Ghana participated in the 12th Bosphorous Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, from December 6 to 7, 2021.
The country’s delegation was led by the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Mr Samuel Abu Jinapor (SAJ), who also delivered a key note speech during one of the round table forums on the theme: “Effect of climate change on the ecosystem and the importance of forest and sustainable livelihoods.”
The Editor of the Daily Graphic, Mr Kobby Asmah (KA), caught up with the minister and had an interview with him on the sidelines of the summit which also attracted high-profile personalities including senior government officials, experts and academics.
Mr Jinapor spoke on a number of issues, including how he feels as the youngest minister in President Akufo-Addo’s government and working at the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, what motivates him and the legacy he intends to leave behind.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
KOBBY ASMAH (KA): Hello, currently underway in Turkey Istanbul is the 12th Bosporus Summit. Mr Samuel Abu Jinapor, you the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, have already delivered your keynote address in which you underscored the need for the global community to work out to meet the challenges for a better world. We are very privileged to have you share some few thoughts with us on how to develop this agenda better so we can build a better world. But before then, as the youngest minister in our country Ghana, how has it been like growing up as a child?
SAMUEL ABU JINAPOR (SAJ): First of all, I’m not too sure my upbringing has been too different from the upbringing of many Ghanaians. I’m a very average Ghanaian in many respects. My father was a police officer for many years. My mother was a nurse. I grew up from a lower middle income home to Ghanaian professionals who like all Ghanaian parents were looking for the best for their children and working to give their children the best in the circumstances they found themselves in and in my case and in the case of many children the focus or emphasis was always on education and I tell people all the time that given my parent’s meagre income at the time, you were not entitled to a football but at least you were entitled to a book — whatever book provided for you — so that’s it. It’s nothing extraordinary.
KA: Honourable Minister, can you share with us some fond memories. Definitely growing up as a child through school and out of school, I’m sure you would want to share with us.
SAJ: Yes, I was born in Ashanti Mampong in the Ashanti Region and I had my formative years in Ashanti Mampong all the way to age eight or so before my father was transferred to Fofoso in the then Northern Region now Savannah Region.
At the time there was no electricity, no water, you know. It was a village. My father was the station officer there. In other words the head of the police unit (very small unit) and my father was actively in agriculture and so farming was a major part of our lives.
If you were not in school, you were on the farm. That’s as simple as that and we lived in a very big communal home, so apart from his children there were all kinds of people, cousins hangers on, labourers, so it was a big household. On some occasions when we were on vacation you could see a household of about 40 people up and about and for me that was remarkable. That was fun because as a little boy you would be dealing with all kinds of people, so it was a happy upbringing. There was nothing extraordinary about it, nothing untoward about it, nothing special about it and nothing so difficult about it as well so that was my upbringing as well.
KA: That’s very interesting. Let us now go into what you do currently. You occupy one of the most difficult ministries in our country, the Land’s ministry. This is an area where many of our people are involved in and it’s like a survival thing. Yet, our forests, our lands are being degraded. You have come out with a programme Operation Halt. How is this impacting positively in our bid to ensure that we bring some sanity in our environment?
SAJ: Well first of all, I think you are right, the lands and natural resource of our country is very important because the consequences of the management of that sector are far reaching, can be positive and can be dire.
For instance, if land administration is not effectively managed you know the implications of it to investors, to the national economy, to even national security and so on and so forth and then you come to mining and the issues in mining are very prevalent and are very common and we know what that will mean to the environment generally, the water bodies of our country, the forest reserves and all of that has a lot of implications on national security as well.
You also have young men and women involved in that industry and when they are taken out it can have an impact on what they deploy their energies into. They are involved in the forestry sector as well.
KA: How are you faring in that sector?
SAJ: The bottom line is lands and natural resources is such an important department of the country and the government and you asked the question how I am faring in that ministry. No two ways about it; it’s a very difficult ministry. The issues are complex and the problems there are endemic and the cartels are many and so on and so forth and I think that by and large we are trying to hold our own and trying to do our best.
I am particularly lucky I should say, having been a lawyer in a law firm and acquiring some of the rudiments of work ethics and most particularly the four years as deputy chief of staff under President Akufo-Addo. I tell him and I tell people all the time you can’t find that in any university in the world. Those four years were critical years in my own evolution as a politician, an administrator and a lot of it I cannot say here. Some of them are abstract.
Even I tell people all the time the principle and the culture of hard work. I built a lot of it by being deputy chief of staff. With that culture of hard work as you may know, the President gets to the office at about 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and in many cases the earliest time he will leave is midnight, sometimes 2 a.m., 3 a.m.
