More details are emerging about the controversial 100,000 bags of Cocoa Nti Granular fertiliser purchased by the current management of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) this year using a forged scientific report generated by a soil scientist at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), Dr. Alfred Arthur, who happens to be the Attorney General’s second prosecution witness in the GHS217 million Opuni-Agongo fertiliser case currently being tried at the High Court.
According to proceedings from the trial, the fertilisers were bought for U.S.$3.15 million and not U.S.$3.5 million.
A company called Agriculture Manufacturing Group (AMG) was awarded the multi-million dollar contract under a sole-sourcing arrangement by the current COCOBOD management led by Mr Joseph Boahene Aidoo in May this year.
It was also revealed that there are two conflicting scientific reports on Cocoa Nti fertiliser compiled by the same Dr Arthur, which are two years apart.
While the first one was done in 2013 but submitted in 2016, the second report, which eventually led to the U.S.$3.15 million contract, was put together in 2018.
The 2016 scientific report was found to have been forged by Dr Arthur, leading to his suspension from CRIG for “unethical” conduct, after an investigation by a team of his superior officers established that he had privately travelled to Morocco with Agriculture Manufacturing Group (AMG), the suppliers of Cocoa Nti fertiliser, to visit the manufacturers of the fertiliser in 2013.
AMG has sometimes been known as Enepa Venture. It was previously based in Kumasi.
Despite a ban slapped on Dr Arthur not to test any fertiliser at CRIG following the probe, the new managers of both COCOBOD and CRIG lifted the ban and recalled him in 2017 and handed him the same Cocoa Nti fertiliser to test and submit his second scientific report which gave the agrochemical a clean bill of health for purchase by COCOBOD.
Dr Arthur, who was answering questions under cross-examination in the trial of Dr. Stephen Opuni, former Chief Executive Officer of COCOBOD and businessman Seidu Agongo, owner of Agricult Ghana Limited, on Monday, confirmed his two scientific reports and also made some admissions.
The scientist acknowledged the two reports he did and admitted they had conflicting testing sites and were signed by two different officers at CRIG.
While the 2016 report was rightly signed by the then-Executive Director of CRIG, Dr. G.J. Anim-Kwapong, the 2018 scientific report was signed by a junior officer by name Winifred Kumi, who had identified himself as a Research Scientist.
This was in spite of the fact that Dr Franklin Manu Amoah had, at the time, been recalled from retirement to head CRIG. It is unclear why he did not sign the report as expected.
It came up again in court that aside from Dr Amoah, other retirees of COCOBOD, including Dr Yaw Adu-Ampomah and Dr William Mensah, were recalled to take up key decision-making positions as Deputy CEO in-charge of Agronomy and Quality Control; and Deputy CEO of Finance and Administration, respectively.
During a previous cross-examination by Dr. Opuni’s lawyer, Samuel Cudjoe, it was shown that Dr Arthur was suspended by CRIG in 2017 for presenting the forged scientific report in 2016 recommending the use of Cocoa Nti fertiliser to COCOBOD, claiming he had tested the agrochemical in 2013, although samples of the said fertiliser were presented for testing to CRIG by COCOBOD in 2016.
Mr Benson Nutsupkui, the lawyer for Mr Agongo on Monday said the recalled retirees were also made members of the Akufo-Addo transition team on COCOBOD during the transition period after the 2016 elections.
Mr Nutsukpui asked Dr Arthur if it was not just convenient that he was also recalled to the soil science division of CRIG after his suspension.
The former Ghana Bar Association (GBA) president further asked Dr Arthur if he was aware that all the officers were members of the transition team.
The prosecution witness responded that all the mentioned retired officers were recalled, he was not aware that they served with the Akudo-Addo side of the transition team.
Dr Arthur also told the Accra High Court that Lithovit Foliar fertiliser, which is the subject of the trial of Dr Opuni and Mr Agongo, was fully tested on cocoa seedlings in December 2013.
According to Dr Arthur, he was assigned a specific role by the lead scientist at the time, Mr A.A. Afrifa, which he fully completed awaiting test on mature trees.
