AG’s Witness Caught In US$97.9 Million Scandal At COCOBO

The Attorney-General’s third prosecution witness in the case involving former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr. Stephen K. Opuni and businessman, Alhaji Seidu Agongo, has made another shocking revelation in court, including bending the rules of procurements to favour preferred companies into supply of agrochemicals and fertilizers.

Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah, admitted sole-sourcing agrochemicals worth nearly US$98 million for the 2017/2018 CODAPECH HITECH programme during his tenure as the Deputy Chief Executive Agronomy and Quality Control at COCOBOD, after he was recalled to office by the Akufo-Addo government, almost four years into his statutory retirement.

Under intense cross-examination on Tuesday, July 2, 2019 by Sam Codjoe, counsel for Dr. Opuni, the witness currently an Advisor to the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akoto Owusu Afriyie, disclosed that he got COCOBOD, to sole-sourced a controversial fertilizer called Cocoa Nti Fertiliser three days after Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) issued a certificate.

“… soon as such final reports come, because these companies have invested heavily in the products, prompt action is taken so as soon as it comes to COCOBOD and it has passed, immediately CRIG is instructed to issue it with a certificate.”

But controversy over Cocoa Nti Fertiliser, had led to an interdiction of a soil scientist by name Dr. Alfred Arthur, a committee of inquiry and the suspension of the scientist from CRIG, after it was discovered by his superior officers that the he had traveled to Morocco on a trip fully funded by the producers of the fertilizer.

Dr. Alfred Arthur, got back from Morocco and submitted a scientific report on Cocoa Nti Fertiliser to his superiors, but the report was discovered as fabricated by him and this led to his interdiction, probe and dismissal from CRIG.

In court on Tuesday, Dr.Adu-Ampomah, disclosed that in his capacity as Deputy Chief Executive A&QC at COCOBOD, he expedited action on the CRIG scientific report on Cocoa Nti Fertiliser, brought before him dated March 2, 2018.

Three days after receiving the scientific report from CRIG – 5 March 2018 –Dr. Adu-Ampomah, acting on behalf of COCOBOD, wrote to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) requesting approval to sole-source Cocoa Nti fertiliser with the explanation that it was the farmer’s preference, even though it was the first time COCOBOD, was purchasing the product.

These happened after he was brought back by the Akufo-Addo government to COCOBOD, nearly four years into his statutory retirement.

This, however, did not sit well with Mr Codjoe, who probed further as to why COCOBOD, would describe the fertiliser, which was approved just three days prior to the PPA approval, as the farmers’ preference, but Dr. Adu-Ampomah, replied

“… As I said, if you look at the report, you will see that the field test had been conducted on farmers’ farms in [the] Central Region, Western Region, Eastern Region, Ashanti Region and Brong Ahafo Region, and, as I previously said, during trial, neighbouring farmers, had seen the impact of this fertiliser”.

He had also attributed the speed of light approval and purchase orders given to Cocoa Nti fertilizer, because the company behind the product, had “invested heavily” in it.

Dr. Alfred Arthur’s cross-examination

It had emerged during Dr. Alfred Arthur’s cross-examination as the second prosecution witness that the COCOBOD under the management of its current CEO, Joseph Boahen Aidoo, purchased some 100,000 bags of an untested fertilizer called “Cocoa Nti” worth US$3.5 million, using a forged scientific report which is a subject of controversy at the ongoing trial of Dr. Opuni and Alhaji Agongo.

The forged scientific report generated by Dr. Alfred Arthur, led to a probe in 2016, in which the soil scientist was suspended over forgery and banned from the CRIG for attempting to swindle his superior officers into certifying and purchasing an untested fertilizer.

But in less than a year after the probe, suspension and the ban, the current management of the COCOBOD, used the same scientific report by Dr. Arthur on ‘Cocoa Nti’ granular fertilizer supplied by Enepa Ventures Ltd based in Kumasi to purchase the agrochemical at a price of US$3.5 million.

‘Cocoa Nti’ fertilizer manufactured by Morocco-based OCP Group, have not gone through the required testing procedure at CRIG.

Interestingly, the use of an untested fertilizer, is one of the criminal charges levelled against Dr. Opuni and businessman, Alhaji Agongo and his Agricult by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Gloria Akuffo.

The PPA, had on its website, confirmed that COCOBOD indeed, awarded the 100,000 bags of ‘Cocoa Nti’ fertilizer contract on May 10, 2018, under sole sourcing.

The award of the contract came up in court on Thursday during cross examination of Dr. Alfred Arthur by Dr. Opuni’s counsel, who asked, Dr. Arthur, whether he knew COCOBOD, had ordered for the purchase of 100,000 bags of Cocoa Nti fertilizer worth $3.5 million but Dr. Arthur said, he would not know that.

