- refutes financial loss claims in the purchase of lithovit
The former board chairman of COCOBOD, Ambassador Daniel Ohene Agyekum, has vehemently rejected claims that the state incurred financial loss in the purchase of Lithovit liquid fertiliser.
The retired Foreign Service officer, provided further and better particulars to explain why causing financial loss to the state in the case against former COCOBOD boss and two others, was not tenable.
The former Chief Executive of COCOBOD, Dr Stephen Opuni, businessman Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Ltd, were charged with 27 counts, including causing financial loss to the state and breach of the procurement act in the purchase of Lithovit liquid fertilizer between 2014 and 2016.
Amb. Ohene Agyekum, who gave evidence on behalf of Dr Opuni via a video link from Kumasi, told the court on Monday, June 6, that he “will not consider that the purchase of Lithovit caused any loss to the state”.
Describing himself as someone born into cocoa farming, which he said was the only activity of his parents, and based on his personal interactions with cocoa farmers who used Lithovit liquid fertilizer, he wondered how the state arrived at the conclusion that the product did not give value for money.
Nonetheless, the former board chairman further educated the court that policies and activities of COCOBOD is centred around cocoa farmers whom he said own the cocoa industry.
The retired diplomat was therefore surprised how the state is said to have incurred a loss in an industry it does not own.
“In simple terms, did COCOBOD suffer any loss in the purchase of Lithovit liquid fertiliser,” counsel for Seidu Agongo, lawyer Nutifafa Nutsukpui asked when he cross-examined the witness.
Amb. Ohene Agyekum answered, “No my lord, COCOBOD did not suffer any loss or whatsoever. The policies clearly stated that, and I say that as a son of cocoa farmers that the government does not own the industry, it is the cocoa farmers who own the industry. If I may clarify, it is the produce that the various licenced authorities purchase that is marketed abroad, the value of which is used to collateralize the loans which the board obtained. It is for this reason COCOBOD decided that this Lithovit liquid fertiliser should be provided to farmers free of charge during my tenure as board chairman. After all it is their money. And in the same vein during my term of office, the board also embarked on a rather ambitious Programme to reconstruct and rebuild roads within the cocoa growing areas.”
In his evidence in chief, the third prosecution witness, Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah said a farmer told him that Lithovit liquid fertiliser was ineffective that some farmers even drank it in place of water.
When asked about his reaction to that claim, Amb. Ohene Agyekum asserted, “My reaction will be so direct and simple. That, Dr Adu Ampomah whom I know quite well doesn’t know what he was talking about. It is either he did not know what he was talking about or he misunderstood what the farmers were telling him. If they drank the fertiliser, they would be dead. Or he is simply not telling the truth. My lord I swore to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. I personally visited some of my relatives from Ashanti who have been farming as far away as Akontombra in the Sehwi area at a village called Mile 2 in the Western North. I spent three days and in my interactions with the farmers, I formed the distinct impression that the Lithovit liquid fertiliser was so effective that they believed as a board chairman I could personally give them some more which I couldn’t.
Meanwhile, in the previous sittings, a similar question was asked an Assin Fosu-based cocoa farmer if he heard of any farmer drinking Lithovit liquid fertiliser in the farm because it was a useless product.
Mr. Samuel Torbi told the court, “No my lord because the training they – CHED of COCOBOD – took us through, they told us that when the chemical enters into our body, it will give us problems. So when we spray insecticides or liquid fertiliser, we put on gloves, we also wear masks, we wear spectacles and wellington boots. So when someone tells you that you can drink Lithovit fertiliser in your farm, then that person is not a farmer. Or when you are told that you can drink Lithovit liquid fertiliser when you are tasty then that person is definitely not a farmer.”
Amb. Ohene Agyekum told the court that during his tenure of office, he was “not only regular but attended all Entity Tender Committee (ETC) meetings”.
Lawyer Nutifafa Nutsukpui then asked him how the ETC went about its decision making.
He replied, “We went about our decisions in this way, the technocrats and the various units of COCOBOD submit their proposals to the ETC. Here, once again, the procurement unit depending on what is to be discussed will be involved. The procurement officer will be called to the meeting and give clarifications on their proposal. All proposals go to the procurement unit. When the ETC is satisfied with the clarification and explanations provided, the ETC will the approve the proposals which are then submitted to the main COCOBOD board for consideration and approval. The decisions of the main board will be conveyed to management for implementation. That is the process.”
