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General News of Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Source: Graphic.com.gh

Opuni bought untested fertilisers - Witness

A prosecution witness in the trial of the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, has testified that COCOBOD under Dr Opuni bought fertiliser which had not been tested by scientists.

According to Dr Franklin Manu Amoah, the Executive Director of the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), the controversial fertiliser which gave rise to the court case was not tested by CRIG.

He told the court that CRIG was the body mandated to test all chemicals, fertilisers and machinery that were used for the production of cocoa, kola, sheanut and cashew.

CRIG, the witness explained, was instructed by COCOBOD to test the efficacy of Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser (LFF), which was powdery in nature, but COCOBOD ended up buying a liquid LFF.

“The liquid Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser being talked about has already been dissolved and we don’t know the nutrient contents since we did not test it. There is no guarantee that the liquid fertiliser is the same as the powdery fertiliser that we tested,’’ he said.

Case against Opuni

In March, 2017, the Attorney-General dragged Dr Opuni and a businessman, Seidu Agongo, the Chief Executive Officer of Agricult Ghana Limited, to court for allegedly causing financial loss of GH¢ 271.3m to the state.

The two have been slapped with 27 charges for allegedly engaging in illegalities in a series of fertiliser transactions which led to the procurement and distribution of substandard fertilisers to farmers.

Opuni and Agongo have, however, pleaded not guilty to all the charges and have been granted bail by the Accra High Court.

After more than three months of delay due to Dr Opuni’s demand for certain documents from the prosecution, the trial commenced fully yesterday.

That was after the presiding judge, Mr Justice Clemence Honyenuga, ruled that the prosecution had complied with the court’s order to furnish the defence with the documents and, therefore, the trial must start.

Dr Amoah, who was the first prosecution witness then took the stand to give his evidence-in-chief, which lasted more than four hours.

“Opuni’s directive”

The executive director of CRIG further informed the court that in May, 2013, COCOBOD instructed CRIG to conduct tests on LFF from Agricult Limited.

The LFF, he said, was in powdery form and per its procedure, CRIG needed six months to conduct the test to determine whether it was suitable for cocoa seedlings and at least two years for mature cocoa.

According to him, Dr Opuni after assuming office in late 2013, ordered CRIG, which was a division of COCOBOD, to reduce the testing period for agrochemicals.

Dr Opuni, he added, told CRIG that the directive was to reduce the cost of agrochemicals and make it more available for farmers.

“He (Opuni) said due to the long test period, agrochemicals were expensive and not easily available to farmers and only a few companies had monopolised the market,’’ Dr Amoah said.

The witness said all attempts by officers of CRIG to convince Dr Opuni to change the directive due to its negative impact on cocoa yielded no fruits.

He further stated that due to the directive from Dr Opuni, the LFF from Agricult did not go through the full minimum two- year period needed to test its efficacy for mature cocoa.

Cross-examination

Earlier, Dr Amoah told the court that he went on compulsory retirement in August 2015, but was given a contract by the government in February 2017 to assume his former position as the Executive Director of CRIG.

He also told the court that he was part of the team that worked on COCOBOD issues during the transitional period after the 2016 general election.

The statement, however, formed the basis of the cross-examination by Dr Opuni’s lawyer, Mr Samuel Cudjoe.

Below are excerpts of the cross-examination:

Mr Cudjoe: I will be right in stating that you were on retirement in 2016, but was called back and offered a contract

Dr Amoah: Yes

Mr Cudjoe: What is the length of your contract?

Dr Amoah: It ends on August 31, 2018.

Mr Cudjoe: So it is for two years.

Dr Amoah: Not for two years .It started in February 2017 so it is for one year 7 months

Mr Cudjoe: Prior to being given the contract, you were part of the transitional team on COCOBOD in Dec, 2016 and Jan 2017 ?

Dr Amoah: Yes

The cross-examination will continue on July 23, 2018.