The first prosecution witness in the trial of former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ghana Cocoa Board (CCOBOD), Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo, has been discharged by an Accra High Court.
The witness was subjected to what the presiding judge Justice Clemence Honyenugah, an Appeal Court Judge sitting as an additional High Court Judge described as a ‘marathon cross-examination’ by defence lawyers, which lasted for more than 24 hours over six separate sittings.
Fertilizer Test Period
Led in his evidence-in-chief by Yvonne Attakora Obuobisa, Director of Public Prosecutions, the witness, Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah, who is the Executive Director of Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), told the court that Dr. Opuni verbally instructed scientists at CRIG to reduce the testing period for chemicals and fertilizers from two years to six months.
Dr. Amoah told the court that Dr Opuni sidestepped all rules governing the testing of new chemicals before applying them cocoa trees.
He said the accused person openly criticised laid-down procedures for testing chemicals.
According to Dr. Amoah, testing of fertilizers takes a minimum of two years, and an average of three years of testing on mature crops before they can be applied on the cocoa.
However, he said Dr. Opuni, upon assuming office, consistently insisted that the testing period should be reduced, saying the move would help make the fertilizers readily available and affordable to farmers.
He said all the scientists at CRIG disagreed with the decision of Dr. Opuni to reduce the testing period, adding that at a point he (Dr Opuni) and the scientists engaged in a lengthy conversation on the matter and they insisted on maintaining the current testing period for fertilizers.
He told the court that Dr. Opuni said he gave similar directives to reduce the testing of chemicals when he was in charge of the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA).
“He explained that that was what he experienced at FDA when he was the Chief Executive Officer there, and that the innovation he brought into that system made a wide range of drugs in the system affordable and available to all.”
Dr. Amoah told the court that CRIG tested and issued a certificate for Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer which was powdery in nature and form.
He further stated that during his time at CRIG there was never testing for liquid Lithovit fertilizer.
He said he only got to know about the said liquid Agricult Lithovit fertilizer when he was invited by the transition team that dealt with COCOBOD issues.
“In October 2017 during an internal investigation conducted by COCOBOD which I was invited by the committee, the same issue came up again as to whether CRIG tested Lithovit liquid fertilizer, and I responded that CRIG tested Lithovit powdery fertilizer and not liquid fertilizer,” the CRIG boss told the court.
During cross-examination, Samuel Codjoe, who is lead counsel for Dr. Opuni, disputed the verbal directive given by Dr. Opuni to reduce the testing period for chemicals and fertilizers at CRIG.
But Dr. Amoah held that the former COCOBOD boss was fond of giving verbal directives since he took office and “would normally not write.”
“That was usually Dr. Opuni’s modus operandi and he knows that what I am saying is the truth, and he cannot deny that he gave that verbal directives for the testing period to be reduced from two years to six months,” he added.
The cross-examination of the witness by Samuel Codjoe also focused on the final report and recommendation letter CRIG wrote to COCOBOD to approve Lithovit Foliar Fertilizer to be applied on matured cocoa trees without any field test.
“I am saying that you as the executive director are mandatorily bound to believe the report given by your brilliant scientist before forwarding it to COCOBOD without which you will be committing fraud on your employers or guilty of falsification of the scientific report,” the lawyer queried.
But the witness rejected the claim, saying he did not generate the report and recommendation letter.
He said the report and letter were produced by brilliant scientists who he did not doubt their competences.
The witness under cross-examination by Benson Nutsukpui, lead counsel for businessman Seidu Agongo, insisted that there are no documents at CRIG covering a re-evaluation for Agricult Lithovit Liquid Fertilizer.
Dr. Amoah reiterated that CRIG never tested any liquid Lithovit fertilizer, hence it was not possible for the institute to do a re-evaluation for an agrochemical which had not been tested and certified.
When asked whether he was aware Lithovit was one of the fertilizers distributed to farmers on the Codapec and Hitec programme by COCOBOD in 2014, 2015 and 2016, Dr. Amoah insisted that CRIG never did a re-evaluation for Agricult Lithovit Liquid fertilizer.
The court adjourned the case to October 29, 2018 for the prosecution to call its second witness.
Dr. Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo are before an Accra High Court for causing financial loss to the state to the tune of GH?217,370,289.22.
The two are facing a total of 27 charges, including defrauding by false pretense, willfully causing financial loss to the state, money laundering, corruption of a public officer and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.