When we have crises to deal with you stay in the office till about 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. to get things sorted out. All of those were processes of building up and the process of acquiring the needed skills to be able to handle a job like this and the concept of diligence and of crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s and the whole mentorship really helped and I think a lot of it is playing out today, having been thrown into the deepest part of the water.
This evolution and learning process have come together to equip me as the leader of a team and I must emphasise that the ministry works as a team. Several components of the ministry which works very well and which gets us to achieve the results that we achieve are as a result of team work.
KA: Honourable Minister can you share with us some of the key critical plans of action towards effective land administration in our country, Ghana?
SAJ: Yes that is a major issue on the table; land administration in our country. As you know the land sector is bedevilled with numerous problems arising out of years of action and inaction and the whole land tenure system, its history, its genesis, its foundation. We have been equipped with a land administration which is not fit for purpose and we want to be able to restructure land administration in our country in a manner that will be fit for purpose, and what does that mean?
It means to have a land administration which is anchored on integrity and the records of the lands commission become impeccable. That is our goal and how do we achieve that? The way to achieve that is to digitise the Lands Commission, reform the work culture of the Lands Commission, revamp the infrastructure of Lands Commission both hard and software. We must work to change the work ethics of the Lands Commission itself.
KA: So how are you going to ensure these targets are achieved?
SAJ: Already, a lot of work is being done. As you know we’ve changed the system for conducting searches, which means that today, to conduct a search in the lands commission will lead you to a one-stop shop.
In the past, you conduct a search at lands title registry and you will get a set of results. You go to the Lands Commission and you will get another set of results; you then go to the survey mapping division and you will get another set of results and that becomes a folder for litigation and rancour.
We’ve rationalised all of that, meaning that when you conduct a search you conduct at one place at the Lands Commission and the various departments of the Lands Commission are synchronised to produce one result and that is the step which is going to help, but there is a bigger intervention which we are working on which I should say is about 80, 90 per cent complete and very soon the President will be launching it, which will see to the digitisation of the records of the Lands Commission.
This will see a massive revamp of the infrastructure of the Lands Commission, soft and hardware, which will also see the motivation of the staff of the Lands Commission and the general work ethics and atmosphere in which the Lands Commission conducts its business.
So these are the gamut of policies and interventions we seek to put in place to reform land administration in our country and to get our land administration to be fit for purpose so that investors can come in, conduct searches and get the results. And so you are buying land for value. I mean these are all the ultimate goals which we want to achieve.
KA: Are you hoping to achieve this within your tenure of office?
SAJ: We want to achieve this by the Grace of God by first quarter or second quarter of next year. We should nip this in the bud. I mean we have no time to waste at all. There are three or four, five big ticket items we want to get out of the way.
One of them for instance is forestry which is why I’m here; which is why I’m in Istanbul; which is why I’m here in Turkey, it’s so important. Today in the world what they call carbon funding has become so important for afforestation schemes.
As you know in Ghana, our forest cover is depleted by a whopping 80 per cent. Of course in the first term of President Akufo-Addo, the number of hectares we have cultivated put together is more than all the plantations we’ve been able to achieve since 1957 to 2017.
That is remarkable but we have not gotten to where we should be. We are not in a satisfactory situation yet. We need to install the forest cover of our country and it costs millions of dollars to be able to constitute a robust, comprehensive afforestation and reforestation programme.
It costs a lot of money. The government of Ghana can’t afford that money; the public purse checker cannot afford that money and now arising out of the global effort to clamp down or combat climate change is this carbon credit. What they call the voluntary carbon market initiative where there is trading in carbon and what it means is that companies which flare carbon dioxide and who have carbon footprints find money to fund afforestation schemes in tropical areas such as Ghana, with the view of offsetting the absorption of carbon dioxide through these plantations with the carbon that they emit, which will lead them to a net zero carbon emission situation.
So there are all these companies, petroleum companies, multinational companies, big conglomerates who are knocking on the doors of our country to get into these sorts of arrangements and agreements with them, which will get Ghana to get the needed financial muscle, financial firepower in order to be able to fund its afforestation scheme while these companies and entities will offset these plantations for the emissions that they engage in.
I mean you know for instance when we went to Glasgow, Scotland, we signed lowering emissions for accelerated afforestation. We signed a letter of content, which is one of the routes we are taking to source huge funding.
My ministry has set up a technical committee to take the next step for us to be able to source this funding and since I’ve been here in Istanbul a lot of discussions have already taken place. I’ve engaged in a lot of discussions and the whole intent is to market Ghana as a destination for people to put in capital funds in order to enable us to get on with our afforestation scheme and thereby contribute to the global effort at fighting climate change and its debilitating consequences. So that is the thrust of our work.
