- Owoo family’s acquisition is legal
The Lands and Natural Resources Minister, Samuel Abdulai Jinapor, has stated that the Achimota Forest Reserve has not been sold – emphasising that the enclave is still a forest reserve.
He maintained that a portion of the land acquired by the Owoo Family is not illegal.
The minister explained that rumours suggesting that government has gazetted an Executive Instrument (E.I.) to approve the redesignation, sale or development of the land are fake and must be utterly disregarded.
An eight-page document was widely circulated on social media, which was purported to mean that the classification of Achimota Forest Reserve has been lifted to pave the way for possible development or other purposes.
The Instrument gazetted on behalf of President Akufo-Addo by the lands minister stipulated that effective May 1, 2022 the land on which the forest is located shall cease to be a forest reserve, pursuant to Section 19 of the Forest Act, 1927 (CAP. 157).
The cessation, per that document, was to be effective on May 1, 2022.
President Akufo-Addo also ordered the creation of a master-plan for development of the land by the District Land Use and Spatial Planning Authority.
The Authority was also tasked to take into consideration protection of the ecological integrity of an adjoining forest reserve while preparing the master-plan, which will be approved by the Sector Minister.
Despite cessation of the Achimota Forest Reserve designation, no individual was to be allowed to take possession of, or carry out any physical development on the land specified in the schedule without prior approval of the minister – who would then act on recommendations of the Forestry Commission.
In the midst of the debate and arguments, the minister in a press statement dismissed reports making the rounds that the Achimota Forest Reserve is being sold.
He said government will continue to reforest and develop it into a true forest reserve to serve Accra and the people of Ghana.
“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),” the minister said.
He explained that EI 144 was to make the peripheral portions of the forest reserve cease to be a forest reserve, to ensure a development that is consistent with the area of the forest reserve.
Those portions, sections of which have 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 Lands and Natural Resources Minister said.
Mr. Jinapor indicated that in 1921, the then Gold Coast government by a Certificate of Title dated December 16, 1921 made under the Public Lands Ordinance, 1876, acquired from the Owoo Family a parcel of land on which the Achimota School was situated.
Subsequently, he said, by another Certificate of Title dated May 17, 1927, 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, government, pursuant to its power under the Forests Act, 1927, (Cap 157), constituted the land acquired in 1927 as a Forest Reserve for the purpose of a Fuel Wood Plantation for Achimota School,” he said.
Following several encroachments onto 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 release of the portion of forest reserve adjoining the Tema motorway.
He said after consultations between the Office of the President and relevant bodies, it was recommended that portion of the forest reserve be released to the Owoo Family, adding that: “This culminated in an Agreement dated 24th November 2008 between government, acting by the then Ministry of Lands, Forestry and Mines, and the Owoo Family for the grant of a lease 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 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 reason the minister sought executive approval to implement the recommendations.
“On September 5, 2013, then President John Dramani Mahama gave Executive Approval for 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 recommendations of the committee,” Mr. Jinapor added.
Pursuant to the said executive approval, Mr. Jinapor 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 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,” Mr. Jinapor said.
Under E.I. 144 for example, Mr. Jinapor said, before any development can take place on the peripheral portions of the forest that had ceased to be a forest reserve, the Land Use and Spatial Authority shall prepare a master-plan for development of the area – taking into consideration the ecological integrity of remaining portions of the Forest Reserve.
Moreover, the minister added, the master-plan must be approved by the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, acting on advice from 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,” Mr. Jinapor said.