We were not ignoramuses – Former COCOBOD chair
Former Board Chairman of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Ambassador Daniel Ohene, Agyekum has described as “insulting the “intelligence” of his board, claims that COCOBOD approved a “worthless” fertiliser (Lithovit liquid) for purchase by COCOBOD to farmers leading to it wasting state resources.
Ambassador Agyekum who was also the Chairman of the Entity Tender Committee (ETC) of COCOBOD also hits back at prosecution witness’ claim that the ETC while giving approval for COCOBOD to purchase Lithovit liquid fertiliser “did not know what” they were granting approval to.
Ambassador Ohene Agyekum – Third Defence Witness (DW 4) for Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni, the former Chief Executive of COCOBOD in the ongoing trial remarked that “We were not a bunch of ignoramuses.”
Dr Opuni, former Chief Executive of COCOBOD (1st Accused), Seidu Agongo (2nd Accused), a businessman, and his company Agricult Ghana Limited (3rd Accused) have been dragged to court over alleged procurement breaches and causing financial loss to the state.
They have all pleaded not guilty and have been granted a self-recognizance bail and are standing trial at the Accra High Court presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a Justice of the Supreme Court sitting with additional responsibility as a High Court judge.
Under Cross-examination from lawyers of Siedu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Limited led by Nutifafa Nutdukpi, Ambassador Ohene Appiah said, to his recollection in all of the meetings of the ETC, “the members were aware of the goods or services that they were granting COCOBOD approval to procure.”
We were not a bunch of ignoramuses
Asked to tell the court what his reaction to the evidence of the 7th Prosecution Witness (Chief Inspector Thomas Prempeh Mercer – the investigator) to the court that the ETC did not know what they were approving when they granted approval for COCOBOD to procure the Lithovit liquid fertiliser, he said, they were not ignorant people.
“My Lord, my immediate reaction first will be that, that piece of evidence as far as I understand it, is tantamount to insulting the intelligence of the members of the ETC. We knew what we were about,” he told the court.
“My Lord, with all due respect, we were not a bunch of ignoramuses. Even if we were not experts, we were literate enough, knowledgeable enough, and intelligent enough to read to appreciate the distinction between, solid material and liquid material,” Ambassador Ohene Agyekum added.
He explained further, “..in this particular case the technical presentation, by the experts from CRIG (Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana) we clearly understood both the liquid and granular or solid fertilizers that we approved.”
Court’s finding strange
It was the case of counsel to him that the court found that, Lithovit liquid fertiliser which the board of COCOBOD and the ETC all of which he chaired had approved led to COCOBOD buying a worthless fertilizer and that the state had received no value for the Lithovit liquid fertiliser.
In his response, Ambassador Ohene Agyekum said, “With all due respect, I find the court’s finding rather strange to me” and provided his reason.
“As a board chairman, I was very much aware that there was a unit within the COCOBOD to which I referred in my earlier submissions, that is to say, the CHED (Cocoa Health Extension Division), I am very much aware that, that division was responsible for monitoring how the fertilisers and other agrochemicals were applied in the field,” he added.
“And that there was or there should be a report by CHED monitoring team at CHED and I am aware that, my passion for the cocoa farmer and the farming industry as a whole, that, the CHED proceeded to train the cocoa farmers on the proper application of fertilizer and so my lord, I am saying that, there was a report by CHED or there should be such a report which concluded that, Lithovit liquid fertiliser was effective,” he pointed out to the court.
Asked by Nutifafa Nutdukpi how he got to know about this CHED report, the DW 4 said, “I had such a passion so everything that went on some of which were not even discussed formally, in an informal way, I will go and ask questions of those who were in charge of the program to know what is happening.”
He again said, “it was a policy of the board that you don’t simply, purchase fertilisers and distribute them to farmers and subsequently fold your arms and not try to find out about whether a particular fertilizer is effective or not.
“It may be of interest to the court my lord that, we also had, a representative of the cocoa farmers association, I believed from Brong Ahafo, so my lord, occasionally, we share information in terms of the benefits otherwise, the programs and implementation of the policies that we as a board had adopted,” Ambassador Ohene Agyekum told the court.
No individual can rig procurement process
Responding to counsel’s question based on his experience in chairing the board, and the ETC, from January 2014 to January 2017, whether it was easy for “an individual to game the procurement process or otherwise rig the procurement process for the benefit of a particular product or a particular supplier,” Ambassador Ohene Agyekum said, “that was absolutely impossible.”
“My Lord, I can’t imagine. it is inconceivable that any particular individual can or could influence choice or the decision to award a contract in favour of a particular person. It is simply impossible and that it could not and did not happen under my watch during my time.”
Opuni did not perpetruate fraud
Giving his reaction to the court’s finding in its ruling on the submission of no case that the 2nd (Agongo) and 3rd (Agricult) Accused persons were assisted by First Accused person (Dr Opuni) to perpetrate fraud on COCOBOD by selling the Lithovit liquid fertiliser to COCOBOD, Ambassador Ohene Agyekum wondered where that finding was coming from.
“My Lord, with all due respect, my reaction will be where is it all coming from? The first accused during my term of office did not, certainly not perpetrate any fraud.
“As a Chief Executive of the board and management of COCOBOD and with my little knowledge of corporate responsibility, whatever the Chief Executive did was consistent with the policies of the board,” he noted.
Asked again by counsel based on his experience as board chairman of both the board and the ETC at the time, if he was aware that, the first accused (Dr Opuni) ever influenced the procurement process to benefits the 2nd and 3rd Accused persons, he said that “never” happened.
“My Lord, I can state that, as far as I am aware, the first accused (Dr Opuni) never acted in a way that could have influenced the decision of either the board or the ETC. And in my dual capacity as chairman for both the board and the ETC, such a thing never happened.”
No test cast doubt on efficacy of Lithovit
It was also the case of counsel to him that, evidence before the court from the prosecution witness from University of Ghana (Dr Adu Ampoma- PW3) that when they tested the Lithovit liquid fertiliser, they had barely any properties that will make it effective. And if during his tenure as the chairman, whether he was aware of any tests carried out on the Lithovit liquid fertiliser that came to similar conclusions.
In his response, the witness said, “My Lord, my short answer is no. I was not made aware of any such scientific report.
“What I wanted to add is that, if you conduct a scientific research, in a classroom and you draw the conclusion, such as the one drawn by the university, then, I will state that, it was not certainly the same Lithovit liquid fertiliser that board had purchased and provided to the farmers free of charge,” he told the court.
Ambassador Ohene Agyekum told the court that, since he left office in January 2017, he has never become aware of any test carried out, that cast any doubt on the efficacy of the Lithovit liquid fertiliser that his board had procured for the cocoa farmers.
Ambassador Ohene Agyekum who is giving evidence via video link from Kumasi while the trial in ongoing in Accra will be subjected to further cross-examination by the prosecution on June 24.
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