KA: Yes, that is very elaborate but this also brings to mind the Green Ghana Project. Already we have planted more than seven million trees and like you rightly pointed at Glasgow our president also indicated that next year we are ready to plant about 20 million trees. What brought about this whole idea of Green Ghana Project? What do you really want to achieve?
SAJ: Yes, it is the vision of the President. It is Nana Akufo-Addo’s idea, his vision and we have had the privilege to prosecute that vision for him. The statistics as given to you as you can tell are very scandalous and alarming and we need to make the effort to restore the forest cover of our country.
KA: So what further measures is your ministry implementing towards restoring forest cover?
SAJ: I mean there are a lot of measures we have put in place already which are helping. Like the ban on prospecting in forest reserves; the ban on the export of rosewood out of our country is helping; we are looking at the possibility of banning the export of charcoal that is being examined at the ministry. That will also help the whole effort at clamping down on mining in forest reserves.
But while you are taking measures to halt deforestation and forest degradation you must also be engaged in afforestation and reforestation schemes.
The halting of deforestation and degradation is halting the illegal harvesting of trees but some trees have been harvested. A lot of the forest cover is depleted so you have to restore and that which is the afforestation and reforestation programme. That’s where Green Ghana comes in and most importantly, in my view, inculcating the character of tree planting that is very important.
Kobby when you go to Israel we are told tree planting is an everyday thing. It is part and parcel of their lives. When they go for picnics you are not done with the picnic until you plant a tree and it’s not as though they are compelled to do it. They do it with joy and it’s imbibed in them. It’s part of their national orientation and that is one of the key objectives of the Green Ghana Project.
The President wants us to inculcate the culture of tree planting in the Ghanaian people, particularly the young Ghanaian so that when they grow they will appreciate it. I mean my daughter planted a tree and every now and again she goes to check on it and she gets excited that she planted a tree and she is nurturing and looking after it.
KA: Thank you minister but beyond all of this is the need for sustainability. I mean you cannot embark on such an elaborate programme without taking steps to ensure that it is sustainable. My interest really is how are we going to ensure it is sustainable?
SAJ: Well that is a very good question and I think that is the crux of the matter. It forms part of what we are trying to do because if you plant the trees and you don’t nurture them you are better off not planting trees at all. Therefore, the whole framework requires we monitor, we evaluate and we ensure that the trees survive.
It’s not easy though because of the changing seasons, drought and so on, watering them, fencing them away from animals and so forth but we have a whole department both at the ministry and Forestry Commission and the reports I’ve received so far suggest that we are doing reasonably well. We are not doing that badly at all and I have said that if we plant seven or 20 million trees and we are able to ensure that 80 per cent of them survive, that is a good success rate. Your question is genuine. It’s a very good question because how to ensure that these trees survive is very important.
KA: Rounding up, can you tell us what motivates you? There seems to be a lot of fire in you. What is your motivation? What keeps you going honourable minister?
SAJ: Well, first of all, with the greatest of respect and in all modesty I’m relatively young and my view is that if you are given an opportunity of such magnitude at this age you will do yourself a big disservice if you make a mess of it, so I’m determined to contribute my quota to national development. It is not the kind of assignment or role that you can sleep on. I think it will be totally scandalous and very irresponsible to be given such an honour, a privilege to serve your country in such high capacity, only for you to sleep on the job. It will be completely unacceptable.
Secondly I have huge regard and respect for the President I serve. I don’t have to say too much but President Akufo-Addo is my mentor in all respects. Whichever way you look at it. When it comes to my own personal political career he is a huge colossus. He is a towering figure when it comes to my calculations and estimations and, therefore, to have him make me a minister of his government...
I will work myself out for any president for any government of my country but that he is president and that he has made me the minister; that doubles the challenge and I cannot afford to fail, and this is why we are working together to ensure that we deliver the mandate of the President.
KA: How is it like working at the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources?
SAJ: Thankfully for me I have such an excellent team at the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources. The deputy ministers I have are great. Honourable Benito, who is a five-time Member of Parliament, has been in the ministry for three years and is an excellent minister. Honourable Mireku Duker, who is also a two- time Member of Parliament is also an excellent minister.
The chief director and all the technical people at the ministry of lands and natural resources have been so supportive, have been so remarkable and they’ve helped me a lot to deliver on the mandate that the President has given us.
We cannot afford to let the President down; we cannot afford to let his government down and we certainly cannot afford to let our country down. Ghana must be built. Ghana must grow and we must contribute our quota to the growth of the country. That is a responsibility we cannot shed.
KA: Can you tell what legacy you will leave for Ghana?
SAJ: That we managed the lands and natural resources of our country very well. We did it and we did it very well.
KA: Thank you very much.