Cocobod trial: RM&E Director schools Chief State Attorney in court

The ongoing trial of former COCOBOD Chief Executive Stephen Opuni and two others is getting more and more interesting, as many who had braced themselves for a showdown between a senior management member of COCOBOD and state prosecutors were left shell-shocked.

After weeks of giving evidence that appears to exonerate the accused persons, many had expected fireworks and the grilling of Dr Francis Baah, the Director of Research, Monitoring, and Evaluation at COCOBOD, when he came face-to-face with the Attorney General’s representatives.

Many appetites were whipped up for a face-off after Principal State Attorney Stella Ohene Appiah told the court last week that the state would no longer use one day to cross-examine the witness, as they promised the court, due to the volume of evidence the witness adduced.

The witness, who has over 30 years of experience in COCOBOD employment, previously worked at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), as Office Manager at the Office of the Chief Executive, and as Executive Director at Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED).

The Director of Research, Monitoring, and Evaluation at COCOBOD, Dr Francis Baah, has been giving evidence about the trial of former COCOBOD Chief Executive Dr Stephen Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo, who are facing various charges, including defrauding by false pretences, wilfully causing financial loss to the state, corruption by public officers, and contravention of the Public Procurement Act.

During his evidence in chief, led by counsel for Seidu Agongo, and the subsequent cross-examination by counsel for Dr Opuni, the witness stated, among others, that all procurement documents that culminated into the purchase of Lithovit liquid fertiliser were prepared by the Procurement Unit at COCOBOD for Dr Opuni, who is mandated as the Chief Executive to sign for and on behalf of COCOBOD.

He confirmed that all the procurement documents on Lithovit, just like other fertilisers, were minuted to the right personnel and department to work on them. For instance, he read one of such documents, which is an invoice in which he, Dr Baah, also minuted on to the procurement manager with the instruction: “Please for your information and necessary action. Prepare PPA documents with appropriate attachments for the Chief Executive’s action.”

The witness also stated that the CODAPEC-HITECH Unit, which is headed by a director, is solely responsible for recommending the type and quantities of fertilisers, agrochemicals, and machines that COCOBOD should buy in a given season.

He also spoke to a report on field visits to cocoa regions conducted by CHED under his supervision in April 2015, which is in evidence. According to the content of the report, which the witness confirmed in court, Lithovit was the preference of farmers due to its efficacy when his officers and managers went to the field. He also showed pictorial evidence of how cocoa trees sprayed with Lithovit had blossomed with many pods as compared with other farms on which cocoa trees were sprayed with other fertilisers. He boldly told the court that, based on his observations, he would choose Lithovit fertiliser over others.

Furthermore, the witness flatly denied claims by the first prosecution witness, Dr F.M. Amoah, that he, Dr Baah, and Mr James Kofi Kutsoatsi were present when Dr Opuni allegedly ordered CRIG scientists to shorten the testing of fertiliser.

According to him, he has never been to any meeting in which Dr Opuni gave such a directive, adding that even at the time Dr Amoah claimed the alleged meeting took place, Mr Kutsoatsi had not joined COCOBOD, let alone been part of any meeting.

Above all, Dr. Francis Baah unequivocally stated in court that he has always known Lithovit to be a liquid fertiliser.

Following this evidence, it was, therefore, incumbent on prosecutors to put forward incontrovertible arguments to discredit the evidence professed by the witness to keep their mission on course.

As a result, at least an extra day was granted to the prosecution, but it appears the Principal State Attorney, the most senior of the state attorneys who made the request in court that day, might have bitten more than what her seniors can chew.

Interestingly, spectators, including lawyers, who thronged the Land Division of the Accra High Court, presided over by Justice Aboagye Tandoh, on April 23 and 24 to witness a showdown had a jaw-dropping moment following what observers believe was Evelyn Keelson’s unsuccessful attempt to nail the witness.

Find below the proceedings of the Chief State Attorney’s two-day cross-examination, which in all lasted less than three hours.

April 23, 2024

Q: You told the court that you served as office manager in the Chief Executive’s office between January 3, 2013, and April 4, 2014.

A: That would be correct.

Q: So after April 4, 2014, you no longer served in the Chief Executive’s office because you had been appointed as Executive Director of CHED.

A: That is correct. First Acting and subsequently confirmed in October 2014.