Dr Arthur also told the court presided over by Justice C.Y. Hornyenuga that Lithovit Foliar fertiliser was, at the time, used as the standard for conducting tests on seedlings since its performance was already known.
The state’s witness also told the court that the division did not re-evaluate fertilisers, agrochemicals and spraying machines in the 2016 crop season but that assertion was discounted by Mr Nutsukpui, who insisted that a re-evaluation exercise was conducted on fertilisers including Lithovit and a report was submitted to the Executive Director Dr Anim-Kwapong.
But in a response, Dr Arthur said he had not seen the said report.
The witness said in the 2015 crop season, certificates were approved without any re-evaluation of the fertilisers, agrochemicals and spraying machines, but again Mr Agongo’s lawyer rebutted that saying there were bills submitted by CRIG to suppliers to prove that re-evaluation was done in the 2015 – 2016 season.
Mr Nutsukpui also pointed out that there was a letter from CRIG confirming that the re-evaluation report was handed over to COCOBOD by an executive director of the research institute but Dr Arthur said: “My Lord, I have not sighted that report and I do not know when in 2016 the re-evaluation was done.”
On whether all correspondence to COCOBOD were signed by the Executive Director and the deputies, the witness said that was not exactly correct because not all correspondence required the signature of those personalities in question, adding that after a report had been vetted by the Committee for Testing Chemicals and Machinery, it became a property of CRIG.
Asked whether based on his report, a certificate was issued to AMG on Cocoa Nti fertiliser in 2018, the witness said if the report was approved by COCOBOD, then definitely a certificate would have been issued to cover the product.
Asked who assigned the 2016 study on Cocoa Nti to him, Dr Arthur said it was usually done by the head of the division.
It was pointed out to Dr Arthur, who had claimed Lithovit was a powdery substance that Mr A. A. Afrifa, whom he confirmed as the superior officer that assigned him to test Lithovit Foliar fertiliser, was the one who later demanded the powdered formed of the fertiliser after a liquid one was handed over.
Mr Agongo and Agricult Ghana Company Limited had always maintained that Lithovit Foliar fertiliser was a liquid agrochemical, and Mr Afrifa is also said to have written in his police statements that the Lithovit fertiliser he received from COCOBOD and worked on, was in a liquid form.
It was also suggested to Dr Arthur that in all his eight statements to the police and the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO), as well as his testimony before the Adu-Ampomah Committee and the arbitration proceedings, he never mentioned that Mr Afrifa had told him that Dr Opuni wanted him to shorten the trial period for Lithovit Foliar fertiliser and subsequently hand over the report to COCOBOD, and that his new claim in court was an embellishment.
There was a standoff between Mr Nutsukpui and Chief State Attorney Evelyn Keelson in court after the latter accused the former of smuggling an alien document into the case which bore the witness’ name and signature but did not bear the letterhead CRIG.
The stalemate was resolved after the judge cross-checked that document from his pile and found it among several others submitted by the Attorney-General.
Justice Honyenugah, a Court of Appeal Judge sitting as an additional High Court Judge, adjourned the case to Monday, 3 December for Mr Nutsukpui to continue his cross-examination of the witness.
Dr Opuni, Mr Agongo and Agricult are facing 27 charges of willfully causing financial loss of GHS217 million to the state, through three separate fertiliser supply contracts between 2014 and 2016.
The contracts were GHS43.1million (2013/2014 cocoa farming season), GHS75.3million (2014/2015 cocoa farming season) and GHS98.9million (2015/2016 cocoa farming season) totalling GHS217million through sole-sourcing, the state claimed, adding that procurement procedures for sole-sourcing were not followed.
According to the charges, the consignments of Lithovit Foliar were produced locally, contrary to an agreement between COCOBOD and Agricult Ghana Company Limited that it be sourced from Germany.
Also, the Attorney General claims the fertilisers were manufactured without registration, thereby, flouting the Plants and Fertiliser Act 2010.