Monday, September 19, 2011

Too Many Laws Spoil the Forest?

Forestry-related laws and regulations might be difficult to respect in some cases, especially for small producers and disadvantaged rural communities, who may not have the means to follow costly and complex legal requirements or who are excluded from benefits of nearby forests.

There is a correlation between numerous regulations, corruption and "informal" (or illegal) economy are which are synonymous with developing countries which tend to have an overabundance of regulations (World Bank, 2004). Where there are many laws, one is sure to find a weak policy framework, and vice versa. That's why I have been very concerned with the many laws in Ghana's forest sector and how it is impacting on our forests. After all the laws reviewed so far, some more laws were enacted from the year 2000, all in an attempt to ensure sustainable forest management in Ghana.

The Forest Plantation Development Fund Act, 2000 – Act 583
Act 583 established a Forest Plantation Development Fund to provide financial assistance for the development of private commercial forest plantations, to provide for the management of the fund and to provide for related matters. Funds for this fund were to be generated from the proceeds of the timber export levy imposed under the Trees and Timber Decree 1974 (NRCD 273) as amended by the Trees and Timber (Amendment) Act, 1994 (Act 493); grants and loans for encouraging investment in plantation forestry; grants provided by international environmental and other institutions to support forest plantation development projects for social and environmental benefits; and moneys provided by the Parliament of the Republic of Ghana for private forest plantation purposes.

The Forest Plantation Development Fund (Amendment) Act, 2002 – Act 623
ACT 623 was enacted to amend the Forest Development Fund Act, 2000 (Act 583) to enable plantation growers, both in the public and private sectors, to participate in forest plantation and to provide for related matters.

The Forest Protection (Amendment) Act, 2002 – Act 624
ACT 624 was to amend the Forest Protection Decree 1974 (NRCD 243) to provide for higher penalties for offences therein and to provide for related purposes.

Timber Resources Management (Amendment) Act, 2002 - Act 617
This ACT is an amendment of the Timber Resources Management Act 1997. This Act is to exclude from its application land with private forest plantation; to provide for the maximum duration, and maximum limit of area, of timber rights. It also provides for incentives and benefits applicable to investors in forestry and wildlife and to provide for matters related to these.

Despite all these laws, even the lay man is yet to be convinced that our forests are being managed sustainably. The laws are being broken with impunity! Powerful people in society are behind illegal logging making loggers enter forests boldly and cut trees because they know they can get away with it. Forest fringe communities and poor farmers are being compelled to break laws because they claim to have no choice because the laws are restricting them from accessing the very resource they live with. Discriminatory land tenure systems and even restriction of subsistence use by people whose livelihoods depend on forest products have contributed to a lack of local responsibility for sustainable forest stewardship. One of the fundamentals of good legislation is that laws are communicated to and understood by those stakeholders most affected by them. Clear laws ensure compliance, reduces wrong interpretation of the law and facilitates the task of the judiciary. Bureaucratic procedures, complex laws, corrupt practices making illegal operations more profitable than legal activities, weak law enforcement, and low penalties for offenders have all contributed in making our laws ineffective.

It is worth noting that sometimes a complete review and redrafting of the entire forest legislation might be the best approach. (FAO, 2005)

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