Q: You said you were the Executive Director of CHED until you were asked to take leave in January 2017.

A: Yes, I believe from January 26 2017.

Q: And this was by a letter written to you by Honourable Afriyie Owusu Akoto.

A: Yes, that would be correct.

Q: So this letter you received from Dr. Afriyie Owusu Akoto was written by Dr. Afriyie Owusu Akoto?

A: The letter was signed by Honourable Afriyie Owusu Akoto.

Q: During the time you served as office manager in the Chief Executive’s office, there was no Deputy Chief Executive in charge of agronomy and quality control.

A: When I reported on the 2nd or 3rd of January 2013, there was a Deputy Chief Executive of Agronomy and Quality Control in the person of Dr. Yaw Adu Ampomah.

Q: Dr Adu Ampomah retired as Deputy Chief Executive in Charge of Agronomy and Quality Control sometime in October 2013.

A: That is possible. I am not too sure of the date.

Q: When Dr. Adu Ampomah retired, the position of Deputy Chief Executive of Agronomy and Quality Control remained vacant for about six months until Dr. Oppong was appointed in March, specifically in March 2014. Do you remember, or are you aware?

A: I am aware that when Dr. Adu Ampomah left, there was a period where there was a gap but I cannot confirm the six months stated by counsel.

Q: You are not privy to any discussion between the 1st accused when he was Chief Executive and Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah and other scientists on the shortening of the testing period for lithovit fertiliser. Is that not so?

A: Yes, I am not privy to any meeting with scientists where that issue was discussed.

Q: You told the court that while you served the first accused as the office manager, you only attended meetings he called when he invited you. Is that not so?

A: Yes, I stated that I attended meetings at the pleasure of the Chief Executive.

Q: So it follows that it was not every meeting the Chief Executive had that you would be present.

A: It follows; that is correct.

Q: So you also don’t have any idea about any meeting the 1st accused had with A.A. Afrifa and Mr. Akrofi, all of CRIG at the time, on January 19, 2014, on the testing of lithovit.

A: No, I cannot recall a meeting with the names mentioned on the subject matter.

Q: You are also not privy to the lithovit fertiliser, which was submitted to Cocobod and forwarded to CRIG for testing by A2 on behalf of A3 in May 2013.

A: No. I would not know because, if I may explain a period you referred to, what I am familiar with is that samples from companies who want their products to be tested usually will write a letter addressed to the Chief Executive, but in most cases, they know so they will keep samples at the office of the Deputy Chief Agronomy and Quality Control so if the Chief Executive minutes the letter to the DCE A&QC for him to act accordingly, then the A&QC will write a letter with the sample to the Executive Director of CRIG that is the procedure I am familiar with.

Q: You don’t know anything about the lithovit fertiliser, which was submitted to CRIG for testing.

A: That would be right.

Q: You also don’t have any idea about the testing of the lithovit fertiliser and the circumstances surrounding it.

A: I was not at CRIG at the time. But when I was at CRIG, I was in agronomy and later social sciences. I am not a soil scientist; they test fertilisers.

Q: You have not done any research work on the lithovit fertiliser. Have you?

A: I have not done research in terms of evaluating lithovit in scientific terms, but finding out about how farmers react to the fertiliser is research and that is the part I was involved in when I was in CHED.

Q: Do you know who the manufacturers of lithovit fertiliser are?

A: I only got to know of the supplier, not the manufacturer. I believe that the two don’t mean the same.

Q: I am putting to you that lithovit fertiliser, as manufactured by Zeovita in Germany is a powdered fertiliser.

A: I did not know and I never saw one.

Q: I am further putting it to you that the lithovit fertiliser which was submitted for testing by A2 on behalf of A3 was powder.

A: I am learning from counsel.

Q: I am further putting it to you that the only lithovit fertiliser that CRIG ever tested was powder.

A: I would not know.

Q: I am putting it to you that CRIG has never tested a liquid lithovit fertiliser.

A: I would not know since I was not at CRIG and I have nothing to do with the testing of fertilisers.

Q: The lithovit liquid fertiliser that you saw on the field in April, 2015 however was what Cocobod, through the 1st accused procured from 3rd accused person.

A: I believe the lithovit that was given to CHED to distribute to farmers, as counsel rightly put it, was lithovit that was procured by Cocobod.

