The legal team for former COCOBOD CEO, Dr Stephen Opuni, and businessman Seidu Agongo, has said that all the necessary tests were conducted before supply of fertilisers for use by cocoa farmers.
Dr Opuni and Mr Agongo are facing 27 charges of willfully causing financial loss of GHS217million 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.
Spokesperson for the team of lawyers for the accused persons, Edudzi Tameklo, told Class91.5FM’s Executive Breakfast Show hosted by Moro Awudu on Tuesday, 27 March that: “A man who today is being alleged to have defrauded the state wrote to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) as early as 10th May 2013” to register his company and the company’s fertiliser product with the Ministry.
Mr Tameklo explained that Mr Agongo further wrote to the Deputy CEO of COCOBOD and the letter was received on the 13th of May 2013. It stated: “Submission of AgriCult fertiliser to CRIG for testing”.
Mr Tameklo said on the 7th of June 2013, MoFA wrote a letter to Mr Agongo stating: “I wish to confirm that the agricultural fertiliser has been approved by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture”.
He wondered how a man who wants to defraud the state, “will go to the very agency responsible for same” to certify all the processes he needed to have gone through before supplying the contract.
Mr Tameklo further pointed out that as part of the certification and testing processes, the Plant Protection And Regulatory Services Directorate (PPRSD) of the Ministry of Agriculture stated in a letter to Mr Agongo that: “In compliance with the Plants and Fertiliser Act, you are notified that your fertiliser sample submitted to the fertiliser regulatory…has passed the laboratory test”.
Again, the private legal practitioner pointed out that Mr Agongo went to the National Nuclear Research Institute for the testing of the product on 7th June, 2013.
He emphasised that all these processes occurred “before Dr Opuni was appointed in November 2013 and started work in January 2014”.
“So, Alhaji Seidu Agongo had commenced the diligent testing of his product from one agency of the state to the other and in all those cases testing were done. To be diligent further, he went to the Cocoa Research Institute to have the product tested and the products were in fact tested. When the products were tested, on the 22nd day of January 2014, instructively, Dr F. M. Amoah of the Cocoa Research Institute, Executive Director, wrote to the Board of COCOBOD and it says: ‘This is to certify that the Cocoa Research Institute has tested and recommended to the Board Lithovit Foliar fertiliser’; that was for 2014,” Mr Tameklo noted.
According to the spokesperson for the defence team, “in 2015, the same agency recommended the product to COCOBOD. 2016, same certification was given”.
Mr Tameklo said the Cocoa Health and Extension Office later conducted a research concerning the efficacy of the fertiliser after its usage on cocoa plants.
The lawyer said the office conducted a field test between the 7th and 25th April 2015 in the Brong Ahafo, Central, Eastern, Volta, Eastern North, Western South and Ashanti regions and their recommendation was positive based on the effectiveness of the fertiliser.
The report stated that: “On the basis of the field visits and observations made thereof, the following recommendations are made for the management’s favourable consideration. ‘Additionally, Foliar fertiliser, especially Lithovit, which farmers have shown preference for could be purchased to augment the 700,000litres purchased to ensure that all very young cocoa farms are fertilised so that the country could maximise its cocoa output’”.
Mr Tameklo added that the report also stated that: “Some of the farmers who were met on the farm attested to the fact that there had been massive increases in cocoa yield due to the application of Lithovit liquid fertiliser”.
He said the state used all the fertiliser supplied by Mr Agongo and wondered how the man could now be accused of defrauding the state.
Attorney General Gloria Akuffo had told the court on Tuesday, 26 March that Mr Agongo, acting on behalf of AgriCult Ghana Limited, submitted to the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), a fertiliser sample for testing. The testing was supposed to be in two phases: applied to seedlings and applied to mature plants for at least two planting seasons.
The AG said the testing was carried out for only the first phase after which a report recommending use of the Lithovit Foliar fertiliser was given without the second-phase testing.
Ms Akuffo argued that investigations revealed that former COCOBOD CEO Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni wrote to CRIG asking that they shorten the testing period. Dr Opuni, she said, subsequently wrote to Mr Agongo that his fertiliser had been certified for use on cocoa after which a certificate was issued by CRIG.
She said AgriCult, despite not applying for renewal of certificate for 2015 and 2016 as required, had its licence renewed upon the instance of Dr Opuni, without any testing.
Dr Opuni then, according to Ms Akuffo, applied to the Public Procurement Authority for approval for AgriCult Ghana Limited to be single-sourced to procure 700,000 litres of the fertiliser, although conditions for single-sourcing had not been satisfied.
In that letter, Ms Akuffo said Dr Opuni stated the price as $19,250,000. She averred that the nature of the product was captured as liquid despite it being in powdery form.
The AG further told the court that as of the time of writing to the PPA, AgriCult had not written to COCOBOD stating any price as required by law.
The Public Procurement Authority then, she said, wrote to the COCOBOD boss requesting for value-for-money analysis.
Dr Opuni, Ms Akuffo continued, did not provide the value-for-money analysis but rather misrepresented the facts to the PPA that in compliance with advice from its Board in 2008, AgriCult Ghana Limited had been pre-qualified for the supply of the fertiliser, although, according to the AG, he knew this was not true.
She said based on Dr Opuni’s misrepresentation, the PPA board approved COCOBOD's request for the single-sourcing of 700,000 litres of the fertiliser.
In 2014, Dr Opuni, according to Ms Akuffo, once again wrote to the PPA requesting approval to hand AgriCult a contract to supply liquid fertiliser through sole-sourcing even though conditions had not been met.
The AG said the PPA approved this request and Dr Opuni then put in another request which was also approved.
In November 2015, the PPA, Ms Akuffo said, approved the application for single-source procurement.
She said three separate agreements were signed and executed by Mr Agongo's AgriCult Ghana Limited.
Subsequent investigations, she said, had revealed that the contracts were executed when the company did not have a valid certificate to supply the fertiliser.
Whereas the material safety data sheet accompanying the fertiliser that was originally submitted to CRIG for testing described the substance as powdery, Dr Opuni, in requesting quotations for supply and delivery under the three contracts, referred to the fertiliser as liquid and quoted in litres, the AG said.
She continued that when the products arrived in Ghana, COCOBOD was required to notify CRIG for testing to ensure it corresponded with what was tested by CRIG but no such testing was done.
In 2017, she said COCOBOD carried out an audit into testing of fertilisers after which it referred the matter for criminal investigations. The investigations, the AG said, established that the product supplied by AgriCult Ghana Limited, was different from the sample submitted to CRIG for testing.
Further tests, she said, revealed variously that the fertiliser supplied had been adulterated and did not meet the specified standard and that the product could not be used as nutrient on cocoa. Furthermore, she added, the test indicated that the fertiliser could be harmful to humans and animals as well hazardous to water.
She said even though COCOBOD had spent $55million on the fertiliser, COCOBOD's records showed there was no significant increase in the cocoa yield during the period.
Investigations, she stated, established that Mr Agongo deposited an amount of GHS25,000 into the account of Dr Opuni to influence the award of contracts.
"It has been established that between 2014 and 2016, contrary to law, Seidu Agongo and Agricult manufactured fertiliser in commercial quantities when it had not been registered by the Ministry for food and Agriculture”.