New regulations in Ghana important milestone for full VPA implementation
New regulations enacted by Ghana on 3 November 2017 address entrenched forest governance challenges and are an important milestone on the road to the full implementation of the country’s Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union (EU).
The adoption of the Timber Resources Management and Legality Licensing Regulations 2017 boosts Ghana’s efforts to be the first country in Africa, and only the second in the world, to meet the stringent timber-legality requirements of the lucrative EU market.
According to the co-chairs of the Ghana-EU VPA Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism, the VPA process revealed some issues to which stakeholders in Ghana have developed solutions through a participatory process. ‘The new regulations make the necessary changes to Ghana’s legal framework to meet the terms of the VPA,’ said the co-chairs. They added that ‘the regulations clarify the granting of special permits, which civil society groups had contended was discretionary and undermined transparency and accountability.’
The new regulations require all companies acquiring any commercial logging permits to negotiate Social Responsibility Agreements with adjacent communities. They make explicit the intention stated in the VPA that civil society should be represented on the Timber Validation Committee. The presence of civil society on this oversight body is a breakthrough for transparency. They also include provisions for public access to information on forest resource management.
The regulations clarify that no timber rights are subject to automatic renewal, and replace the term ‘competitive bidding’ with ‘competitive procedure.’ This is to avoid making competitive bidding the only option available, addressing practical problems that competitive bidding faced with certain permit types.
They require existing special permits be converted to Timber Utilisation Contracts (TUCs). They also address a longstanding need to convert into TUCs the extant leases that expired when the Timber Resources Management Act 1998 came into force. The Act required conversion and the payment of timber rights fees by the holders, but this could not happen.
VPAs are the cornerstone of the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. One aim of the VPA is for Ghana to be able to issue verified legal products with ‘FLEGT’ licences that automatically meet the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation. FLEGT licences also enhance the reputation of the Ghanaian timber product industry and timber products by underlining commitments to legal trade and good forest governance.