Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Joseph Boahen Aidoo, has hinted that former CEO of the board, Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, would appear before court for the several financial malpractices he is alleged to have perpetuated during his tenure of office.
Mr. Aidoo made the disclosure on Thursday in an interview with an Accra-based radio station – Oman FM.
According to Mr. Aidoo, Dr. Opuni – an appointee of ex-President john Mahama – during his tenure, in some instances, “resolved to cause financial waste” to the state, especially under the free fertilizer initiative of the erstwhile National Democratic Congress (NDC) government.
Dr. Opuni is alleged to have conspired with some top officials of COCOBOD to siphon cocoa cash.
Some of the officials who reportedly perpetuated the financial malfeasances have been interdicted, Mr. Aidoo told the media at a press conference on Wednesday in Accra.
It was in response to some issues raised recently by the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) in respect of happenings in the cocoa sector.
During the media briefing, Mr Aidoo observed that the previous management of COCOBOD succeeded in ‘looting’ the state several millions of dollars, including a whopping $400 million from the $1.8 billion syndicated loan for the 2016/2017 crop season, which the NDC administration is reported to have expended during the transition period – between December 20, 2016 and January 6, 2017.
“The penchant to siphon funds through inflated contracts was rampant in the NDC administration through ill-conceived construction contracts in the cocoa sector,” according to Mr. Joseph Boahen Aidoo.
NDC and the previous management of COCOBOD, Daily Guide understands, have not been able to account for how they expended the $400 million in just a spate of 17 days.
“Despite this inability to account properly for the loan, the NPP Government was saddled with a whopping debt of GH¢19.6 billion after taking over in January 2017,” Mr. Aidoo reported.
The NDC administration, at a time when ex-President Mahama was seeking a re-election for a second term in office, was said to have awarded a total of 230 cocoa road contracts.
Surprisingly, 30 of the total number of cocoa roads for which contracts were said to have been awarded have been found to be non-existent, forcing Mr. Boahen Aidoo to say that the NDC government is the only administration in Ghana that has graciously succeeded in creating what he termed ‘ghost roads.’
Giving insight into the sorrow state of the cocoa sector as inherited by President Akufo-Addo’s administration from the John Mahama’s NDC government, the COCOBOD CEO told journalists that the previous (Cocobod) management, for instance, failed to pay for the annual syndicated loan in 2014/2015 and 2015/2016.
The Dr Opuni-led Cocobod had always made journalists believe that all was well with the repayment of the syndicated loan each time they (journalists) were invited to cover the signing of the loans.
Again, Mr Aidoo said cocoa production nationwide declined as a result of the abandonment of the cocoa rehabilitation programme during the days of Dr. Opuni.
“Cocoa farms were neglected and budgeted production could not be achieved to meet repayment of contracted loans and advances with cocoa sales proceeds,” he lamented.
According to him, “These are indicative of the gross mismanagement with which the NDC handled the affairs of Cocobod.”
Touching on the NDC’s ‘free fertilizer’ programme for cocoa farmers, Mr. Aidoo explained, “The free fertilizer programme was used by the NDC to introduce sub-standard and inefficacious fertilizers into the cocoa Hi-Tech programme.”
He asserted, “Cocoa farmers expressed misgivings and disquiet in accepting the sub-standard fertilizers through the free fertilizer programme introduced by Dr. Opuni and the NDC regime.”
The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service is reportedly probing Dr. Opuni and the interdicted staff of Cocobod who have been accused of allegedly securing and supplying ‘spoilt’ fertilizer worth $100 million to cocoa farmers nationwide.
The said ‘rotten’ fertilizer contributed to the massive drop in cocoa production in the country, the CEO noted.
Enough Is Enough!
Mr. Aidoo, who sounded peeved with the manner in which the NDC administration mismanaged the country’s cocoa sector, leading to gross decline in its production capacity, said the time had come for Ghana’s cocoa industry to be protected from the hands of corrupt politicians.
“We cannot allow such attitude to continue unchecked because it enormously and negatively impact on the sustainability of the cocoa industry,” he vowed, stressing, “Cocoa is the backbone of Ghana and we must and shall protect it.”
The alleged rot at COCOBOD actually started surfacing during the latter days of Dr. Opuni – when he and former union chairman of Cocobod, Idris Hassan, ‘led’ cocoa workers to sever ties with the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) and the General Agricultural Workers’ Union (GAWU) of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in 2016.
That was after several attempts by the mother union to stop the formation of a Cocobod in-house union had failed.
By Melvin Tarlue