It is sad to observe that for some time now, some of our leaders have become trigger happy and fallen in love with the Shoot-to-Kill system as a suggested panacea to address particularly, the threat posed by recalcitrant offenders in the management of forest, land and mineral resources in this country.
Inasmuch as Ghana needs to employ all available state resources, both human and logistics, to secure its forest, water and land resources, which is at the center of our survival as a nation, the option of shoot-to-kill has and will never be a viable solution.
Shoot-to-Kill system cannot and will never solve the problem of illegal chainsaw activities in our forests.
First of all, the prescription constitutes an abuse of the fundamental human right of offenders.
Secondly, there are several human rights based and safe-guard compliant approaches and options that we have not sufficiently and effectively applied.
Lastly, the current forest and wildlife policy of Ghana focuses on harnessing the non-consumptive values of our forests, while employing collaborative, transparent and inclusiveness as guiding principles the realization of its goals and objectives.
As the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Forestry Commission, the state agency mandated by law with the function to create, protect and manage the permanent forest estates and protected areas in the various ecological zones of the country to conserve Ghana’s biophysical heritage, while working towards a vision of leaving future generations and its communities with richer, better, more valuable forestry and wildlife endowments than we inherited, the task is unending and demanding as it all over the world.
But, there are several human right based approaches that come in handy before we even consider the aggressive and terminator approach being suggested to address the threat of illegal chainsaw activities in our forests.
Have we, so soon forgotten the national debate that ensued both in public and on the corridors of our legislators when a Deputy Minister of State made similar proposals as the solution to address the galamsey menace plaguing the country?
That aside, is this strategy an admission that all strategies have failed and this terminator system remains the only solution to addressing the threats to our forests, lands and water resources?
In addressing the infringements to the fundamental human rights of the offenders associated with this proposal, I will refer the CEO and all others thinking of proposing shoot-to-kill as a strategy in this era, to avert our minds to the provisions first of all in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana which was reiterated in a similar discourse on the floor of Parliament in March this year.
During the submissions of the Majority Leader of Parliament, Hon. Mensah Bonsu, he referred us to Article 13, (1) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, which states that “no person shall be deprived of his life intentionally except in the exercise of the execution of a sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence under the laws of Ghana of which he has been convicted.”
Just like the provisions in the constitution, this does not mean that, if push comes to shove and shoot-to-kill is reasonably and justifiably inevitable in the performance of the functions and duties of the Forestry Commission, that right cannot be exercised, as stated in clause 2 of Article 13.
The provision states that “A person shall not be held to have deprived another person of his life in contravention of clause (1) of this article if that other person dies as the result of a lawful act of war or if that other person dies as the result of the use of force to such an extent as is reasonably justifiable in the particular circumstances: for the defence of any person from violence or for the defence of property; or in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or for the purposes of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny; or in order to prevent the commission of a crime by that person.”
Clearly, Shoot-to-Kill is not an acceptable approach and strategy, unless reasonably and justifiably inevitable in the particular circumstances. We cannot also lose sight of the fact that, with such a directive, the hunted will eventually become the hunter, and this will not order well for the parties and the state.
Secondly, we need to know that, the proposal to resort to Shoot-to-Kill system in addressing the threats posed by the agents of deforestation and forest degradation in Ghana in the management of the forestry sector in Ghana, fails to take into consideration the full complement of options that Forestry Commission can deploy efficiently and effectively in the achievement of its mandate.
In fact, existing statistics show that illegal logging, is one of the major drivers for the massive degradation and overexploitation country’s forest and tree resources and requires government to take bold and timely actions in addressing it.
The activities of these chainsaw operators are characterized by reckless impunity to the extent that the dry savanna regions of Ghana are not spared and there are unfortunately no proactive solutions in sights.
The trend highlights the underlying drivers of greed and disregard for rule of law by the syndicate behind the trade, largely preying on the poverty of poor job seeking individuals to perpetuate their actions.
Many are they who have a soft spot for these illegal operators based on the excuse of poverty and unemployment.
It is important to know that the economic and livelihood excuse proffered by illegal chainsaw operators is not a relevant consideration in this matter, particularly when the laws of the state considers illegal chainsaw operation as an offence.
Secondly there are more sustainable ways of producing lumber for use and profits that still remain largely untapped by private entities in Ghana.
This said, it is important to know that, the threat from illegal chainsaw operators are happening for many reasons and the CEO of the Forestry of Commission needs to consider these humble suggestions in the mix of strategies that we can all work towards.
The Commission needs to be proactive in addressing threats.
We all recognize and sympathize with the human and logistical resource challenges of the Commission, but a lot of these issues can be avoided if the Commission can be more proactive rather than reactive. One wonders the proactiveness and the commitment of Commission if chainsaw and galamsey actors can camp in a forest and operate for more than a week without any action, particularly for these activities that are so obvious and loud in their nature.
To ensure effective protection for our current forest estates, the Commission must be proactive with the little resources at their disposal and avoid reactive tendencies as is mostly the case.
