Dr. Stephen Opuni and Mr. Seidu Agongo who also represented Agricult Ghana Limited as its Managing Director, have pleaded ‘not guilty’ to 27 charges varying from causing financial loss to the State, defrauding under false pretence and misdemeanour.
Facts of the Case
Agricult Ghana Limited is a company incorporated under the laws of Ghana with the following objectives: General Farming, Dealers in Agricultural Equipment, Import and Export of Farm Produce.
Mr. Seidu Agongo, the 2nd Accused person is a Director and the Managing Director of Agricult Ghana Limited, the 3rd Accused Company.
On 15th March, 2013, Ghana COCOBOD forwarded a sample of Lithovit Foliar fertiliser, submitted by Mr. Seidu Agongo on behalf of Agricult Ghana Limited to the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) for testing and certification.
The sample, a greyish brown powdery substance was forwarded to CRIG for the necessary scientific tests.
The testing of fertiliser is in 2 phases; phytotoxicity test on seedlings which takes a period of about six months and field tests on matured cocoa for at least two main cocoa seasons.
A certificate, valid only for the year of issue, is then issued upon the successful completion of the test. The certificate is renewable only upon a field evaluation and laboratory tests that confirm the efficacy of the fertiliser by CRIG.
In the instant case, phytotoxicity test was conducted on the fertiliser submitted by the 2nd Accused on behalf of the 3rd Accused Company, after which a draft report on the effect of the fertiliser on cocoa seedlings was submitted, to the Head of Soil Science.
Upon receipt of the draft report, the Head of Soil Science issued a final report, recommending the fertiliser to be applied to mature cocoa, even though no field tests had been conducted in mature cocoa, even though no field test had been conducted in mature cocoa nor had any residual test been performed on the fertiliser on the cocoa fruit.
Investigations have revealed that on the assumption of office of Dr. Stephen Opuni, the 1st Accused person, as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of COCOBOD, directed contrary to established policy and practice, that the period for testing fertilisers should be shortened.
Additionally, upon the directions of the 1st Accused person, no field or laboratory tests were conducted for the renewal of certificates for the use of the Lithovit Foliar fertiliser on cocoa during his tenure of office.
The final report to COCOBOD was sent by CRIG in a letter dated 21st January, 2014. The 1st Accused person informed the 3rd Accused Company that the fertiliser had been certified for use on cocoa, whereupon a certificate dated 21st January, 2014, was issued by CRIG for the use of the fertiliser on cocoa.
Even though the 3rd Accused Company never applied for a renewal of the initial certificate as required, its certificate was repeatedly renewed at the instance of the 1st Accused person for the years 2015 and 2016 without conducting the requisite field and laboratory tests.
On 19th February, 2014, the 1st Accused person applied to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) for approval for the 3rd Accused Company to be single sourced to procure 700,000 litres of “Lithovit fertiliser”, although the conditions for single source procurement had not been satisfied.
The 1st Accused person in that letter stated the price of 700,000 litres of the fertiliser as US$19,250,000.00 (GH₵43,120,000.00), that is, US$27.50 per unit cost even though the substance which was submitted for testing by the 3rd Accused Company was in powdery form and not liquid, and also when no price quotation had been submitted by the 2nd Accused person and the 3rd Accused Company by law.
By a letter dated 20th February, 2014, the PPA requested the 1st Accused person to furnish the Authority with value for money analysis on his request.
The 1st Accused did not comply with the PPA’s request but rather purported to justify the omission. The 1st Accused person by a letter dated 25th February, 2014, misrepresented to the PPA that in compliance with advice from the PPA Board in 2008, the 3rd Accused Company has been pre-qualified for the supply of the fertiliser, although the 1st Accused knew that this was not true.
On that basis, the PPA on 26th February, 2014, approved COCOBOD’s application for single sourcing of 700,000 litres of the fertiliser from the 3rd Accused Company.
By a letter dated 10th December, 2014, the 1st Accused person again applied to the PPA for the 3rd Accused Company to be single sourced to procure 700,000 litres of what is described as “Lithovit liquid fertiliser” for the 2014/2015 cocoa season at a price of US$19,950,000 (GH₵75,289,314.72), although conditions for single source procurement had not been satisfied.
On 20th December, 2014, PAP approved the application for single sourcing of “Lithovit”.
In a similar manner, by a letter dated 16th October, 2015, the 1st Accused person applied to the PPA for the 3rd Accused Company to be single sourced to procure one million litres of “Lithovit liquid fertiliser” at US$26,500,000 (GH₵98,935,974.50) for the 2015/2016 cocoa season although conditions for single source procurement had not been satisfied.
On 4th November, 2015, the PPA approved the application for single sourced procurement.
Pursuant to the approval, three separate agreements dated 26th March, 2014, 6th February, 2015, and 31st December, 2015 respectively were executed by the 1st Accused person with the 3rd Accused Company through the 2nd Accused person.
Investigations however revealed that as at 6th February, 2015, when the contract was executed, the 3rd Accused Company did not have certification to supply Lithovit fertiliser.
Curiously, whereas the material safety data sheet accompanying the fertiliser was originally submitted to CRIG for testing and the final report on the substance described it as powdery, the 1st Accused person in requesting for supply and delivery of the fertiliser under the three contacts, referred to it as liquid and quoted it in litres.
When the product was to arrive in Ghana, COCOBOD was to take samples to CRIG to ensure that the product was the same as what was tested and recommended by CRIG. No such test was conducted on the three consignments, when the products arrived in the country.
In February 2017, COCOBOD, after an enquiry into malpractice in the testing of agrochemicals supplied to COCOBOD, referred the matter for criminal investigation.
Investigations established that the product supplied by the 3rd Accused Company was different from the sample submitted to CRIG for testing.
In the course of investigation, tests conducted revealed variously that the “Lithovit” supplied by the 2nd Accused person and the 3rd Accused Company to COCOBOD, had been adulterated and did not meet the certified standard, and that the product could not be used as foliar treatment on cocoa plants.
Further investigations and tests showed that the Lithovit could be harmful to humans, animals and waterbodies, and that the amount of Lithovit found in the sample was insignificant and could compromise the outcome of cocoa production.
Even though COCOBOD had spent a sum of US$65,200,000.00 (GH₵217,345,289.20) on purchase of “Lithovit liquid fertiliser”, COCOBOD’s records show no significant increase in the yield of cocoa that year.
Investigations revealed that the 2nd Accused person on 2nd October, 2014, deposited a sum of GH₵ 25,000.00 into the account of the 1st Accused to influence the award of contract to the 3rd Accused Company by the 1st Accused person for the supply of Lithovit fertiliser to COCOBOD.
It has been established that in the years 2014 and 2015, contrary to law, the 2nd Accused person and the 3rd Accused Company manufactured fertiliser in commercial quantities when they had not been registered by the Minister for Food and Agriculture to do so.
The 2nd Accused person and the 3rd Accused Company, contrary to law, also sold adulterated and misbranded fertiliser to COCOBOD.
The manufacture of fertiliser is not one of the objectives of the 3rd Accused Company.
It is based on these facts that Dr. Stephen Opuni, Mr. Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Limited were arraigned before court.
The case has been adjourned to 11th April, 2018.