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‘Keep quiet; you know nothing about cocoa’ – COCOBOD CEO to Mahama

The Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Mr Joseph Boahen Aidoo, has asked former President John Mahama to stop talking about the cocoa sector because he knows nothing about it and also collapsed it during his presidency.

Addressing the chiefs and people of Atobiase in the Wassa East district of the Western Region as part of Vice-President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia’s two-day tour, Mr Aidoo said: “John Mahama should keep quiet”.

“He has little appreciation of how the cocoa sector operates”, Mr Aidoo added.

In his view, the flagbearer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) is “bereft of ideas”.

He wondered: “What did he do when the swollen shoot disease ravaged farms,”

A few days ago, Mr Mahama said the recent increase in the producer price of cocoa by the government is to influence farmers to vote for President Nana Akufo-Addo in the 2020 polls.

According to the flagbearer of the NDC, the government failed to heed calls for yearly increases in the producer price of cocoa from 2017 until the impending elections.

Addressing separate durbars at Bonsu Nkwanta, Mafia and Boinzan in the Juaboso constituency of the Western-North Region, Mr Mahama pointed out that the increase in cocoa price is to cover up the failures of the government in the cocoa sector and manipulate the voting decision of cocoa farmers.

“So, the increase is because election is near and the government wants to use it to influence the vote of farmers”, he said.

He said the NDC, if elected, will re-introduce the yearly increase of the producer price of cocoa to enable cocoa farmers benefit from their toil and restore bonuses to the producer price of cocoa.

Mr Mahama said if given the mandate again, the next NDC administration will establish a pension scheme for cocoa farmers to take care of them upon their retirement.

Mr Mahama also questioned the prudence of the government’s decision to abandon the cocoa roads project.

He said most of the cocoa road projects would have long been completed if the NDC had been retained in the last elections.

Mr Mahama said if elected, the next NDC government will continue those projects for easy transportation of cocoa beans.

He, therefore, urged the electorate to vote for the NDC in the upcoming December 7 elections.

Prior to that, Mr Mahama had also dared the government to publish an audit report on the cocoa roads project.

Mr Mahama, on day one of his tour of the Western-North Region on Sunday, 4 October 2020, said the Akufo-Addo administration is only seeking to score cheap political points by hurriedly deploying contractors to resume work on abandoned road projects initiated during his tenure.

He, thus, called out the government to disclose any untoward transaction discovered in the audit of contracts awarded for cocoa road projects.

Addressing the chiefs and people of Bopa, Mr Mahama said: “They’ve abandoned the road projects for the past four years.

“Because they realised we are close to elections, they have started work on the roads again.

“I want to know where the audit report is.

“I am here at Bopa asking the NPP government to publish the audit reports on cocoa roads for everyone to see”, the former president dared the incumbent administration.

He said: “The laws of Ghana indicate that if a government starts a project and loses the elections, it is incumbent on the next government to continue with the projects”.

“But this is not what we are seeing.

“When the NDC was voted out of power, there were a lot of contractors working on projects, but when this government took over, they halted all of them, saying it was auditing them.

“It has been four years now and I believe that even if it was the Bible we were reading, we would have covered from Genesis to Revelations by now”, he added.

Following Mr Mahama’s various comments on the cocoa sector, the NPP, as a party, held a press conference on Monday, 5 October 2020 to respond to his specific allegations.

The party accused Mr Mahama and his erstwhile administration of inflating the cost of cocoa roads projects started under his administration.

Its Director of Communication, Mr Yaw Buaben Asamoa, said: “Far from what the NDC will want Ghanaians to believe, at no point within the current Government was a decision taken to neglect cocoa roads projects began under the previous administration. 

The NPP said “in order to deepen accountability and protect the public purse, as well as ensure value for money, due diligence had to be exercised”, thus, the suspension of the projects for an audit.

“Cocoa roads projects were suspended for an audit to be conducted, especially, after some anomalies which resulted in inflated costs of some of the contracts awarded by the previous government, were detected”, he explained. 

According to the Adentan MP, “the suspension of the project allowed for a re-scoping and proper alignment of funds as well as open competitive bidding processes towards the award of new cocoa roads contracts”.  

“It is important to state that the contractors who were awarded contracts by the previous administration and had genuine claims were promptly paid. During the 2017/2018 cocoa season, an amount of GHS497 million was paid to some of those cocoa roads contractors and another GHS414 million was subsequently paid in 2018/2019 cocoa season.

“Also, road projects awarded by the previous government that were near completion in 2017 were, as well, allowed to be completed by the contractors”, Mr Buaben Asamoa noted. 

He said: “The records show that the Mahama-led government deviated from the original purpose and intent for the construction of cocoa roads”, adding: “There was a heavy concentration on the construction of highways and in some cases roads in non-cocoa growing areas”.

“A whopping 63% of the funds for cocoa roads was devoted to highways, 5% went to urban roads and the rest went to feeder roads. This situation has changed significantly.

“That is why today, the increase in tarred feeder roads across the cocoa-growing regions in Ghana can be as high nearly 40% in just under four years (37% in the Eastern Region, for example, from 34 km in 2016 to 466 km today”, Mr Buaben Asamoa explained.  

He further said the flagbearer of the NDC “is, indeed, a curious man”, explaining: “He has shown some remarkable bravery in daring to speak on the contracts he and his spouse awarded for cocoa roads”.

“He is asking for the government to publish what is already public, the audit report of the said cocoa roads contracts. First of all, for John Mahama, his habit was to award contracts even if he had no clue how to pay for them.” 

“Cocoa roads contracts awarded by the previous government, constituting 229 projects, amounted to some GHS5.1 billion. This was at a time when funds available to pay for road construction in total was only GHS1.7 billion. Specifically, for cocoa roads, the approved annual mounts averaged GHS500 million for the Cocobod Infrastructural Development Trust Fund for the entire five-year period for the programme.  

“Indeed, John Mahama committed GHS3.2 billion (64%) that he did not have to just 74 projects awarded by the Ghana Highway Authority – not the Department of Feeder Roads. The 131 projects under Feeder Roads was valued at just GHS1.5 billion. Again. The average cost per KM of trunk roads in the contract award was GHS2.5 million; more than double the KM cost of the feeder roads at GHS1.16m.    

“The 140 contractors who were awarded the 229 contracts, none of the contracts went through a competitive tendering process. Not a single one. The cost per KM was much higher than the average cost of other government-sponsored road projects. For example, for the Preastea Samreboi Road, awarded to Asabea Engineering Ltd, the audit report found that it was inflated by 121.85%.

“This is a classic case of incompetent economic management, worsened by corruption. Also, several contractors were requesting payment for variation on contract amounts which were multiple times in excess of the initial contingency or variation amounts allocated”, the NPP said.   

The party stressed that while the Mahama-led government “could not honour the payments of contracts they signed right from 2014/2015 cocoa season, they continued to sign additional contracts till 2017 when they left office, piling up dubious debt”.  

Source: Classfmonline.com

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