Saturday, 13 July

You can't pay contractors yet spending ¢302m on torchlights - Eric Opoku blasts struggling, debt-burdened, crisis-riddled COCOBOD


Despite its GH¢3.2 billion loss in 2022, the Ghana Cocoa Board has allocated GH¢302 million for the procurement of solar torchlights in the 2024 budget, the Ranking Member of the Food and Agriculture Committee, Mr Eric Opoku has compalined.

The torchlights are to be distributed free of charge to cocoa farmers across the country, 

Raising concerns about COCOBOD's continuous decline just before the approval of an US$800 million loan between the Board and a consortium of banks, Mr Opoku told Ghana's parliament on Friday, 17 November 2023, during a debate that COCOBOD was being "recklessly mismanaged" even though it is in "crisis" and "gasping for breath".

According to him, the Board's fortunes have been declining ever since the New Patriotic Party came into office in 2017.

"We [Mahama government] handed over COCOBOD to them [Akufo-Addo government] in 2017. In 2017, they incurred a loss of GH¢395 million. In 2018, the loss came down to GH¢78.2 million. In 2019, it increased to GH¢320 million. In 2020, it increased to GH¢428 million. In 2021, it is GH¢2.4 billion. In 2022, it jumped to GH¢2.3 billion, yet the Minister [of Food and Agriculture] is saying that COCOBOD is back on track, where he is projecting a loss of GH¢2.6 billion this year, yet you say that this company is on track?".

Also, Mr Opoku said he was "surprised" that the "minister is attributing their crisis to cocoa roads and Bui Dam".

Explaining to the house what he deems to be the main causes of COCOBOD's crisis, Mr Opoku said: "In 2016, total administrative cost at the headquarters of COCOBOD was GH¢363 millon. In 2021, it jumped to GH¢2.5 billion. Office expenditure alone has increased by 589 per cent and then you increase cocoa price by 54 per cent and you were jumping  after increasing your own allowances by 589 per cent".

The Asunafo South MP further indicated that "even this year, now that we are in crisis and everybody is complaining about the state of affairs of COCOBOD; we know COCOBOD is struggling and fumbling; COCOBOD is on the precipice, gasping for breath, Mr Speaker, you [Akufo-Addo government] have provided in your budget that you are going to use GH¢302,110,000 to purchase solar torchlights. Is that your priority at this time? GH¢302 million to buy torchlights at a time that you cannot even pay contractors".

Mr Opoku said COCOBOD's finances have been plummeting since the Mahama administration handed over to the current government.

"Mr Speaker, in 2016, COCOBOD expended GH¢164 million to service their debt. That was the total amount of money they needed to service their debt. Today, you have reported to us that last year, you used GH¢5.6 billion to service your debt. Financing cost alone, has inceased by 3,326 per cent, unprecedented in the history of this country and I'm surprised that you are here defending this, Mr minister. I'm shocked", the opposition MP added. 

He said even in instances where COCOBOD was expected to make some savings for the country, it ended up tumbling deeper into the abyss.

"Last year, COCOBOD brought the same facility of US$1.3 billion. They told us that they needed that money to be able to purchase 800,000 tonnes of cocoa. We approved the monwy for them. At the end of the year, they reported that they got only 655,808 tonnes and, so, ordinarily, one would have expected that they would have made some savings for this country". 

"Mr Speaker, they are reporting that they incurred a loss of GH¢3.2 billion and we sit here defending this? Are we serious?"

Mr Opoku said it was high time all the MPs on both aisles agreed that "COCOBOD is not on the right path. COCOBOD is in crisis, as a result of mismanagement and recklessness and bring the insitution back on track".