‘I’ll treat it with the contempt it deserves’ – Witness on ‘worthless’ Lithovit claims

The first defence witness in the ongoing GHS217-million financial loss case, Mr Charles Tetteh Dodoo, a former Director of Finance at the Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod), has told the court that he will “treat with the contempt that it deserves”, claims by the State that Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser was a “worthless” agrochemical fraudulently sold to the state-owned company by businessman Seidu Agongo’s Agricult Company Limited while Dr Stephen Opuni was the CEO of Cocobod.

Dr Opuni, Mr Agongo and his Agricult Company Limited (First, Second and Third Accused Persons) have been charged with 27 counts in connection with the supply of the alleged substandard fertiliser which, according to the State, caused the nation to lose GHS217 million.

At the same hearing, Mr Dodoo told the court that the Entity Tender Committee of Cocobod used the right channels and due processes in approving the procurement of the fertiliser for the state company.

Under cross-examination by Mr Nutifafa Nutsukpui, counsel for Mr Agongo and Agricult; Dr Opuni’s witness told the court on Monday, 11 April 2022 not only did the ETC give the procurement of Lithovit a clean bill of health but also the supplier had nothing to do with the ETC’s meetings on that matter.

Read excerpts of the cross-examination below:

Q. Please confirm to the court that between 2014 and 2016 when you served on the ETC, as far as you can recall, all fertilisers that were purchased by Cocobod and paid for went through the ETC approval process?

A. Yes, my Lord.

Q. Now, sir, between 2014 and 2016, while you served on the ETC, did Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser also receive the concurrent approval of the ETC as far as you can recall?

A. Yes, my Lord.

Q. Now, please confirm to the court whether any supplier ever determined the agenda for the meetings for the ETC while you served on it between 2014 and 2016.

A. No, my Lord, it never happened.

Scientists bit

Q. And when Cocobod is procuring for the season, it procures the agrochemicals that are determined by the scientist as required for application for that particular season. That is correct?

A. Yes, my Lord but I want to add that more specifically by the CODAPEC HI-TECH Unit.

Q. You told this court that the CODAPEC HI-TECH Unit was made up of scientists from CRIG. Is that correct?

A. Yes, my Lord.

Q. And it is these scientists that determined the agrochemicals, including fertilisers and their prices which Cocobod must procure for any particular season.

A. Yes, my Lord, up to 2013/2014 financial year.

Q. Now, these scientists are the only persons who will determine the suitability of any agrochemicals including fertilisers for use on cocoa.

A. Yes, my Lord, in conjunction with CRIG.

Q. Now, this determination of suitability of agrochemicals for use on cocoa is not made by the Board or Management of Cocobod; that is correct?

A. Yes, my Lord.

Q. While you served on the Board between 2014 and 2015, the Board had no reason to doubt the integrity of these scientists?

A. No, my Lord, the Board had no reasons to doubt the integrity of these scientists.

Q. As a result, the Board will not question a recommendation made by these scientists to procure particular agrochemicals; that is correct?

A. Yes, my Lord.

Q. And, sir, because of the process of recommendation by the scientists, no individual board member or individual member of management could have gotten Cocobod to procure a particular fertiliser outside of these recommended by the scientists. Is that correct?

A. No, my Lord, nothing of that to my knowledge.

Q. And, in fact, Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser got recommended by the scientists for procurement, as far as you are aware. That is correct?

A. Yes, my Lord.

Q. Now, sir, it was suggested in this court by PW7 on the 1st of March 2021 that when both the ETC, on which you served as well as the Board approved the procurement of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser, they did not know what they were doing. What do you say to that?

A. My Lord, this assertion is not correct and it is an affront to the members of the ETC. If I may go further, CRIG has inspectors who follow up to the field and report on the performance of the various agrochemicals being applied on the field. There was not any single instance where an adverse report was made on Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser which would have informed the ETC’s approval of further purchases of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser over the years.

Q. Now, sir, from 2014 to 2016, would you remember whether the Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser was bought by Cocobod and applied by the farmers in all of the cocoa seasons of those years?

A. My Lord, any time Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser was procured, I have personally signed letters to haulage companies for the distribution of Lithovit Liquid Fertilisers from various warehouses to the district offices and they have been utilised.

Q. Sir, what will be your reaction if it was suggested that in buying and paying for Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser, Cocobod paid for a worthless product for which it received no value.

A. My Lord, I will treat it with the contempt that it deserves.

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