances in the sector, stakeholders including the media should be able to track “what kind forest entry permits are issued in Ghana, what motivated the issuance of such permits, are they even issued to persons who are entitled and qualified, and are they following the necessary protocols underpinning the issuance of the permit”.
Entry permit abuse
Erastus Asare Donkor, a journalist with Joy News who has spent years covering illegal mining activities in Ghana’s forest reserves pointed out to the Minister that the issuance of entry permits is being abused and when the permits are granted, they don’t go back to check whether the person is using it for the specific purpose acquired for. He cited the Apamprama forest reserve in the Ashanti Region which he said is almost gone as an example.
Name and Shame
Responding to the concerns raised by Erastus, the Minister disclosed that, “years of actions and inaction” have led Ghana to its current state of environmental vandalism. He said, as a Minister, he has come under strong criticism from those interested in doing mining for not signing mining licences or leases “but my attitude has always been that, the number of permits we have been given already, we are struggling to regulate them so why also give a new permit”. Mr Jinapor assured that, government through the Forestry Commission is putting measures in place to sanitize the issuance of the forest entry permit and cordoned off the various forest reserves across the country.
Some participants at the workshop
He said, protecting the country’s forest reserves is a national matter and not a partisan sectorial issue and called on all stakeholders to play their part in securing a green future for the country. He also urged the media not to hesitate to name and shame those destroying the environment, adding, it keeps everybody on their toes.