Global Witness said documents it had obtained showed details of 800 permits granted to logging companies in Ghana. It claims that three-quarters of the permits could break the newly-introduced EU Timber Regulation (EUTR).

A statement released by the Ghana Forestry Commission said Global Witness’s allegation was “fundamentally flawed” and showed a lack of understanding of Ghana’s timber resource allocation system and the law governing it.

It said it would never risk losing its biggest market – the EU – by flouting the EUTR. To counter the claims it has listed the various timber rights – salvage permits, timber utilisation contracts (TUCs) and permits (special permits).

Aside from its EUTR compliance claims, Global Witness claims that only 20% of current permits were in the form of TUCs, with the EU-Ghana Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) stipulating that TUCs should be the principal means of obtaining rights to cut timber.

Global Witness also says new permits must be obtained through an open, competitive tender process and older leases should be converted into TUCs. This, it says, has not happened in the majority of cases.

Ghana Forestry Commission said the conversion process of leases into TUCs had been stalled over whether or not the payment of timber rights fees was applicable to converted areas.

This had become a “bone of contention” between the commission and the timber industry, with the matter referred to the natural resources minister for resolution.

“The commission would want to reiterate that no lease has been issued since the coming into force of the Timber Resources Management Act 1997, as well as the signing of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement,” said Samuel Afari Dartey, commission chief executive.

He said special permits, approved by the minister, were legal and efforts were being made to include them in the VPA.

“We wish to assure all Ghanaians, the EU and the general public that the mandate given to the Forestry Commission to sustainably manage our forest resources in accordance with the provisions of our laws has not been compromised,” said Mr Dartey.