The Forestry Commission in collaboration with the Attorney-General’s Department, has trained 28 Public Prosecutors to enable them to prosecute social deviants who fall foul of Ghana’s forest and wildlife laws.
The trainees who were staff from the Attorney-General’s Department, were taken through eight weeks of intensive training in areas such as the introductory aspect of law, criminal law and procedure, introduction to the Forestry and Wildlife related offences as well as court room advocacy.
It was expected that with the requisite skills, the trainees would now be able to effect proper prosecution and enforce the laws to help protect Ghana’s forest and wildlife resources.
Justice Ernest Y. Obimpeh, a High Court Judge, led the newly trained to swear the oath of secrecy and commissioned them into office at the passing out and certification ceremony on Friday.
He urged them to be firm in their decisions in order to overcome challenges such as excessive public pressures on prosecutors and the lack of adequate evidence for prosecution of violators of the forestry and wildlife laws.
The Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Georgina Theodora Wood commended the Forestry Commission for the initiative.
She said the move was necessary and timely in the face of continual and alarming illegal activities in the forest and wildlife sector such as illegal chain saw operations, mining activities and poaching.
Mrs Wood said these illegal activities invariably come with their attendant environmental problems and constitutes a huge financial loss to the nation.
She said the Judicial Service is happy with the initiative because the training of forest prosecutors has a duel advantage for the country because they would bring to the criminal prosecution process institutional knowledge and experience in preparing proper charges for specific forest and wildlife offences.
Mrs Wood said the personnel would also help to reduce the burden on the prosecutions unit at the Attorney-General’s Department and Ghana Police Service.
She challenged the newly trained public prosecutors to work hard since a lot would be expected of them.
The Chief Justice said the sustenance of the programme would depend on their output as pioneers and “your conduct and performance in court must therefore be beyond reproach”.
She however warned them from carrying themselves as lawyers, but to stick to their mandate for which they were trained.
The Chief Justice pledged the Judicial Service’s readiness to support the Commission’s initiative by notifying all Circuit and District Courts of the special prosecutions wing of the body.
Mr Alhaji Inusah Fuseini, Minister of Lands and Natural Resources said a major challenge of the Forestry sector is how to effectively combat illegal exploitation of forest and wildlife resources.
He said the passing out of the newly trained officials of the Commission was a timely intervention to arrest the situation.
The sector Minister said Ghana had reached a critical stage where there is the need to enforce the law to the latter to deal with the indiscipline behaviour of some section of the population who had become a threat to the sustainability of the country’s forest and wildlife resources.
He said in spite of the interventions, illegal forest activities are reported in many forest areas where perpetrators of these activities sometimes end up killing innocent and hard working staff of the Commission.
“This year alone, we have recorded two of such deaths, one in the Volta Region and another in the Ashanti Region,” he noted.
Mr Fuseini said statistics have shown that, apart from agricultural expansion and wildfires, which contribute more than 60 per cent of the drivers of deforestation and degradation, illegal harvesting of wood for various purposes like timber, fuel wood and charcoal contribute about 35 per cent of the causes of forest loss.
“Our unflinching appetite for bush meat as well as other non-timber forest products has also contributed significantly to the depletion of our wildlife resources,” he added.
He challenged the newly trained officials to offer complete transformational approaches in the way illegal forest and wildlife cases are handled in the courts.
“We hope that you will do this with professionalism and decorum so as to make good names for yourselves as pioneers and the Forestry Commission at large,” he said.
Mr Fuseini requested the Attorney Generals Department to keep an eye on the performance of the prosecutors in the discharge of their duties to ensure that they work within the confines of the law.
He called on the Commission to make available all the necessary logistical support they require to carry out their work without fear and favour.
Mr Samuel Afari Dartey, Chief Executive Officer of the Forestry Commission thanked the Attorney-General’s Department for the partnership.