Justice Clemence Honyenuga, who retires in September this year, has said Chief Justice Kwasi Anin-Yeboah, has given him some amount of time to conclude the GHS271-million financial loss case involving the former CEO of the Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, and businessman Seidu Agongo.
The Supreme Court judge, who has been sitting on the case as an additional High Court judge, told the court on Thursday, 28 July 2022: "In pursuant to Article 112(2) of the Constitution, 1992, the Chief Justice has granted me a limited time to conclude this case. In the circumstances, this court shall, in addition, sit on Tuesdays at 11 am for early disposal of this four-year-old case. In view of the pending vacation, the case is adjourned to October 3, 2022, at 10 am for continuation".
On that day, a retired deputy director in charge of monitoring and evaluation at the Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod), Mr Peter Okyere Boateng, told the court that Cocobod increased the quantum of Lithovit liquid fertiliser purchased from 750,000 litres to one million litres after the first procurement following a recommendation that it was an effective agrochemical.
It is produced by Agricult Ghana Limited, a company owned by Mr Agongo.
Together with the company, Dr Opuni and Mr Agongo are being tried for collectively causing financial loss of $65.2 million to the state.
Mr Boateng told the court that Cocobod’s position was that the “Lithovit foliar fertiliser is a very good, efficient and efficacious product that holds the potential to assist farmers to increase their yield and subsequently their finances”.
He explained that “the report that I compiled and forwarded to Ghana Cocobod through my director carried information about the efficiency of the Lithovit liquid fertiliser, as was observed by all the teams that went to all the cocoa regions, as well as the praises that the farmers sang on the efficacy of the Lithovit liquid fertiliser after application, was accepted in full and the recommendation about the product was implemented, so, the position [of Cocobod] was that the product is good”.
On prosecution witness Dr Yaw Adu-Ampomah’s testimony that the fertiliser was ineffective based on a bad report about it by the Chemistry Department of the University of Ghana, Mr Boateng said: “My Lord, the University of Ghana is my alma mater and I know it’s a place of academic excellence. But with respect to the Lithovit liquid fertiliser, what I personally observed from the application of Lithovit liquid fertiliser in the farmers’ farms and what the farmers said about the efficacy of the product, I know that the product is very efficient and, therefore, my Lord, I don't think that the product that the Chemistry Department of the University of Ghana [tested] was the same product that the farmers applied on their farms”.
Secondly, he said “every Cocobod policy or agrochemical is used by the farmer, so, it is the farmer that always confirms the workability of a policy or the efficiency of any product that is given to them because, my Lord, cocoa farmers are the end-users of every policy or every agrochemical that is released by Cocobod. Therefore, I maintain that the chemical that was tested was not the one used by the cocoa farmers and the one which gave massive yield to the cocoa farmers”.
Mr Boateng also refuted claims by the prosecution team that despite Cocobod using $65.2 million to purchase the Lithovit liquid fertiliser for farmers between 2014 and 2016, the agrochemical had “no significant increase in cocoa yield”.
“My Lord, this can't be true because, there is evidence in the field from the farmers and from my own observation that the Lhovit liquid fertiliser that was purchased with the amount quoted was utilised by the cocoa farmers and all the farmers who used it testified to the fact that they had massive increase in yield that contributed to national production. I want to say that in every year, we apply different types of fertiliser, so, in the year in question, it wasn't only Lithovit liquid fertiliser that was applied. Lithovit liquid fertiliser contributed its part; and the part that it played was very massive. And, therefore, if national production was not significant, then it cannot be attributed to the Lithovit liquid fertiliser”.
“My Lord, I want to emphasise that in this case, if the Lithovit liquid fertiliser had not been there, and applied, then the situation would have been worse”.
Asked for his comments about the prosecution’s case that Dr Opuni conspired with Mr Agongo and the latter’s company, Agricult, to defraud the state of $65.2 million, Mr Boateng said: “My Lord, I don't actually know the basis of the defrauding, so, it can't be true. Because there is every evidence that the money was used to procure Lithovit liquid fertiliser. Also, there is every evidence that the Lithovit liquid fertiliser was supplied to cocoa farmers for application. And there is every evidence that after applying the Lithovit liquid fertiliser, the farmers saw high yield, which increased their income. So, the money was efficiently used. Therefore, there cannot be any defrauding in this issue”.