Lands Minister Sets Records Straight On Achimota Forest Matters

The Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Hon. Samuel A. Jinapor, MP, has clarified matters relating to the acreage of the Achimota Forest given to the Owoo Family. 

Last week, reports in a section of the media suggested that the Achimota Forest Reserve had been declassified as a Forest Reserve and sold.

In a Press Conference held at the Ministry, the Minister said the allegations were false and baseless. He noted that it was the peripheral portions of the Forest, which had already been granted to the Owoo Family since 2013 that had been degazetted to allow the Family and their sub-lessees develop the land in accordance with the leases granted to them.

He said the core part of the Forest, had by the Forests (Achimota Firewood Plantation Forest Reserve) (Amendment) Instrument, 2022 (E.I. 154), been affirmed as a Forest Reserve and the Government was committed to protecting it.

Since that clarification, commentary on the matter has centred largely on the size of the Forest granted to the Owoo Family. By the Forests (Cessation of Forest Reserve) Instrument, 2022 (E.I. 144), a total of 361.50 acres has been de-gazetted as a Forest Reserve.

In a Press Statement issued on Tuesday, 24th May, 2022, the Minister explained that Government, in 2008, agreed to grant 90 acres of the Forest Reserve to the Owoo Family. However, in 2011, a Ministerial Committee, chaired by the then Chief Executive Officer of the Forestry Commission, Mr. Samuel Afari-Dartey, recommended the release of 118.023 acres on the ground that the Government was giving a portion of the Forest different from where the Family had requested.

This was approved by another Ministerial Committee in 2013, chaired by the then Deputy Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Hon. Barbara Serwaa Asamoah.

Subsequently, former President John Dramani Mahama granted Executive Approval for the release of the 118.023 acres of the land to the Owoo Family.

However, by three leases executed by the Forestry Commission on 30th September, 2013, the Commission granted a total of 148.411 acres to the Family.

The Commission in 2014 granted an additional 50.09 acres to the Family, bringing the total land granted to the Family to 198.501 acres.

The Statement said in 2018, the Forestry Commission wrote to the Owoo Family that portions of the land granted to them were “ecologically sensitive areas requiring critical protection.”

The Commission therefore offered different portions of the Forest to the Owoo Family in return for those ecologically sensitive areas.

This led to negotiations between the Family and the Commission, with the Family demanding more land on grounds that the Commission was taking away more valuable land in return for less valuable land, and that the Family will be overburdened by legal actions and costs from the people they have already granted those lands to.

Following these negotiations, in 2020, the Forestry Commission executed a Deed of Variation which granted the Family a total of 329.012 acres.

Mr. Jinapor said in 2021, the Owoo Family petitioned him again for the release of the land. Having sought the technical advice of the Forestry Commission and the Forestry Directorate of the Ministry, he wrote to the President for directions.

The President granted Executive Approval for the release of the land and the Forestry Commission submitted Schedules totalling 355.466 acres for the preparation of the Executive Instrument.

According to the Statement, the Commission explained that the discrepancies in the figures were the result of field visits and thorough analysis which shows that the actual acreage of the Forest and the actual acreage agreed to be released to the Owoo Family.

The Statement says when the Ministry submitted the Schedules for the preparation of the Executive Instrument to de-gazette the Forest, the Attorney-General requested for Site Plans and Schedules prepared by the Survey and Mapping Division of the Lands Commission.

When officials of the Lands Commission went onto the field, they also noted that the Forestry Commission’s Plans had not been drawn to scale and that the actual area of land on the ground, being released to the Family was 361.50 acres.

The Minister says it is this Final Plan and Schedule by the Lands Commission that was used to prepare the Executive Instruments releasing portions of the land to the Owoo Family.

The Statement said the Ministry is committed to protecting the Achimota Forest and it will initiate a process of an independent audit into the specific matter.

Story by: Joshua Kwabena Smith