The Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Samuel Abdulai Jinapor, has dismissed reports making the rounds that the Achimota Forest Reserve is being sold.
He said the Achimota Forest would not be sold and remained as it was, adding that the government would continue to reforest and develop it into a true forest reserve to serve Accra and the people of Ghana.
“The Achimota Forest remains an integral part of the government’s plan for the protection of our forest cover and our agenda for aggressive afforestation and reforestation.
“The government, through the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, will continue to protect the Achimota Forest and prevent it from being further encroached,” he said at a press conference in Accra yesterday.
Mr Jinapor indicated that the government was also committed to ensuring that whatever happened on the peripheral portions of the land did not affect the ecological integrity of the forest.
Following the publication of the Forests (Cessation of Forest Reserve) Instrument, 2022 (Executive Instrument (EI) 144), there have been reports, especially on social media, among other outlets, that the Achimota Forest Reserve has been sold.
But addressing the press in Accra, Mr Jinapor entreated the public to disregard the reports, as they were false, baseless and non-factual.
“Indeed, what the propagators of these messages have refused to add is that EI 144 was published together with the Forests (Achimota Firewood Plantation Forest Reserve) (Amendment) Instrument, 2022 (EI 154),” he said.
He explained that EI 144 was to make the peripheral portions of the forest reserve cease to be a forest reserve to ensure development that was consistent with the area of the forest reserve.
Those portions, sections of which had been developed, had already been granted to the Owoo Family in September 2013, Mr Jinapor said.
“Further, EI 154, on the other hand, states emphatically that the area of the forest shall remain a forest reserve. Both instruments contain adequate provisions that seek to protect the ecological integrity of the forest reserve,” the minister said.
Mr Jinapor indicated that in 1921, the then Gold Coast government, by a Certificate of Title dated December 16, 1921, and made under the Public Lands Ordinance, 1876, acquired from the Owoo Family the parcel of land on which the Achimota School was situated.
Subsequently, he said, by another Certificate of Title dated May 17, 1927, the government acquired from the same family another tract of land measuring approximately 479 hectares as an extension to the Achimota School, adding that although there were receipts indicating payment of compensation for the 1921 acquisition, there were no records of payment of compensation for the 1927 acquisition.
“By an Order 31 of 1930, dated July 17, 1930, the government, pursuant to its power under the Forests Act, 1927 (Cap 157), constituted the land acquired in 1927 as a Forest Reserve for the purposes of Fuel Wood Plantation for Achimota School,” he said.
Following many encroachments on the forest reserve, Mr Jinapor said, the pre-acquisition owners, the Owoo Family, in 2007 submitted a petition to then President John Agyekum Kufuor for the release of the portion of the forest reserve adjoining the Tema Motorway.
He said after consultations between the Office of the President and the relevant bodies, it was recommended that that portion of the forest reserve be released to the Owoo Family, adding that “this culminated in an agreement, dated 24th November, 2008, between the government, acting by the then Ministry of Lands, Forestry and Mines, and the Owoo Family for the grant of a lease of over 90 acres of the land to the Owoo Family for a term of 99 years. The lease agreement was, however, not executed as agreed”.
“In 2011, the Owoo Family submitted another petition to the then Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Mike Hammah, for the grant of portions of the forest reserve. The minister constituted a committee, chaired by the then Chief Executive Officer of the Forestry Commission, Samuel Afari Dartey, to inquire into the legitimacy of the request and its impact on the forest reserve.
He said the committee considered the request of the Owoo Family as legitimate, for which the minister sought Executive approval to implement the recommendations.
“On September 5, 2013, the then President, John Dramani Mahama, gave Executive Approval for the conversion of the forest reserve into an ecotourism park and to release the peripheral portions of the forest reserve to the Owoo Family, in accordance with the recommendations of the committee,” Mr Jinapor added.
Pursuant to the said Executive Approval, he said, the Forestry Commission, acting on behalf of President Mahama, “granted these portions of the forest reserve to the Owoo Family for a term of 99 years”.
“The family then registered the land in its name and granted sub-leases to other private developers, with the consent of the Forestry Commission,” he added.
The minister explained that because the land remained a forest reserve, by virtue of Order 31 of 1930, the lessees and sub-lessees could not develop it, although they had obtained all the necessary permits.
He said pursuant to the same Executive Approval, the Forestry Commission, acting on behalf of President Mahama, entered into an agreement with Aikan Capital, a limited liability company, for the development of core areas of the forest into an ecotourism park.
The commission also executed a lease agreement with the company in February 2016, by which 227.84 hectares of the reserve was leased to the company to undertake the planned development.
“The Owoo Family and their grantees, in a bid to develop the peripheral portions of the land which had already been granted to them, continued to petition the government to release the peripheral portions as a forest reserve,” Mr Jinapor said.
The government, after assessing the entire situation, and based on the advice of the Forestry Commission that the ecological integrity of the forest reserve would not be compromised by the release, decided to release the peripheral portions of the land from the forest reserve, he said.
That, the minister said, led to the publication of the two instruments, the Forests (Cessation of Forest Reserve) Instrument, 2022 (E.I. 144), and the Forests (Achimota Firewood Plantation Forest Reserve) (Amendment) Instrument, 2022 (E.I. 154).
He said the first made the peripheral portions of the forest reserve, which had already been granted to the Owoo Family in 2013, cease to be a forest reserve, while “the second amends the area of the land that should continue as forest reserve”.
“However, as part of measures to ensure that the area of the forest is not compromised, both instruments contain provisions that restrict the nature of the development that can take place on the land,” he said.
Under E.I. 144, for example, Mr Jinapor said, before any development could take place on the peripheral portions of the forest that had ceased to be a forest reserve, the Land Use and Spatial Planning Authority shall prepare a master plan for the development of the area, taking into consideration the ecological integrity of the remaining portions of the forest reserve.
Moreover, he added, the master plan must be approved by the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, acting on the advice of the Forestry Commission.
“No development can take place without the express approval of the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, taking into consideration the ecological integrity of the forest,” Mr Jinapor said.