Opuni trial: Not a single farmer ever complained about Lithovit – Prosecution witness

The ongoing trial of former Ghana Cocoa Board CEO, Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo keeps getting interesting by the day.

Contrary to his own claims that the lithovit foliar fertiliser purchased by COCOBOD in the 2013/14 crop year did not improve crop yield, the state’s third prosecution witness, Dr Yaw Adu-Ampomah, admitted in court under cross-examination on 21 January 2020 that not even a single farmer complained about the alleged ineffectiveness of the agrochemical prior to the investigations by the Economic and Organised Crimes Office (EOCO).

In his evidence in chief as well as previous cross-examinations, Dr Adu-Ampomah noted that his committee, which was established after the NPP won the 2016 elections, discovered some procurement anomalies at COCOBOD, adding that the lithovit fertiliser which was procured did not contain the requisite nutrients for plant growth.

Also, the state’s first prosecution witness, Dr Alfred Arthur, who is a soil scientist at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), made similar assertions but could not point to a single complaint by any farmer who had used the product.

Similarly, Dr Adu-Ampomah admitted that there were no farmer complaints about the use of the lithovit fertiliser prior to the EOCO investigations.

Farmers who were dissatisfied with any agrochemical normally lodge bitter complaints with officers of the Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) or the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG).

Dr Adu-Ampomah added, however, that during the EOCO investigations, some farmers complained that the fertiliser was like water and sometimes they drunk it when they had no water.

It also emerged during the cross-examination by Mr Nutifafa Nutsukpui, the lawyer who was holding brief for Mr Benson Nutskpui, the lead counsel for the 2nd and 3rd witnesses (Seidu Agongo and Agricult Company Limited), that COCOBOD, per their usual operations, did not probe certificates awarded by CRIG to agrochemicals before procurement.

This came to light when Dr Adu-Ampomah admitted to not necessarily knowing when CRIG carried out tests on some agrochemicals he personally procured during his tenure as Deputy Chief Executive in charge of Agronomy and Quality Control at COCOBOD.

In almost all such cases, COCOBOD procured the agrochemicals without questioning the CRIG certificates.

In his estimation, once a certificate is issued, it is indicative that CRIG had duly tested agrochemical, a sharp contradiction to his earlier stance on lithovit that despite being issued a certificate, the product had not been tested by CRIG.

Here are excerpts from the hearing:

Q: On the 24th of May 2017, COCOBOD awarded a contract for the supply of 50,000 litres of Okum Asase insecticide to K. Badu Agrochemicals limited. Do you recall such a letter?

A: Yes, my Lord.

Q: My Lord, we like to tender it.

Prosecution: ………My lord, counsel is doing his work, however, documents tendered this morning before this court have no bearing at all to the issues at stake. My lord, we are here for lithovit fertiliser but the documents so far tendered and the one counsel is seeking to tender relates to other chemicals which have no bearing at all on the subject matter of the trial. No questions at all have been asked on the four so far tendered to show a connection between the documents and lithovit. Indeed, the witness in the box is the one who signed these letters. Does it mean then that every other letter signed by the witness is going to be tendered as evidence in this trial? My lord, the cardinal rule of admissibility is relevance. I, respectfully submit that this document, which relates to Okum Asase insecticide is irrelevant to this trial and should, therefore, not be admitted as the tendering of these irrelevant documents are only wasting the court’s time and intended to confuse the issues.

Nutifafa Nutsupui: My lord, the objection has no foundation in law.  It is precarious on prosecution’s case to stake a claim knowing the defence smooth path for the 2nd and 3rd accused persons are proffering in this honourable court. My lord, to insist that because the word lithovit does not appear in a document means that it is not relevant for the purposes of this trial will rather take a narrow view of the charges that the second and third accused persons are facing in this court. My lord, if we pause and reflect, these documents are not being thrown in for the sake of doing so.

On the 9th of January 2020, similar documents were tendered and questions followed. If counsel had waited longer, she would have seen that there are relevant questions for the witness in respect of these documents. My lord while the prosecution may not find it relevant to their case, the second and third accused persons will say these documents are actually life support machines for them. My lord, we pray that this objection be overruled as the documents are relevant to the defence of the second and third accused persons. My lord, in any event, the witness has testified extensively on testing procedures at CRIG as well as the procurement processes of Ghana Cocoa Board, the prosecution did not limit him only to matters of lithovit so we wonder why she wants to tie our hands to our backs. My lord, respectfully!

By court: upon hearing the learned principal state attorney in objection to the question asked by counsel for the second and third accused persons, it appears from the submission from the second and third accused persons that those documents are relevant to their defence. In any case, at the end of it, it is the court that will determine whether they are relevant to the case. Consequently, the objection is overruled! Counsel should, therefore, continue his cross-examination. The document will, therefore, be admitted as exhibit 45.

Q: Do you know when Galil insecticide was first certified by CRIG?

A: No, my lord but since the company had a certificate attached to their bidding, it meant……

Judge: Do you understand the question? If you are asked specific questions in court and you go… We lawyers are interested in witnesses like that….and we ask you more and more questions. Lawyers are happy when you are talking so much…You are not teaching us because this is not your field.

A: No, my lord. CRIG has tested it.

Q: How about the nomax insecticide. When did you receive samples?

A: No, my lord.

Q: Do you know when it was tested?

A: No, my lord.

Q: Do you have the report of its testing?

A: No, my lord.

Q: Yet COCOBOD awarded contracts for its supply.

A: Yes, my lord.

Q: Typically, the farmers complaint will come through CRIG and CHED.

A: Yes, my Lord, including any of the COCOBOD subsidiaries.

Q: With respect to lithovit, are you aware of any complaint from farmers or users of the product at COCOBOD?

A: My Lord during the preliminary investigation, some farmers complained that the fertilizer is like water and they drunk it when they had no water.

Q: In this case, the complaint came only upon the interrogation of EOCO.

A: Yes, in this case.

Q: So, you won’t be surprised if I told you that Dr Arthur said CRIG is not aware of any user or farmer complaints.

A: I wouldn’t know.

Q: Sir, CHED is the division of COCOBOD that carries out field visit and will produce a report for COCOBOD in respect of how cocoa farms are doing at the areas captured by the field visit.

A: My lord CHED’s mandate is to carry out extension services to farmers and it is CRIG subsidiary that goes out to assess the performance of the Agrochemicals that have been given to the farmers and applied on their cocoa. It is on this report that renewal of certificate is done. CHED does not have the expertise to make that assessment. Even if there is complain to CHED on any agrochemical it is CRIG that checks the veracity of the complaint.

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