Q: This lithovit, which was procured by Cocobod, was never tested by CRIG.

A: Where I was, I was not in a position to verify or confirm what counsel has suggested. I did not know.

Q: But do you know when lithovit liquid fertiliser was first procured by Cocobod?

A: I think, per the exhibits that I have been shown here, that appears to be 2014.

Q: So does that mean that you do not have personal knowledge of when the lithovit liquid fertiliser was procured by Cocobod?

A: I would not know the specific dates contracts were entered into until I was shown the exhibits here. In Cocobod, we have specific individuals responsible for procurement.

Q: So for you, the only lithovit you have seen is the lithovit liquid fertiliser you saw on the field in April 2015.

A: That is so. When the CID came to interview me at Tafo, I believe in 2018, they asked me if I had seen lithovit before, and I replied in the affirmative and they asked me what did it look like and I responded that what I saw was liquid, the one I saw in a plastic container. The next question was whether I have seen any powdered lithovit, and I answered in the negative.

Q: You are not even aware that in January 2014, CRIG submitted a report of their testing of lithovit fertiliser to Cocobod.

A: I have been shown a copy of the report here. What I am aware is that CRIG has the sole responsibility to test chemicals, fertilisers and machines used in cocoa, and when they finish, they submit a report to Cocobod.

Q: Exhibit B1 which is the report from CRIG on lithovit fertiliser was sent to the 1st accused on January 20, 2014. Are you aware?

A: No, I am not aware it was sent on the date mentioned.

Q: The report, together with a covering letter from CRIG, was received in the Chief Executive’s office on January 21, 2014. Are you aware?

A: When the report was shown to me in this court, I saw the date.

Q: That same day after the report had been received by the Chief Executive, a letter was written to the Chief Executive of Agricult Company Limited conveying the management of Cocobod’s approval of the recommendations contained in the report Exhibit B1.

A: I have been shown the letter here.

Q: The 1st accused as Chief Executive of Cocobod was head of management. Is that not so?

A: That is correct. Head of management of Cocobod.

Q: You just told the court some few minutes ago that there are specific people in Cocobod who deal with procurement.

A: Yes.

Q: You were not one of those people.

A: Not in terms of technical expertise on procurement; that is what I meant.

Q: You were shown Exhibit L in this court. Is that so?

A: Yes.

Q: But before Exhibit L was shown to you in this court, you had not seen it before.

A: I cannot recollect seeing it before it was shown to me.

Q: So you see, you cannot tell the court for certain how Exhibit L came about.

A: I can certainly tell the court that the nature and format of Exhibit L is akin to other procurement letters that I have seen while working in the office of the Chief Executive.

Q: But apart from it being akin to other procurement letters, I am putting to you that you have no personal knowledge of this particular letter and how it was generated.

A: I cannot recollect the personal knowledge counsel referred to. But I have personal knowledge from working in that office of letters of a similar nature from the procurement department to the Chief Executive’s office.

Q: I am putting to you that you do not have personal knowledge of the circumstances surrounding this letter Exhibit L.

A: Reference to personal knowledge on Exhibit L; no. I will end there.

Q: The same applies to Exhibits M, N, P and Q. You do not have personal knowledge of the circumstances surrounding these letters.

A: that may well be so, but maybe I can claim tacit knowledge, having worked in the Chief Executive’s office. If these documents pass in front of me, I would know where they are coming from. That is what I mean by tacit knowledge.

Q: So your testimony on these letters and how they were generated is from your general knowledge of what you presume to be the normal situation. Is that not so?

A: Counsel is making a probable proposition, which may well be the case, but we shouldn’t dismiss residual knowledge accumulated over the years and brought to bear on the duties that I performed in the office.

Q: So what I am saying is that your evidence is based on what you know from experience to be the general procedure and not what specifically happened with these letters.

A: That may be true, but the specific circumstances have not been made clear to me.

Q: I am putting to you that the specific circumstances surrounding the generation of these letters are not known to you.

A: It may well be the case.

Q: You told the court that letters that go out of Cocobod are signed by the Chief Executive. Is that right?

A: That is the case unless otherwise someone else is authorised.