This is not in effect saying that some reactive responses are not necessary and that is why the recent bust of chainsaw operators and their equipment in the Western Region of Ghana by the joint action of the Forestry Commission and the Law enforcement taskforce is commendable.
We however mourn the loss of the gallant military officer in the operation and in all unqualified terms frown upon the actions of illegal chainsaw operators leading to the loss of lives.
The old age adage “prevention is better than cure” is an instructive and effective risk management tool for serious consideration, planning and implementation, as we move forward.
The Forestry Commission needs to activate data and monitoring system to follow the Chainsaw operation.
Ghana has had an elaborate legal framework for the regulation of use of Chainsaws in the country. At a point in time chainsaws were completely banned from timber operations, but that has changed giving way to a progressive self-regulatory mechanism that is backed by law.
Unfortunately, these regulations have largely gone without enforcement and compliance.
The Timber Resource Management and Legality Licensing regulations, 2017 (LI 2254) provides clear provisions on the requirement to register chainsaw; registration of chainsaw by District Assemblies and registration of chainsaw at the District Forest Offices.
Importantly regulation 68 of the LI stipulates that:
(1) A person who registers a chainsaw at a District Assembly shall also register that chainsaw at the District Forest Office where the chainsaw is to be used to fell trees.
(2) An application for registration of a chainsaw at a District Forest Office shall be preceded by a registration at the District Assembly in accordance with regulation 67.
(3) An application for registration of a chainsaw at a District Forest Office shall be as set out in the Seventh Schedule.
(4) An officer of the District Forest Office shall on receipt of an application under sub-regulation.
(5) (a) inspect the chainsaw, and (b) ensure that the condition of the chainsaw meets the relevant requirement for use of the chainsaw. (c) Where the District Officer is satisfied with the condition of the chainsaw. that officer shall allocate a registration number to the registered chainsaw.
(6) A fee is not payable for the registration of a chainsaw at the District Forest Office.
The existing system is a good opportunity to track the ownership and use of the chainsaws, which could also serve as opportunity to either review its regulatory mechanism and associated compliance in relation to its use for illegal activities.
Shoot-to-Kill, the political interference
A very important consideration to addressing the activities of illegal chainsaw operators in our forests, is the urgent need to shoot-to-kill point blank the influence and interference of politicians in the mandate of technical and professional forest managers.
The situation where political appointments intimidate and give instructions to perpetuate illegal logging activities as well as interference in legal due processes for offenders of forest resource management regulations should stop and should be publicly abhorred.
The natural resources of this country are to be used for the greater benefit for today and tomorrow and forest reserves in particular reserves are not the spoils of war for political parties to allocate to their foot soldiers to the detriment of the public good.
There are many forest and park managers willing to do sacrifice so much more to secure forests and wildlife resources but the interference and threat of loss of job from the powers that be, are making these committed individuals incapable of performing their duties, pursue a consistent commitment to sustainability as your function and vision mandates
The wavering commitment of the Forestry Commission in the performance of its functions and achievement of its vision, gives room for offenders to doubt their true commitment to create, protect and manage the permanent forest estates and protected areas in the various ecological zones of the country to conserve Ghana’s biophysical heritage, working towards a vision of leaving future generations and its communities with richer, better, more valuable forestry and wildlife endowments than we inherited.
The State should invest in resourcing the Commission to do its work.
In as much as we acknowledge the fact that, most institutions in Ghana are struggling for reasons of inadequate human and logistical resources, the Forestry Commission is unfortunately one of the poorly resourced institutions in the country.
For all the protected areas that need to be secured, and considering their remoteness and the hard work our men and women put in to ensure the security of our natural heritage, we could have done more to make their work a bit easier.
Knowledge of the meagre operational funds given to various forest and park managers for a whole quarter; for example: for protection services will make you wonder the true commitment of our governments – past and present to the protection of our natural heritage.
Instead of spreading thinly the already limited resources on tens of thousands of youth in short-term afforestation programs, a good qualified number should have been deployed to support the shortfall in forest protection needs in the country.
Forest guards for many forest reserves all over the country need to be reinforced and given adequate logistics and incentives for the performance of their duties.
When illegal chainsaw operators in forests have more intelligence and firearm protection in comparison to the forest guard, where lies motivation and incentive to go to such a risky job.
To conclude, the task of forest and wildlife resource management in Ghana is definitely daunting with the particular challenges of inadequate resources and political interference, but where there is a will there is always a way.
It therefore requires that in addressing the illegal chainsaw menace in our forests we need to avert our actions to proactive human right based approaches that are implemented in a transparent and inclusive manner involving all stakeholders and ensures the application of both carrot and stick approaches. Shoot-to-Kill system belongs to an era many centuries past and not suitable for progressive collaborative and non-consumptive resource management strategies that we are pursuing at national level as well as all the international obligations that we have committed to as a country.
By: Daryl Bosu