Ghana is currently still hoping to fully implement the last few milestones identified by the Final Joint Assessment of the Timber Legality Assurance System (GhLAS) in 2019 and start FLEGT-licensing this year. However, the COVID-19 lockdown and administrative difficulties due to 2020 being an election year could potentially lead to delays in Parliamentary ratification of steps taken by the Forestry Commission (FC). This emerged from an online panel discussion on “The impact of COVID-19 on the management and administration of forests. Views from Ghana”, organised by Accra-based consultancy for legal, policy and regulatory reform, TaylorCrabbe Initiative. The discussion on 19 May brought together experts from industry, civil society and public administration.
Remaining milestones towards FLEGT-licensing include:
- Forestry Commission’s evaluation and approval of remaining applications for conversions of concessions to Timber Utilisation Contracts (TUCs) and subsequent ratification of the approval by Parliament. A number of TUCs were already submitted for ratification, with more to follow as they are being processed by the FC;
- Forestry Commission updating and revising several Forest Management plans that were deemed incomplete or outdated by the auditor;
- (re-) appointment of an Independent Monitor.
The auditors of the Final Joint Assessment will also have to return to Ghana and assess whether the non-compliances flagged up last year were appropriately addressed.
Arrival of the auditors and appointment of an Independent Monitor was delayed by the COVID-19 lockdown, said Chris Beeko, Director of the FC’s Timber Validation Division, during the online meeting. However, a decision on selecting the Independent Monitor as well as the arrival of the auditors were expected to happen soon. But Mr Beeko was more cautious, however, when it comes to obtaining Parliamentary ratification of the Timber Utilisations Contracts in time to start FLEGT-licensing this year.
Roberto Schiliro of the EU Delegation to Ghana said that the ball was in Ghana’s court now to get ready for FLEGT-licensing within the 2020 deadline. He offered the EU’s assistance in facilitating processes, especially in developing IT solutions for remote assessment of FLEGT-licenses. There would also be increased EU direct budget support for Ghana to help dealing with impacts of the crisis. At the same time, he emphasised the importance of delivering on the VPA and FLEGT-licensing within the deadline and said the public sector had an obligation to the industry to make it work.
Richard Duah Nsenkyire, Managing Director of Samartex, represented the timber industry on the panel. He, too, stressed the importance of speeding up the process towards FLEGT-licensing from an industry perspective. Mr Nsenkyire also summarised the impacts of the COVID-19 shutdown on the timber industry, which included, among other things, rising costs of imported spare parts and consumables, higher transport costs, higher production costs due to a COVID-related wage increase combined with underutilisation of mill capacity and human resources, significantly lower production of both forest products and processed goods than in the first four months of 2018, cancellation of orders due to cutbacks in construction and other work in export markets as well as rising costs from social commitments, including provision of healthcare, water and electricity to local communities during times of reduced production activity and a COVID-related spike in healthcare costs. At the same time, the shutdown of public administration or restrictions to CSO and industry access to services had caused delays in fulfilling legal obligations and obtaining export permits and other paperwork, which in turn resulted in a loss of more orders. From FLEGT-licensing, he said, he expected improved market access not just in the EU, but also in other regulated export markets.