State Prosecutor runs from Opuni/Agongo charge sheet

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Principal State Attorney Stella Ohene Appiah has stated rather strongly that it has never been the case of the prosecution that the purchase of lithovit liquid fertilizer by COCOBOD caused a fall in cocoa production between 2014 and 2016.

Shockingly, the prosecutor acknowledged that the former COCOBOD Chief Executive, Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, and businessman Alhaji Seidu Agongo are being prosecuted, among others, because the lithovit liquid fertilizer purchased and supplied to farmers did not increase cocoa production significantly.

She said this while objecting to a question posed by Mr Agongo’s counsel, Benson Nutsukpui, to a subpoenaed witness, Dr. Francis Baah, who is currently the Director of Research, Monitoring and Evaluation at COCOBOD, on Wednesday, March 20, 2024, at the Accra High Court.

Stella Ohene Appiah’s revelation of the state’s position is in sharp contrast to claims that lithovit liquid fertilizer was substandard and that the state did not get value for money when COCOBOD purchased it, leading to a charge of causing financial loss to the state being levelled against the accused persons.

Meanwhile, the witness, who is also the former Director of the Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) of COCOBOD, testified in his evidence-in-chief about the efficacy of lithovit fertilizer, which he said was the preference of cocoa farmers.

Counsel, therefore, sought to ask the witness, “Germane to the prosecution’s case is their claim that the failure of Lithovit as a fertilizer caused a fall in [the] production of cocoa in Ghana. So we would need from your office the production from 2013/14 till present day. Is that available in your office?”

But Stella Ohene Appiah stood up and objected to that question, saying, “What counsel is saying if he can show me proof of what he is saying because, as far as I’m concerned, the case of the prosecution is not about the fall in production as a result of the use of Lithovit liquid fertilizer?” She argued, “When you look at the charges on the charge sheet, my Lord, we haven’t said what counsel is saying. So if counsel is claiming that was what prosecution said, then we need the source because that is not our evidence or charge before the court.”

In response, Benson Nutsukpui turned to page two of the charge sheet, which claimed that during the investigation, it was revealed that the lithovit fertilizer supplied did not meet the specified standard and that the product could not be used as a nutrient on cocoa.

It further said tests on the fertilizer indicated that lithovit could be harmful to humans and animals as well as hazardous to water, adding that even though COCOBOD had spent millions on the fertilizer, COCOBOD’s records show that “there was no significant increase in the cocoa yield during the period.”

Stella Ohene Appiah conceded that what the prosecution was concerned about was the fact that there was no significant increase in the cocoa yield and insisted that counsel for Mr Agongo stick to that.

Mr Nutsukpui, therefore, reframed his question.

Germane to the prosecution’s case, the failure of lithovit as a fertilizer accounted for no significant increase in the production of cocoa. Does your office have the total production of cocoa from the 2013–14 season to the present day? He asked.

“I think my office should have that if requested,” Dr. Francis Baah responded.

The witness was also asked if COCOBOD has a study or report on every fertilizer used in cocoa production.

The Director of Research, Monitoring and Evaluation at COCOBOD informed the court that “all the fertilizers are evaluated by CRIG, and that evaluation will include the effect of the fertilizer on yield or output.”.

Meanwhile, Dr Francis Baah has asserted that the fall or rise in cocoa production at any given cocoa season cannot be attributed to one particular fertilizer.

He pointed out that “unless a specific study is carried out,”  COCOBOD would not be able to attribute anything to one agro product or chemical.

“Would your Monitoring & Evaluation Department blame any particular fertilizer for the rise, fall, or stagnation of production of cocoa in any particular production year from 2013/14 to date?” counsel asked the witness.

“No, unless there is a study or report to identify the culprit,” Dr. Baah reiterated.

“As at now, is there any of such study or report in the Monitoring & Evaluation of COCOBOD?” counsel further asked, but the witness replied, “No. I am not aware of such a study”.

Lawyer Nutsukpui, therefore, applied for the court to order the witness to produce a record of the total production of cocoa from 2012/13 to date, as that will assist the court in determining one of the main issues, which is whether Lithovit Liquid Fertilizer affected the production of cocoa.

“I would like to add that we have been charged with defrauding by false pretences.”

Counsel for Dr. Opuni, Samuel Codjoe, supported Benson’s oral application.

“I perfectly agree with the request made by Counsel for A2 and A3. This is more so when one of the crucial issues to be determined by this court, as contained in Counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, is causing financial loss of the sums stated therein as the sums COCOBOD expended on the purchase of the Lithovit liquid fertilizer.

“We are stating that the issue is not only about whether a fertilizer was tested or not. More importantly, the fertilizer that was purchased is substandard fertilizer. In fact, there is evidence before this court, that is, the Adu Ampomah Committee Report Exhibit H and that of Dr. Anim Kwapong, that Lithovit was described as water, and we, therefore, support the request.”

The prosecution did not object to the request, and the court presided over by Justice Aboagye Tandoh granted the same.

Source: Ghanaweb

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