Q: The reason why the Chief Executive of Cocobod is the one who signs letters which go out of Cocobod is because Cocobod is a serious institution and the institution attaches a lot of importance to matters which are communicated.

A: That is correct. The seriousness stems from the structure of the board and the functions of the department and subsidiaries that is what presents what counsel calls the seriousness.

Q: The Chief Executive of Cocobod cannot sign a letter he has not properly reviewed or considered. Is that not right?

A: That may well be the case.

Q: The Chief Executive will not sign a letter unless he understands the content and believes in it. Is that not so?

A: Yes, I agree.

Q: So when the Chief Executive of Cocobod signs a letter it is deemed to be a letter coming from the Chief Executive communicating the content to wherever the letter is going. Is that not correct?

A: I cannot but disagree with counsel because the authority is vested in the position and not the individual. That is why when the Chief Executive is not available, and another person is asked to sign on behalf of the Chief Executive, the weight of the office is undiluted

Q: When that person signs such a letter, the person signs for the Chief Executive.

A: That is correct. The person signs for because the person has been clothed to sign for the office.

Q: The position of the Chief Executive of Cocobod is given to an individual. Is that not so?

A: Yes, that is so. To exercise the authority of the office.

Q: So that individual is clothed with authority to represent Cocobod. Is that not so

A: That is the case.

Q: I am putting to you that when the Chief Executive of Cocobod has signed a letter, he can never be heard to suggest even remotely that the letter is not his letter.

A: The letter the Chief Executive signs he signs as a representative of Cocobod. I don’t believe from administrative stand point that is that person Mr. A or B is signing on his own behalf. That person is signing on behalf of the institution. Like where I am now, I sign letters as Director of Research but I may be wrong, what I am signing is a culmination of ideas that as the head I am putting across; at least that is my understanding.

Q: So from your own scenario, you, as the head, would be the one putting across the information. Is that not so?

A: That is so.

Q: So in the same vein the Chief Executive of Cocobod when he signs as letter would be putting across information on behalf of Cocobod.

A: That is so, but on behalf of the Chief Executive.

Q: So because the Chief Executive is an individual, his name will be there and he will sign as that person representing Cocobod.

A: that is right as that person representing the institution.

Q: Individuals are appointed to take up positions as Chief Executive of Cocobod so that they will handle matters on behalf of the Company. Is that not so?

A: Yes, that is so.

Q: I am putting to you that all the letters which were signed by the 1st accused person as Chief Executive of Cocobod were letters from him conveying the content of those letters to the various institutions.

A: Yes, acting on behalf of the board.

April 24, 2024 proceedings

Q: Have a look at Exhibits X and BB. With Exhibit X, at the time the letter was written, you were not in the 1st accused’s office as Office Manager. Is that not so?

A: That is correct.

Q: With Exhibit BB, you were not working in the 1st accused’s office as Office Manager when that letter was written. Is that not so?

A: That is so.

Q: So your testimony on Exhibits X and BB to the court is only based on what you know the general position to be. Is that not so?

A: Yes. I believe I have been invited to this court because of the experience that I have had. On the basis of that experience that was why I opined that a casual look at Exhibit BB and X by way of the structure and contents that this type of letter because the subject matter would emanate from procurement with substantial input from Codapec Hitec and to finish up, again on the basis of experience that such letters are not written in the office of the Chief Executive but are brought in as other letters to be signed by the Chief Executive.

Q: So what you told the court is your opinion based on your experience rather than personal knowledge in the specific situation of these two letters. Is that not so?

A: That may be the case. However, personal knowledge respectfully My Lord is acquired from experiential learning. To finish on that point, all the cumulative knowledge Francis Baah has on cocoa matters comes largely from experiential learning.

Q: I am putting to you that you cannot have personal knowledge of the circumstances of these letters because you were not there and had nothing to do with those letters.

A: Yes that may be the case. Nevertheless, the same knowledge that I have enable me to comment on other Exhibits that were shown to me in terms of how they could have evolved.

Q: Take a look at the Exhibits Z and DD. Exhibits Z and DD were signed at a time when you were not working in the 1st accused’s office as Office Manager. That is right?

A: That is correct on the basis of the date when the contract was signed.

Q: You had nothing to do with those documents. Is that not so?

A: Yes, in so far as they were not signed in my presence and I did not author them.