In his evidence in chief, the witness stated even though the chief executive of COCOBOD was later, by law, made chairman of the Entity Tender Committee, Dr. Stephen Opuni never attended any of their meetings that approved the purchase of Lithovit liquid fertilizer.
He reiterated, “Under my tenure all agrochemicals including Lithovit liquid fertiliser went through the proper and approved procedure just as was there before my appointment to the board.
“As the board chairman, I can state on authority that all fertilisers which were purchased from Agricult went through the proper procedure as pertains during my term.”
Ambassador Ohene Agyekum, told the High Court in Accra that letters written to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) seeking approval for sole-sourcing of fertilizers were not written by Dr. Opuni.
According to Ambassador Ohene Agyekum, even though the letters to PPA were signed by Dr. Opuni, former Chief Executive of COCOBOD, they were “not written by him.”
Ambassador Agyekum also told the court that, “as a board chair, all fertilizers including Lithovit fertilizer went through the proper procedures.”
Ambassador Agyekum who served as the Chairman of the board of directors for COCOBOD from January 2014 to 2017, told the court that by virtue of his chairmanship, he was also the Chairman of the Entity Tender Committee (ETC) until the law was amended to make the Chief Executive the Chairman.
The former Board Chairman also told the court that, even though the law was amended, “I still attended all Entity Tender Committee meetings.”
“During my tenure as board chair, all agrochemicals including fertilizers which were purchased went through proper procedures and processes,” Ambassador Ohene Agyekum told the court.
The witness said this practice existed before his appointment to the board of COCOBOD.
“All chemicals including fertilizers bought from Agricult Ghana limited went through all the processes.
“Also, as a board chair, all fertilizers including Lithovit fertilizer went through the proper procedures,” DW4, told the court.
The Witness also said, as a board, “we were guided by technical experts in specific fields and we also followed the right procedures.
He told the court that Lithovit is a liquid fertilizer and that, “I also know COCOBOD purchased these fertilizers(lithovit) including sidalco and granular fertilizer.”
Ambassador Ohene Agyekum also told the court that it was not Dr. Opuni who granted the contracts, but “Management of COCOBOD awards contract.”
He said, after going through all the processes, “We sought expert advice before all chemicals bought under my tenure.”
Prior to his witness statement being adopted by the court, Ambassador Ohene Agyekum said, “I am also aware that all procurement letters were written by the procurement unit.”
Under Cross-examination from Nutifafa Nutsukpui, counsel for Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Limited (A2 and A3), the witness explained to the court how the board takes decisions.
“When the board meets, most of the decisions were arrived at, after a thorough discussion on the issues that were presented to them per the agenda, decisions were taken by consensus,” he explained to the court.
He also told the court that, under his tenure, “it was not possible for any individual to make decisions on behalf of the board.”
He added that “Each board member was given the opportunity to make his or her views known.”
Asked by counsel if budgets and procurement plans were approved in a similar manner, the former board chairman said, the plan and budget will be discussed by members.
“If there is any way for clarification on the plan, the experts are invited,” he said to buttress his point.
Asked to tell the court if he was aware that, in approving the budget or procurement plan, had there been any influence by A2 or A3 (Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Limited, the witness answered in the negative.
He said, “they could not have influenced any of the decisions because they do not attend our meetings.”
Asked by counsel for A2 and 3 if during his tenure as the board chair, were any complaints of any problem with any agrochemical COCOBOD purchased brought to his attention, he answered in the negative.
“I never received any complaints from any cocoa farmer or farming group. I can say that for a fact and on behalf of my members. During my tenure of office, based on my personal experience it was my determination that the policies, programs and activities of the board should be apt to support the cocoa farming industry,” the former board chair told the court.
He said, “I was dragged to EOCO in 2017 for causing financial loss to the state.
“Having been charged for causing financial loss to the state and against my protestation as a board chair, I don’t authorize payment nor do I sign cheques at COCOBOD, and yet I was treated by EOCO as a common criminal,” he intimated.
The board chairman said, “COCOBOD did not suffer any loss in purchasing lithovit.”
He contended that “The government never owns the cocoa industry but farmers do. It is the product that the various licensing authorities purchase and market abroad. The value of which is to be used to collateralize the loan which COCOBOD obtains.”
Asked if he was regular at the meetings of the ETC he said, “l was not only regular, I attended all meetings of the tender committee during my tenure as chairman.”
The case was adjourned to Friday, June 10, 2022, for continuation.