Free Zones Board Fires Back!

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On Timber Companies Operating Under Scheme

By Alfred K Dogbey

Management of the Ghana Free Zones Board (GFZB), has denied claims that it had issued licenses or migrated timber companies onto the Free Zones enclave, against the restrict Legislative Instrument (L.I) 1834, which barred timber firms, plastic companies and other enterprises from operating in the zone.

Sections of the Free Zones law, talks about non-eligibility of some enterprises and bans the Board from issuing licenses to particularly, timber firms, plastic manufacturing enterprises, as well as enterprises engaged in the exploration of precious minerals, gas and crude oil into the free zone.

A report prepare by Ghanaian Economic Intelligence officers recently published by The Herald, mentioned among other things, how Free Zones had illegally moved large timber companies into the free zones enclave and had become a “drain of the country’s foreign exchange” just like Ghana Investments Promotion Center (GIPC) and Minerals Commission and others.

Timber companies, like AG Timbers Company Limited, Naja David Veneer & Plywood Ltd, Logs and Lumber, Ghana Primewood products, John Bitar and others names came up. They are owned by Lebanese-Ghanaians, whose forefathers came to Ghana long before independence.

They are located in the Ashanti and Western Regions, they are involved in cutting down trees, depleting the countries forests reverses, profiting billions of dollars annually, but paying next to nothing into Government coffers by way of tax, as they keep their proceeds in foreign bank accounts at the expense of the Ghanaian economy.

But Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Free Zones, Kwadwo Twum Boafo in an interview with The Herald, gave details of how the timber companies, entered the scheme revealing that the John Agyekum Kufuor administration allowed them into the enclave, before passing a law restricting others from entering.

As passionate as usual, Mr. Twum Boafo explained that since taking over office as CEO of the Board, management has never issued any license to migrate any timber company into the Free Zones, stating that “the records are there for anyone interested to check”.

He indicated that the administration, which he spearheaded, knows clearly what the law says and, therefore, would not flout it, adding, “Our management would always live up to the task”.

The outspoken Free Zones Boss, clarified that the Free Zones which was formed in 1995, initially did not ban timber companies from getting licenses, so the few timber companies operating under the Free Zones currently, got the licenses before the Legislative Instrument (L.I) 1834 came into effect in 2007, barring the timber and plastic companies from the scheme.

He told The Herald that since the law cannot be applied retroactively, the companies are still being entertained by the Board because, any conduct to have them removed could lead to serious legal implications against the Board.

Mr. Twum Boafo, maintained that as CEO, flanked by competent and experience officers, he and his team are on top of their briefs, performing their duties as per the Board’s regulations. For this reason, the management he Heads has not granted any license to any company, excluded by law from operating in the enclave.

Noted for his uncompromising stances, Mr. Twum Boafo told The Herald that he would neither superintend nor support any unlawful activity by putting forward any different interpretation of the law regulating Free Zones Board for his personal benefit or the benefit of his subordinates.

It was established that Timber companies, like AG Timbers Company Limited, Naja David Veneer & Plywood Ltd, Logs and Lumber, Ghana Primewood products, John Bitar and others got their licenses through Kufuor’s Government ahead of the passage of the L.I 1834, spearheaded by then Minster of Trade,
Industry and Private Sector Development, Alan Kwadwo Kyerematen.

The GFZB boss, later referred The Herald to the Compliance Department, headed by John Adda Abuga, an experienced hand at the Board for further clarification and education about the law and migration of timber firms. He confirmed that the Board has stop migrating timber and plastic enterprises since the passage of the law in 2007.

Mr. Abuga explained that once the Board had already registered migrated timber companies into the free zones, “there is no way you (the Board) can take them off the register, unless in situation, where they go against the law or the company themselves opted to walk out”, he emphasized.

The Head of Compliance and his assistant, Fred vigorously took The Herald through the list of timber companies registered, their locations and year of registration under Free Zones to ascertain the fact that indeed, these timber companies were licensed long before the L.I was passed. Most of them were registered, between 2004 to 2005, ahead of the passage of the LI in 2007.

Mr. Abuga mentioned a certain company by name, Samatex, which he added was also licensed long before the law was passed, to stop the Board from licensing timber and plastic industries.

“As you can see, we have never licensed any timber industry after the issuance of the LI”, Mr. Abuga clarified.

Meanwhile, visits to some of the timber companies in Kumasi, like Naja David Veneer and Plywood Limited, as well as Logs and Lumber Limited by The Herald’s reporter, Samuel Mensah Torbizo confirmed the companies were operating under the Free Zones scheme.

It is not yet clear, whether Government would have parliament to pass another law to remove the timber companies operating under the law prior to the passage of LI in 2007, so as to help conserve some foreign exchange for the country.

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