General News of Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Accra, March 24, GNA - An officer of the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), on Wednesday told an Accra Fast Track High Court that transactions on rice imported from India did not receive explicit approval from the National Investments Bank (NIB) Board.
Mr. Godfred Agyapong, who is also Head of Audit Unit, BNI, however, said Dan Charles Gyimah, Managing Director of NIB informed the Board of the rice transactions.
Mr Agyapong, the investigator, was testifying in the case in which Akwasi Osei-Adjei, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and NEPAD, and Gyimah are before the court in connection with the importation of rice.
They are facing eight counts of conspiracy, contravention of the provisions of the Public Procurement Act (Act 663), use of public office for profit, stealing and wilfully causing financial loss to the State to the tune of 1,408,590 dollars.
The accused persons have pleaded not guilty and the court; presided over by Mr. Justice Bright Mensah has admitted them to bail in the sum GH¢200,000 with two sureties each.
The sureties should consist of immovable property and their title de= eds deposited at the Court's Registry. Mr. Agyapong, who was led in evidence by Mr Anthony Gyambiby, Chief State Attorney, recounted that in May 2009, he was instructed by his superiors to investigate the rice imported from India to Ghana in which t= he Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NIB were involved.
During investigations, Mr. Agyapong said it was revealed that the ri= ce importation was initiated by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in a lett= er written in February 2008.
According to the witness, Mr Sarpong Ampratwum, the then Ghana's Deputy High Commissioner to India, informed Ghana Government about the ban on th= e exportation of rice from India.
He said Mr. Ampratwum indicated that the Indian Government was making efforts to lift the ban on rice exportation.
In September 2008, the Foreign Affairs Ministry wrote a letter to the Minister of External Affairs in India thanking the Indian Government for lifting the ban and the allocation of 15,000 metric tonnes of rice to Ghana. Witness said when Mr. Ampratwum went to India's Ministry of External Affairs for discussion on the rice importation, he was informed by the State Trading Corporation in India that a consignee and a commercial contract was required before the rice could be imported to Ghana.
The witness said the 15,000 metric tonnes of rice imported valued 10,260,000 dollars and this information was obtained from the minutes of an NIB Board meeting. Witness said Citibank issued a Letter of Credit after the rice contract had been signed. Mr. Agyapong said he realised that the procurement process on the rice importation had not been followed.
According to him in February 2009, Osei-Adjei went to India and that had=
been captured in an Indian magazine known as "The Outlook." Witness therefore tendered the magazine as well as photocopies of Osei-Adjei's passport in evidence.
According to the witness, Osei-Adjei's passport was issued on February 11, 2009 and he travelled with it to India on February 19, 2009. Witness said investigations revealed that it was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that imported the rice and NIB was the consignee.
According to the witness, he went to Tema to have a look at the imported rice, some of which had gone bad. Witness said he later learnt that NIB auctioned the remaining rice but he did not know the amount realised from the sale. Answering questions under cross examination, Mr Agyapong admitted that t= he rice was cleared in August 2009. He denied inviting Osei-Adjei to the BNI office for questioning although= he administered questions to him.
Witness said the total number of bags of rice stolen was 2,987 and that represented one per cent of the total sum of the rice imported. He said two million dollars was spent in importing the rice and a waiver=
placed on it was rejected by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Plannin= g. Witness admitted that Osei-Adjei played the role of former President Joh= n Agyekum Kufuor in the importation of the rice "because former President Kufuor had the power to choose any of his Ministers to transact business on his behalf".
Somewhere in February 2008, Mr. Joe Baidoo-Ansah, Former Minister of Trade and Industry, initiated importation of the rice from India. In a letter dated February 13, 2008, he requested Government through=
the Ghana High Commission in India, to purchase 100,000 metric tons of (2= 5 per cent to 35 per cent broken rice).
The rice was expected to arrive in Ghana by May 2008 to help to curb the severe increase of price of staples in Ghana and the designated consignee was Ghana National Procurement Agency.
Mr. Baidoo-Ansah in another letter dated April 10, 2008 addressed to the Minister of External Affairs of India, referred to an earlier meeting held between Former President Kufuor and the Indian Minister of Commerce. In the letter, Mr. Baidoo-Ansah drew attention to "severe food situation looming in Ghana" and sought to procure from the Government of India 300,000 metric tonnes of low grade white 25 per cent broken rice for shipment to Ghana by June 2008.
However, in April 2008, Osei-Adjei took over the efforts of Mr. Baidoo-Ansah and nominated NIB as the sole consignee.
Gyimah represented the bank and negotiated the terms of the contract with State Trading Corporation of India through the Ghana High Commission in India. Osei-Adjei instructed Ghana's High Commissioner in India to sign the=
contract on behalf of Ghana Government.
The contract was executed and 15,000 metric tons of rice was to be shipped by Amira Foods Limited of India, a private shipping company, and on February 18, 2009, the consignment arrived at the Tema Harbour. Initially, exportation of the rice to Ghana was supposed to be a gra= nt but later turned into commercial transaction noting that Gyimah approache= d Citibank to issue Letters of Credit to cover the value of the consignment= .. On arrival of the rice in Ghana, efforts by the management of NIB to=
obtain import tax exemption from Ministry of Finance and Economic Plannin= g to clear the rice were denied due to the commercial nature of the contrac= t and non-involvement of the Ministry in the transaction. The rice on arrival was kept in Customs Excise and Preventive Servic= e (CEPS) bonded warehouse.
However, after taking stock of the consignment, it was noticed that 2,997 bags were missing and the rest was in varying states of unwholesomeness. The prosecution said management of NIB was making efforts to sell th= e remaining rice through tender.
It said investigations by the BNI revealed that provisions of the Public Procurement Act were not followed and the missing 2,997 bags had b= een diverted for sale elsewhere for huge private profit. The case was adjourned to Friday, April 30. 24 March 10