Former Minister of Lands and Natural Resources under the erstwhile John Evan Atta Mills regime, Mike Hammah has exposed members of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) over the de-classification of the Achimota Forest Reserve.
Mr Hammah corroborated the explanations given by Lands and Natural Resources Minister, Samuel Abu Jinapor following outbursts by some members of his party.
There were accusations from some members of the NDC including Minority in Parliament and some social media followers that the government had sold portions of the reserve to private developers.
According to the Minority in Parliament, the decision to classify the Achimota forest as not a forest reserve any longer is dangerous and does not reflect the avowed objective of keeping the only green area in Accra and to a large extent restoring deforested land in the country.
They said without doubt the Achimota Forest is the only existing greenbelt in Ghana’s capital city, Accra and any decision on that land should either add more ecological value to it or enhance its present value.
However, the government debunked such accusations.
The minister, Samuel Jinapor, at a press conference on Tuesday evening, explained that the Executive Instrument, E.I. 144, pertained to 361 acres of peripherals of the Achimota forest that the government is returning to its custodial owners, identified as the Owoo family because the land was not being used for its intended purpose, which included the extension of the Achimota School.
Mr. Jinapor stressed that “The constitution protects citizens from being deprived of their properties. It also talks about the government ensuring that when it acquires land, it ensures prompt, fair, and adequate compensation is paid to the original landowners. If the government doesn’t use the land for a very long time, the government will have to return it to its pre-acquisition owners. And the pre-acquisition owners here are the Owoo family.
“The key thing here is about biodiversity and not to go in there and clear the portion for buildings. You maintain what is there and even improve on it for development. So aside from spending money to protect the forest, you get some from tourism. The EI will not even allow for the [building of apartments] because it is not part of the plans.”
Confirming the statement by government, Mike Hammah under whose tenure a committee was set up to look into the petition from the Owoo family stated that the government is acting in the right direction.
According to him, “Yes, there was a petition from the Owoo family, and the reason being that, over the years, the government has acquired a lot of the land and some compensation has not been paid. They thought that they were being denied their land.”
“Under the circumstances, we set up a committee to look into the petition and come up with recommendations consistent with our policy directions; moving away from the consumption value of the forest to the non-consumption value of the forest and promoting ecotourism and biodiversity conservation. That is what I inherited from my predecessor, Collins Dauda”, Mike Hammah told Accra based Citi FM.
The family’s quest to retain its land dates back to 2007 when it petitioned President John Agyekum Kufuor for the release of the portion of the Forest Reserve adjoining the Tema motorway.
After consultations between the Presidency, it was recommended that the petition be granted.
Information available to DGN Online indicates that somewhere in 2011, the Owoo Family, submitted another petition to the then Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, for the grant of portions of the Forest Reserve.
The Minister constituted a committee to inquire into the legitimacy of the request that was eventually granted.
Read below the background as outlined by the government:
In 1921, the Government of the then Gold Coast, by a Certificate of Title dated 16th December 1921, made under the Public Lands Ordinance, 1876, acquired from the Owoo Family the parcel of land on which the Achimota School is situated.
Subsequently, by another Certificate of Title dated 17th May, 1927, the Government acquired from the same Family another tract of land measuring approximately four hundred and seventy-nine (479) hectares as an extension to the Achimota School. Although there are receipts indicating payment of compensation for the 1921 acquisition, there are 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.
Following several encroachments on the Forest Reserve, the pre-acquisition owners, the Owoo Family, in 2007, submitted a petition to the then President, H.E. John Agyekum Kufuor, for the release of the portion of the Forest Reserve adjoining the Tema motorway. 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. 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 over ninety (90) acres of the land to the Owoo Family for a term of ninety-nine (99) years. The Lease agreement was however not executed as agreed.
In 2011, the Owoo Family, submitted another petition to the then Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Hon. Mike Hammah, for the grant of portions of the Forest Reserve. The Minister constituted a committee, chaired by the then Chairman of the then Chief Executive Officer of the Forestry Commission, Mr. Samuel Afari Dartey, to inquire into the legitimacy of the request and its impact on the Forest Reserve.
The Committee after its investigations concluded that the request of the Owoo Family was legitimate.
The Minister then, sought executive approval to implement the recommendations of the Committee.
On 5th September, 2013, the then President of the Republic, H.E. 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.
Pursuant to the said Executive Approval, the Forestry Commission, acting on behalf of the then President, H.E. John Dramani Mahama, three (3) leases executed in September 2013, granted these portions of the Forest Reserve to the Owoo Family for a term of ninety-nine (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. However, because the land remained a Forest Reserve, by virtue of Order 31 of 1930, the lessees and sub-lessees could not develop the land, although they had obtained all the necessary permits.
Pursuant to the same Executive Approval, the Forestry Commission, acting on behalf of the then President of the Republic, H.E. John Dramani Mahama, entered into an agreement with Aikan Capital, a limited liability company for the development of the core area 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 Forest Reserve were 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 Government to release the peripheral portions as a Forest Reserve. The government, after assessing the entire situation, and based on the advice of the Forestry Commission, that the ecological integrity of the Forest Reserve will not be compromised by the Release, decided to release the peripheral portions of the land from the Forest Reserve.
This 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). The first makes the peripheral portions of the Forest Reserve, which had already been granted to the Owoo Family in 2013, with portions developed, cease to be a Forest Reserve. The second, amend the area of the land that should continue as a 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. Under E.I. 144 for example, before any development can take place on the peripheral portions of the Forest that has ceased to be a Forest Reserve.
Land Use and Spatial 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.
The Master Plan must be approved by the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, acting on the advice of the Forestry Commission;
No development can take place without the express approval of the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, taking into consideration the ecological integrity of the Forest.