Lawyer Codjoe, also asked, Dr. Arthur, whether he knew the PPA, has a website, where all procurement of fertilizers from COCOBOD was published, but the witness said he was not privy to that information.

Mr Codjoe, pointed to the witness that on the PPA website, there was records of a contract to purchase 100, 000 bags of Cocoa Nti fertilizer through sole sourcing, but the Scientist insisted he was not privy to that information.

Aninvestigative report dated November 21, which is before the court presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenugah, an Appeal Court Judge, sitting as an additional High Court Judge, revealed that Dr. Arthur in 2013, travelled with the local suppliers of ‘Cocoa Nti’ granular fertilizer; Enepa Ventures Ltd to visit the Morocco-based manufacturers of the product and upon his return, he quickly prepared a report on the product without conducting any scientific test on it.

Dr. Arthur’s secret trip to Morocco with the suppliers was discovered by COCOBOD, when in 2016, he quickly submitted the forged scientific report to COCOBOD okaying ‘Cocoa Nti Granular fertilizer. This was after Enepa Ventures had officially applied to COCOBOD for certification and authorization of the product.

Alarmed by the record time in which the test report approving ‘Cocoa Nti Granular fertilizer was submitted, COCOBOD instituted a probe, and it was discovered that the report was forged by Dr. Arthur after his secret trip to Morocco. He was thus suspended and banned from CRIG over what the then Executive Director of CRIG Dr. G.J Anim-Kwapong said was unethical behaviours of scientists at the research institution.

But interestingly, upon the change of government in 2017, the new management of the COCOBOD, made up of some retired officers, including Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah and Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah, who were recalled by the Akufo-Addo government, lifted the suspension also reversed a key recommendation that Dr. Arthur should not step foot at CRIG as a result of the forgery.

Under cross-examination by Dr. Opuni’s lawyer, Samuel Cudjoe, the Soil Scientist, admitted being investigated over the forgery incident and also being driven away from the CRIG, after it was proven that he had travelled to the Kingdom of Morocco with the promoters of ‘Cocoa Nti’granular fertilizer, without the knowledge and authorization of his superior officers at CRIG and COCOBOD.

Dr. Opuni’s lead counsel, had earlier told the court that the reason behind COCOBOD’s instruction to CRIG was that, there were complaints that even though Cocoa Nti granular fertiliser was submitted to COCOBOD in 2016, Dr. Arthur, claimed he had tested and had authored a scientific report on it three years earlier.

The findings of the CRIG Disciplinary Committee, according to Mr Codjoe, indicated that no such work had been done by CRIG as an institution, adding that Dr. Arthur forged the said scientific report.

Dr. Arthur confirmed going on suspension per the recommendations of the committee but cannot speak to the content of its report because he had not seen it.

However, Mr. Codjoe argued that, even if Dr. Arthur, claim he never had the opportunity to see the findings of the committee, at least, when he appeared before it, he was informed that he was being investigated for claiming he had tested Cocoa Nti granular fertilizer in 2013, when COCOBOD, officially had an application in March 2016.

During cross-examination on 2 July 2019 by the counsel for Dr. Opuni, Dr. Adu-Ampomah, sprang another surprise on the court while responding to procurements he supervised after his second spell at COCOBOD.

Dr. Adu-Ampomah, had insisted in previous hearings, that COCOBOD’s method for procuring agrochemicals was through open tendering, where adverts were placed in the newspapers to invite prospective suppliers.

But when faced with hard evidence to the contrary, Dr.Adu-Ampomah admitted that on 5 March 2018, even though COCOBOD wrote to the PPA, seeking approval to purchase agrochemicals through open tendering process in the sum of $52,050,000, it, also, through another letter, applied to purchase a larger quantity of agrochemicals through sole-sourcing to the tune of $97,913,750 for the same 2017/2018 CODAPECH HITECH programme.

He explained: “….As I have said, there are technical issues involved. That is the reason why chemicals are tested vivaciously at CRIG before approval and my lord, to produce large quantities of cocoa in a given country, if care is not taken, there will be indiscriminate damage to the environment by reckless use of molecules and that is why we have to be going through all these processes. And also, the availability of the product at the required time and farmers’ preferences are all taken into consideration. And these decisions are taken with the advice of the experts”.

Dr.Adu-Ampomah, also affirmed that out of the $52,050,000 approval given by the PPA for COCOBOD to purchase agrochemicals through open tendering, COCOBOD used $9,250,000 for the purchase of agrochemicals including fertilisers, insecticides and fungicides through sole-sourcing from Messrs Kumark Company Limited.

Dr. Adu-Ampomah, according Lawyer Codjoe, is yet to submit a newspaper publication in which COCOBOD, advertised the procurements to the court.