Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Scanfuel wipes out settlements, farms for Jatropha plantation in Ghana

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

An ominous cloud of uncertainty gathers around a Jatropha project in Ghana.

A Norwegian company, Scanfuel is operating what is currently noted to be the largest Jatropha plantation in Ghana.

The company through its Ghana subsidiary, Scanfuel Ghana Ltd., has acquired 400,000 hectares of land in the Asante Akim North Municipality of the Ashanti Region to plant Jatropha for the production of biodiesel for export.

But a visit by ghanabusinessnews.com and the International Correspondent of the European Energy Review to the farms and surrounding villages revealed an enterprise operating with impunity and disregard for local people, their way of life and local laws.

According to the Chief of Efirise, one of the settler farmer communities within the operation area of Scanfuel, Amadu Zakari, the company acquired the land from the paramount chief of Agogo, Nana Akuoku Sarpong. He added that Scanfuel subsequently offered to pay GH¢1 per acre of land to the farmers whose land it was taking over.

According to Zakari, most farmers rejected the offer because the amount was seen as paltry. Scanfuel, however is going ahead with its project, planting and harvesting the Jatropha seeds for processing and expanding by the day.

Local people are worried but scared, as they believe there are powerful hands behind Scanfuel.

Scanfuel uses heavy agric machinery to clear everything in its way including human settlements, crop farms and economic trees.

A walk around the farm revealed Dawadawa and shea trees that have been cut down. The Dawadawa tree serves as an essential food and medicinal plant for the local people. The shea tree, apart from serving as food, also has huge economic potentials for local people. The importance of the shea tree is seen in the government of Ghana’s inclusion of the shea nut in its major development programme for the northern part of the country.

The shea tree once it has survived the first five years of its early stages of germination and growth, grows slowly and takes about 30 years to reach maturity and from here, it can live for up to three hundred years and can bear fruit for two hundred years. It has food, medicinal and export value to local people.

The Municipal Chief Executive of the Asante Akim North Municipal Assembly, Thomas Osei-Bonsu in an interview told ghanabusinessnews.com that Scanfuel Ghana Ltd., is not registered with the local authority. He indicated that the entrance of Scanfuel into the area was facilitated by deceit.

“The farmers were misinformed at the beginning of the project,” he said. According to him, the farmers were told they were going to be engaged as outgrowers for Scanfuel but were not told they were going to lose their lands, but as it turned out, their arable lands have been taken away from them.

Even as political head of the area, he said “no one knows what compensation Scanfuel paid for acquiring all that land.”

All the fertile lands of the people of Efirise, Dukuse, Bamala, Brentuo, Enso Nyame ye and surrounding villages have been taken over by Scanfuel and the people are left with nothing, but fear, uncertainty and offers of jobs on the plantation at a daily wage of GH¢3.

Some local people have rejected the offer and are waiting in vain to see what will happen. Scanfuel has employed about 200 people who are currently working on the plantation.

“Scanfuel is opening itself up for litigation,” Osei-Bonsu warned.

On occasions when he had called Scanfuel officials to discuss the issues and find a solution, the company has not responded to his calls, but continues to expand, he told ghanabusinesnews.com.

Officials of Scanfuel at the company’s Agogo office declined to talk to journalists when we called on them Monday February 15, 2010.

Source: ghanabusinessnews.com

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Ghana biometric passport story

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Uncertainty appears to surround the actual day when the first Ghanaian biometric passport will be issued. But it is certain that by the new global rules regarding types of passports that countries should have, Ghana will introduce its biometric passport this year.

A Ghanaian Times report cited the acting Director, Legal and Consular Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, McArios Akanbeanab Akanbong as saying in May 2009 that Ghana was going to issue its citizens with biometric passports in 2010.

The issuance of the passport is a requirement for the country to meet the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) deadline for member states to provide their nationals with such a document to avoid being denied entry into member countries of ICAO.

According to the report, Mr. Akanbong indicated that without a biometric passport, Ghanaians travelling outside risked being denied entry as their data would not be at the Biometric Centre for immigration officers at international airports to crosscheck their details.

A biometric passport has features like electronic chip into which has been processed, the thumbprint of holders and kept at a biometric centre. It has a holographic foil, watermark paper, invisible and visible foil and digital photographs of holders are used.

In January 2010, the GNA reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will launch the country’s biometric passport on February 3, 2010. The report said in preparation to the launch, Regional Immigration Commanders and Information Service Officers were trained.

The biometric passport is expected to have some benefits to the country. According to Mr Akanbong, these would include elimination of middlemen in the application and acquisition of passports and the avoidance of situations where individuals manipulate the system and acquire multi-passports.

“No middleman can acquire a biometric passport for anyone because with this system, the applicant has to be available for his or her thumbprint to be taken for data and identification purposes before the passport is issued,” he said.

But just when Ghanaians were psyched up for the biometric passport, a Daily Graphic reports put a spanner in the works. The issuance of the biometric passport has been put on hold.

The Daily Graphic reports says the Passports Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration says its plan to begin the issuance of biometric passports to Ghanaians has been put on hold until the heavy backlog of passports applications currently at the office has been cleared.

It has, therefore, set March 23, 2010, as the new date to begin the sale of new forms for the biometric passports.

The period will also be used to replace all hand-written passports being held by Ghanaians abroad with appropriate booklets, the report added.

But while all these were going on, Ghanaians were told not to panic. A Ghanaian Times report citing Madam Bernice Benneh, the Director of Passports said there is no need to panic because “there will be a five-year interface period for the current passports to be phased out.”

She reportedly assured Ghanaian travelers that they will not encounter any difficulties with the introduction of the biometric passports as passports currently in circulation will remain valid until 2015.

Meanwhile, passport forms are unavailable at designated points. The designated points for acquiring passport forms are the post offices and all branches of Ecobank, but forms are unavailable. This development has left many Ghanaians whose passports are expired or are expiring this month in limbo as they have no information on what to do.

Source: ghanabusinessnews.com