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A-G’s witness in Opuni trial cornered again

The Attorney-General’s third witness in the trial of former Chief Executive of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr. Stephen Opuni, and businessman, Seidu Agongo and his company, Agricult Ghana Limited, has been boxed again into a tight corner, as his claim that the board, always advertised its procurement of agrochemical and fertilizers for competitive bidding, has been revealed as untrue.

It emerged at the High Court on Wednesday, that not only did Prosecution witness, Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah, himself many times signed for the purchase of the procurement of the agrochemical and fertilizers through sole-sourcing, but once had the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) in 2017, advising him and the COCOBOD, not to do sole sourcing of some fertilizers, but this was blatantly ignored.

He also suggested that, the PPA, was driven to the point of abusing its powers under the procurement law.

Dr. Adu-Ampomah, who was the Deputy Chief Executive Office in-charge of the Agronomy and Quality Control after his second coming following the victory of President Akufo-Addo, had sent a stinker to the PPA on the directive to do a competitive bidding, saying Ghanaian cocoa farmers preferred sole-sourcing of their fertilizers.

The same witness at the previous sitting, confessed to his deep involvement in the purchase of over US$268 million fertilizer for the 2011/12 cocoa season through single-source; something the Justice Minister, had claimed was alien to the COCOBOD, until the emergence of Dr. Opuni, years later in 2013.

On Wednesday, defence counsel, Samuel Cudjoe, dwelled heavily on three letters dealing with COCOBOD’s applications to PPA to “single source procurement” of agrochemicals for the CODAPEC/HI-TECH programme for the 2016/2017 as well as 2017/2018 cocoa seasons.

The PPA, had in one of the letters dated June 28, 2017, responded to the COCOBOD’s request to sole source and advised it to renegotiate the price of the chemical.

COCOBOD was asked to cut the cost of the product by 15percent. Subsequently, based on the Authority’s intervention, the cost of the agrochemical was reduced from US$85 per litre to US$65 per litre.

In another letter from the PPA to COCOBOD dated July 11, 2017, was a response addressed to the witness concerning his earlier letter dated July 6, 2017, that had offered clarity to the purchase of agrochemical for the 2016/2017 cocoa season through single source.

However, PPA in that letter made a categorical statement about its disapproval of COCOBOD to continue purchasing products using single source.

“kindly note that in granting this approval and other similar requests which PPA has had to process, we wish to inform COCOBOD that going forward in the procurement of insecticides, pesticides, fertilizers and other supplies for cocoa production, the Authority is of the view that, COCOBOD must consider advertising the various formulae which have been used over the years to enable other agro-chemical manufacturers and suppliers to submit proposals for COCOBOD’s testing/quality assurance processes in order to encourage competition.

“We believe this procedure will foster competition and the attainment of value for money in view of the high expenditures/capital outlay that characterizes such procurements.”

Having been made to read his own document to PPA after denying ever saying the farmer preferred sole-sourced fertilizers, Dr. Adu-Ampomah told the court that the position of PPA showed the Authority’s lack of understanding of the “technicalities” involved in the purchase of products for cocoa production.

The Attorney-General’s witness suggested in court that COCOBOD disregarded the PPA’s directive because farmers were against competitive bidding. He revealed that procurements of chemicals by COCOBOD were done based on the dictate of farmers.

The witness who is currently an advisor to the Food and Agriculture Minister, Dr. OwusuAfriyieAkoto on cocoa affairs had in his evidence-in-chief, told the court that the procurement practice at COCOBOD had always been through competitive tender.

However, his position could not stand the test under cross-examination as lawyer for Dr. Opuni, Lawyer Cudjoe, produced several documents exposing the witness of personally participating in procurement processes at COCOBOD through sole sourcing even before and after the tenure of the first accused.

He further told the court that PPA’s directive was a clear usurpation of the institution’s powers.

Defence counsel reminded Dr. Adu-Ampomah that the portion he read “can only mean that PPA was advising COCOBOD to henceforth advertise the purchase of pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers.”

The witness replied, “My lord on this occasion, the PPA was usurping its authority on this matter because there are technical issues involved that they would not know.”

Contrary to the allegations of usurpation by the PPA, through its intervention the price was reduced as contained in exhibit 28 and 28B, the lawyer put it to him.

“My lord this was true on the price but on the issue of the sole sourcing they were usurping their authority,” the witness stressed.

The position of the witness could explain why COCOBOD in a letter signed by the witness himself, a year after the PPA’s advice against sole sourcing, requested the PPA to grant another application to sole source agrochemicals because they were the choice of farmers.

This also contradicts the state’s third witness’ claims in his evidence-in-chief that competitive bidding was the practice at COCOBOD when it comes to procurement.

“The sole sourced chemicals are farmers’ preferences and they are being procured to encourage farmers, especially the recalcitrant ones, to undertake the other half of the two (2) spraying regimes (fungal and insect sprayings) after the CODAPEC/HI-TECH programmes.

“If farmers are not encouraged to undertake the full spraying against both fungus and insect attacks, the impact of the programme will not be realized,” Dr. Adu-Ampomah, stated in his letter to PPA dated 27th March, 2018 in his capacity then as the Deputy CEO of COCOBOD in charge of Agronomy and Quality Control.

Dr. Adu-Ampomah who was the Deputy Chief Executive at COCOBOD between 2009 and 2013, retired but returned to the establishment again in 2017 to the same position before moving on to the Agric Ministry in October 2018 as the advisor to his friend the sector minister on cocoa affairs.

He and others had served on the Akufo-Addo Transitional Team from the NPP’s electoral victory in 2016 over the NDC led by John Dramani Mahama.

The Court presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenugah, an Appeal Court Judge, sitting as an additional High Court Judge resumes sitting on Thursday, June 20 for further cross-examination.

Dr Opuni and Mr Agongo, are facing 27 charges, including defrauding by false pretences, wilfully causing financial loss to the state, money laundering, corruption by public officer and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.They have both pleaded not guilty to the charges and are on a GH¢300,000.00 each self-recognisance bail.

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