Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenuga, was taken aback when he got to know that former COCOBOD boss, Dr Stephen Opuni, won’t mount the witness box, albeit for now, as he opens his defence in the infamous COCOBOD trial.
Sounding livid, the judge then appeared to question why Dr Opuni, elected the former Director of Finance at COCOBOD, Charles Tetteh Kwao Dodoo as the first witness, but Dr Opuni’s counsel, Samuel Codjoe stood up to the challenge.
“Ah why is the first accused [Dr Opuni] not being the first,” a shocked Justice Honyenuga asked, but Lawyer Codjoe, quirkily pointed out that the choice of who testifies and the order in which witnesses are called remains his client’s sole prerogative.
“My Lord, no law stops us from starting our defence with this witness. There is no requirement that directs how we call our witnesses in defence. In fact it is even possible the first accused may not testify. In fact Article 19 (2g) states it clear,” he pointed out.
He asserted, “My Lord, the Prosecution was not restrained or asked or directed as to how its witnesses were called to testify and we believe we have equal rights to call which witness we want.”
The former COCOBOD Chief Executive and businessman Seidu Agongo, are standing trial together with Agricult Ghana Limited for allegedly causing the state to lose over GH¢217 million in cocoa fertilizer transactions. They have pleaded not guilty to all charges levelled against them.
The court sat for the first time on Thursday, November 2, 2021, following the reinstatement of Justice Honyenuga of the Supreme Court, as trial judge, by a review panel of the Supreme Court.
Following the submission of Dr Opuni’s counsel concerning the defence witness, the prosecution led by Principal State Attorney Stella Ohene Appiah, did not object.
Justice Honyenuga, who is sitting with additional responsibility as a High Court judge, had no choice but to allow the witness, former Director of Finance at COCOBOD, Tetteh Dodoo, who looked and sounded very confidence to testify.
“By court, indeed this court cannot compel the first accused person to give evidence and this is supported by Article 19 clause 10. In the circumstances, it is the right of first accused to choose the mode he intends to open his defence, consequently, the witness can testify.”
Early on, Justice Honyenuga shot down application by Samuel Codjoe filed on November 24, 2021, invoking the original jurisdiction of his client.
The relief, among others, is seeking a perpetual injunction restraining the court from continuing with the hearing of the case until the determination by the Supreme Court.
“I don’t want you to go into the matter. What you have said is enough. I don’t want to listen to any authority,” the judge said.
Lawyer for the second and third accused, Nutifafa Nutsukpui sided with Mr Codjoe and prayed the court, as a practice, to adjourn hearing until the determination of the application.
But Stella Ohene Appiah, opposed the application, noting that the mere fact that a writ has been filed doesn’t mean that the court should suspend the hearing.
“It is my respected opinion that although the first accused has filed a writ invoking the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the writ which came to my attention only this morning, there is no order of stay of proceedings by the Supreme Court ordering this court from the continuation of this case. I remember that on July 1, 2021, l ruled and adjourned an application to invoke the original supervisory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court because of the circumstance at that time. This case has travelled the length and breathe of the Supreme Court and with the Supreme Court having not ordered this court to stay proceeding,” Justice Honyenuga subsequently rejected the application.
Hearing was adjourned to Monday, December 6, not without drama, as the trial judge banged his folders on the desk and stormed out of the courtroom after Dr Opuni’s lawyer disagreed with the adjourned date because he had a medical appointment on the said date.
In his testimony, the ex-Director of Finance at the Ghana COCOBOD, told the Court that the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) approved the purchase of Lithovit Liquid fertilizer for farmers.
According to Mr Dodoo, the Procurement Unit of COCOBOD wrote letters in 2014, 2015 and 2016, seeking approval to purchase fertilizers which, included Lithovit liquid fertilizer from the PPA and same were approved.
The former Director of Finance who is Dr Opuni’s first witness insisted that, “from letters that came through my table (in 2014, 2015 and 2016,), when I was Deputy Director of Internal Audit, and when I served on the Board of Directors of sub-committees on finance. When, I attended budget hearings, when I assumed position as Director of Finance and my attendance of the Entity Tender Committee (ETC) meetings, and my personal inspection of imported fertilizers at the Ware House on the Spintex Road and Nsawam, payments that I made, the fertilizers that were purchased and paid for included Lithovit Liquid Fertilizer.”
He told the court that, his little knowledge in Sole Source is that, it required PPA approval.
“My little knowledge about the PPA (Public Procurement Authority) was that sole sourcing can only be done with approval from the PPA” and that “A number of the fertilizers fall under propriety rights and, so the scientists with the VODAPEC/Hi-Tech unit, when they indicate, the fertilizers to be purchased, they also indicate the specific company that supplies specific item and they will ask give the price per unit.”
While being led by counsel Samuel Codjoe to give evidence, he told the court that, “I saw the PPA letters, as Director of Finance when payments were being made for these fertilizers. I was in charge of the payments. The payments go through a rigorous procedure. It will go to the audit department for fiscal inspection.”
He added that, “All the documents will be forwarded to the audit department from my personal experience in audit ,all letters relating to the fertilizers, copies have been given to the audit departments.The department will now go back to the origins of the procurement. From the budget through PPA letters and approvals, to the ETC and fiscal inspection of items before the Director of Audit will give an indication and write on the documents given clearance for the items received to be paid for.
The witness again told the court that, in 2015, the procurement unit wrote to the PPA for sole source for the purchase of fertilizers, adding that, the fertilizers approved for purchased “included Lithovit liquid fertilizers, Sidalco, and Wienco, Chemico.”
Asked by counsel to explain to the court how, the letter in 2015 to PPA for approval to purchase Lithovit Liquid fertilizer was written by the procurement unit of Cocobod, he said in “April 2014, I was the Director of Finance. Budget for 2014, 2015 preparation was underway when I assumed the position as Director of finance and within that period, some changes were made to the reporting lines to the VODAPEC HI-TECH units.”
He said, “this unit, was until then, reporting directly to the DCE A*AC and now has to report to a division called the Cocoa Health Extensions Division, so dealing with the new division all their correspondence pass through the executive director of the unit they find themselves.”
He explained that, “anything about procurements that gets to the executive director of that unit, he send it to the procurement unit for action.”
The witness also told the court how he vetted procurement letters that came to him before they were sent to the CEO for signatures.
He told the court that, he vetted the PPA letters which were written for the sole source of Lithovit fertilizer.
“When, I resume office as director of finance in April 2014, all procurement letters I vet them before they go for the CEOs signature,” he told the court.
The case has been adjourned to today, December 6, 2021.