Q: Once again, your evidence in respect of these documents in this court is not from personal knowledge of what happened at the time those documents were signed but rather from what you called experiential learning.

A: Yes. That is correct. However, experiential knowledge I will submit is not to be discarded or discounted if it provides some illumination on the issues.

Q: Even with Exhibit U which was signed at the time that you were in the 1st accused’s office as Office Manager, you had nothing to do with that document.

A: Yes, that is so per Exhibit U.

Q: You testified about a number of documents including Exhibits 51, 52, 53 which are also contracts entered into by the Chief Executive of Cocobod for the supply of various fertilisers.

A: Yes. I have Exhibits 51, 52 and 53.

Q: Your testimony on the documents is not informed by your personal knowledge of what happened at the time the documents were signed but only on the experiential learning you have referred to.

COUNSEL FOR 1ST ACCUSED: I will object on the sense that it is an unfair question because the witness in answer to questions in respect to these Exhibits i.e. 51, 52 and 53, stated that it was the practice in Cocobod and therefore to ask a question limiting it to only experiential basis is unfair.

COUNSEL FOR REPUBLIC: There is no basis for the objection. The witness has answered a number of questions stating why he gave testimony in respect of these documents and the question is only referring him to his answer. There is nothing unfair about this question.

BY COURT: The witness is in the position to answer this question as whether his knowledge with respect to Exhibits 51, 52 and 53 are only limited to experiential basis. The objection therefore is overruled and the witness is to answer the question.

A: It is partially so in a sense that the Exhibits 51, 52 and 53 I have been referred to have come in a state which they are now through an organic process. I believe that what I have brought to bear in terms of experience provides significant contribution as to the development of these documents.

Q: I am putting to you that your testimony does not address the specific issues of what happened with the specific documents at the specific times because you simply do not know what happened because you were not there.

A: Yes, I agree that I was not there. But I believe that I have offered insights on how related documents are developed at Cocobod.

Q: Exhibits U, Z and DD were signed by the 1st accused person as Chief Executive of Cocobod. Is that not so?

A: Yes. Exhibits Z, DD and U were signed by the Chief Executive on behalf of a purchaser Cocobod.

Q: You told this court that no single fertiliser is responsible for determining cocoa yield in Ghana. Is that not so?

A: Yes, I did say that. I meant the aggregate cocoa obtained, no single fertiliser or input can determine the aggregate output of cocoa.

Q: The farmers who use the fertilisers, use various fertilisers at various times for their cocoa.

A: Yes my Lord. So that if one is interested in a specific fertiliser a farmer has used one has to ask questions on that specific fertiliser of interest and elicit responses that provide perceptions about what the farmer feels about a particular fertiliser or any other inputs.

Q: You also told this court that fertilisers are evaluated by CRIG as the institution in Cocobod with the mandate to do so. Is that not so?

A: That is so. When a product is intended for use of cocoa in Ghana, it is the mandate of the CRIG to evaluate and report on the suitability or otherwise of that fertiliser, agrochemical or machine. These are the three inputs. That is the scientific evaluation of the product. When the product is approved by CRIG and Cocobod and it is given to the extension wing of Cocobod that is CHED which I headed some time ago, there is another level of evaluation which the functions of CHED permit it to undertake. That is farmers’ perceptions or reactions on the products. That kind of evaluation is not exclusive to CRIG.

Q: You told the court that in respect of Exhibit 138/A2 /A3 that you were present with the team for only one day.

A: Yes.

Q: The report covers only the period between 7th to 25th April 2015. That is correct?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you know the other fertilisers which had been supplied to farmers in these regions.

A: Yes. If my memory serves me right and if it is not captured in the report other fertilisers have been supplied to farmers, Sidalco, Asasewura, cocoa feed, natural organic fertiliser.

Q: Clearly, from the report, lithovit fertiliser was not the only fertiliser the farmers have used.

A: That is correct, but no single farmer from practice receives more than one particular type of fertiliser for each year. At least not the ones supplied by Cocobod.

Q: But you know that the farmers do not use only the fertilisers supplied by Cocobod. Is that not so?

A: Yes, that is correct but over 95% of cocoa farmers in Ghana, and this is based on published data research, do not buy additional fertilisers beside those supplied by Cocobod. Some do.

Source: Ghanaweb

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *