General News of Saturday, 22 June 2019
The management of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), has been caught double-talking on Lithovit fertilizer, which is at the centre of the ongoing criminal trial involving, Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, former Chief Executive of COCOBOD and businessman, Alhaji Seidu Agongo.
Some members of the Akufo-Addo transition team, including Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah, the third prosecution witness, who later formed the new management of COCOBOD, had condemned the Lithovit fertilizer in January of 2017, during the transfer of power from the Mahama-led administration to the new Akufo-Addo government,but later in March of the same year, wrote requesting for its approval and certification.
A letter emerged in court yesterday, showing that months before the commencement of the criminal trial under the auspices of COCOBOD, on claims that Lithovit Fertilizer, was substandard for the Cocoa Cultivation, the same COCOBOD management, had requested that the certificate of approval for the same product, be renewed.
Dr. Adu-Ampomah, who was the chairman of government’s transition team on cocoa when the Mahama government handed over power in January 2017, recommended to government, in his transition report, to investigate alleged anomalies in the testing and subsequent procurement of Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer, claiming the product was of inferior quality.
He went to chair a committee known as the Adu-Ampomah Committee to investigate the product with the senior scientists at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) appearing before him to give testimonies on the Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer, but while investigating the product as the chair of the committee, the same Dr. Adu-Ampomah, had written to officers at CRIG, ordering them to ensure the annual renewal of certificate for Lithovit fertilizer.
The letter titled “Renewal of certificate for 2017 -Agricult GH LTD” had captured Dr. Adu-Ampomah, attaching copies of certificates of approval given to the company in 2015 and 2016, in his request letter to the Executive Director of CRIG; Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah, who himself, had already appeared before court as the second prosecution witness.
The document dated March 9, 2017, which was tended in evidence read “We forward to you the attached request from Agricult Gh Ltd for the renewal of the registration certificate of Lithovit fertilizer. Copy of the previous year’s certification attached. Kindly undertake the necessary verification on the product and renew the certification for the year 2017”.
Dr. Adu-Ampomah’s letter to CRIG was occasioned by Agricult’s application to COCOBOD for the renewal of Lithovit’s certificate in 2017.
Upon receipt of Dr. Adu-Ampomah’s letter, Dr. Amoah, the Executive Director of CRIG on March 15, 2017, quickly minuted on it to the chairman of the Committee on Testing Chemicals and Machinery (CTCM) of CRIG, saying “Kindly ensure due diligence in the re-evaluation of the product and submit report for forwarding to COCOBOD”.
The same document was referred to the Head of Soil Science at CRIG to work on.
Coincidently, Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah, who authored the letter in his capacity as the Deputy Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in-charge of Agronomy and Quality Control of COCOBOD, is currently under cross-examination as the third prosecution witness.
He insists there were anomalies in the testing of LithovitFertilizer, ahead of its procurement by the COCOBOD management of under Dr Opuni.
Dr Adu-Ampomah, told the court: “Yes my lord”, explaining: “During the preliminary investigation, it happened”.
“Agricult submitted an application for renewal of their certificate, which is normally done and it gave management the opportunity to further interrogate the anomalies in the testing of chemicals at CRIG, so, we forwarded the application to CRIG. When it got there, the Executive Director called me to inquire why I have forwarded the application to CRIG knowing that that chemical was one of the subjects under investigation and that they cannot work on it. So, I asked them to respond to my letter. They never responded”, he narrated.
Dr Adu-Ampomah, after the work of Akufo-AddoTransition team in January,was recalled from his statutory retirement and reappointed to COCOBOD as Deputy CEO Agronomy and Quality Control in 2017, and he was later to chair a committee to investigate the same fertilizerhe had in March 2017, recommended to CRIG for approval and certification.
Confronted with his letter, the witness gave a bizarre explanation, saying that he used the content of the letter as ploy to elicit information on the Lithovit Fertilizer from CRIG.
According to him, shortly after writing the letter to CRIG, he got a telephone conversation from the then Executive Director of CRIG, Dr Amoah, drawing his attention to the ongoing investigation on the product, hence the certificate of renewal could not be granted.
He further claimed that,during the said telephone conversation, he immediately instructed Dr. Amoahto document his objections to the certificate of approval in writing and send to him, but the CRIG boss, failed to do so, therefore, there is no paper trail.
Told by Lawyer Codjoet hat Dr Amoah, had never mentioned his objection to March 9, 2017, request for certificate for Lithovit fertilizer in any of his witness statements to the police and theEconomic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO), Dr Adu-Ampomah, retorted he cannot tell why he failed to do so.
When it was again put to him that, the claim that the letter was written to purposely elicit information on the Lithovit fertilizer is a lie, Dr Adu-Ampomah, insisted he was rather speaking the truth, adding he had done so as part of his preliminary investigations into the procurement of some agro-chemicals and fertilizers, including Lithovit Fertilizer.
Mr Codjoe, further put it to Dr Adu-Ampomah that he would not have attached the 2015 and 2016 certificates of approval to his March 2017 letter to CRIG for certification of Lithovit Fertilizer, if he knew they were fraudulently obtained, but the witness, maintained his earlier position that his request letter to CRIG, was only meant to elicit information.
Dr Adu-Ampomah, however, agreed with Lawyer Codjoe, that a verbal complaint from Dr Amoah, is not reliable as COCOBOD, does not rely on verbal communication in its work.
There were also questions on procurementprocess at COCOBOD.
Both COCOBOD and Public Procurement Authority, were ordered to furnish the court with request letters and approval for all fertilizer procurements done from December 2013 to December 2016 under Dr. Opuni, through sole-sourcing.
The Court presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga, an Appeal Court Judge, sitting as an additional High Court Judge, adjourned sitting to June 26 for further cross-examination.
Dr Opuni and Mr Agongo, are facing 27 charges, including defrauding by false pretences, wilfully causing financial loss to the state, money laundering, corruption by public officer and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.They have both pleaded not guilty to the charges and are on a GH¢300,000.00 each self-recognisance bail.