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.