General News of Friday, 16 November 2018
Dr. Alfred Arthur, a key witness of Attorney General in the former Ghana Cocoa Board Chief Executive, Dr. Stephen Opuni, case was on Wednesday discredited with a 2016 investigative report which suspended him for forging a scientific report on agrochemical; ‘Cocoa Nti’ granular fertilizer to swindle his superior officers into certifying and purchasing it from the supplier.
Interestingly, upon the change of government in 2017, the new management of the COCOBOD, made up of some retired officers, including Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah and Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomah, who were recalled by the Akufo-Addo government, had the suspension lifted and also reversed a key recommendation that he should not step foot at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) as a result of the forgery.
Under cross-examination by Dr. Opuni’s lawyer, Samuel Cudjoe, the Soil Scientist admitted being investigated over the forgery incident and also being driven away from the CRIG, after it was proven that he had travelled to the Kingdom of Morocco with the promoters of ‘Cocoa Nti’granular fertilizer, without the knowledge and authorization of his superior officers at CRIG and COCOBOD.
This is not the first time that the witness’ credibility has been subjected to strict proof. On the previous cross examination, Dr. Arthur was discovered to have lied to the court by claiming he was the Acting Head of the Soil Science Division of CRIG when such appointment had not been made, according to Lawyer Cudjoe.
In the case of the suspension, Dr. Arthur in 2013, according to Lawyer Cudjoe, had travelled with the local suppliers of ‘Cocoa Nti’ granular fertilizer; Enepa Ventures Ltd based in Kumasi to visit the Morocco-based manufacturers of the product and upon his return, he quickly prepared a scientific report on the product without conducting any scientific test on the fertilizer.
The secret trip to Morocco with the suppliers came to light after COCOBOD, was quickly handed the forged scientific report on ‘Cocoa Nti’granular fertilizer by Dr. Arthur in 2016, when the Enepa Ventures Ltd officially applied to COCOBOD for certification and authorization of the product.
Dr. Opuni’s lead counsel told the court that the reason behind COCOBOD’s instruction to CRIG was that, there were complaints that even though Cocoa Nti granular fertiliser was submitted to COCOBOD in 2016, Dr. Arthur, claimed he had tested and had authored a scientific report on it three years earlier.
The findings of the CRIG Disciplinary Committee, according to Mr Cudjoe, indicated that no such work had been done by CRIG as an institution. The scientist confirmed going on suspension per the recommendations of the committee but cannot speak to the content of its report because he had not seen it.
However, Mr Cudjoe argued that, even if Dr. Arthur claim he never had the opportunity to see the findings of the committee, at least, when he appeared before the committee, he was informed that he was being investigated for privately claiming to have tested the fertiliser in 2013, when COCOBOD officially had an application in March 2016.
Dr Arthur responded that the investigation was not restricted to him alone, but also to the co-authors of the report: A. A. Afrifa and J. A. Dogbatse.
However, Mr Cudjoe then told the court that the committee recommended that Dr Arthur is suspended for forging a scientific report to support a claim that Cocoa Ntifertiliser was submitted in 2013 and tested by him, as the lead author; and recommended it to COCOBOD.
Again, Dr Arthur said he did not get the opportunity to see the report, but admitted visiting Morocco in 2013 on the sponsorship of the ENEPA, adding he was suspended and transferred to CRIG’s substation in Bunso, also in the Eastern Region.
Presiding Judge, Justice Clemence Y. Honyenugah, asked Dr. Arthur, if he was ever suspended, to which he answered in the affirmative.
Dr. Arthur admitted that he was suspended after the allegations were found to be true, however, his suspension letter dated January 2, to April 2017, did not preclude him from testing chemicals.
However, Lawyer Cudjoe, told the court that the committee which recommended Dr. Arthur’s suspension and transfer to CRIG’s substation in Bunso, had asked that he should never be allowed near the CRIG again, where agro machines and chemicals are tested as per the arrangement of COCOBOD.
But Dr. Arthur retorted that just after five weeks of suspension, one Rev Dr. Odoom, the Deputy Executive Director of CRIG, wrote to him in February 2017 that upon the expiration of his suspension, he should remain in the Soil Science Division of CRIG.
To this, Lawyer Cudjoe told him was because government had changed, leading to a change in the management at CRIG with Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah, becoming Executive Director, Dr. Yaw Adu-Ampomahas the Deputy Chief Executive Officer-In-Charge of Agronomy and Quality Control at COCOBOD, Dr. William Mensah, became Deputy Chief Executive Finance and Administration and Nana Oduro Owusu, who became the Deputy Chief Executive in charge of Operations. They were recalled from various years of retirement after serving on the Akufo-Addo side of the Transition Team.
Dr. Opuni’s counsel asked Dr. Arthur, whether he was aware that he was suspended because COCOBOD found out that the scientific report recommending Cocoa Nti fertilizer, which he claimed to have worked on after submission to CRIG in 2013 was false, but the witness said “I did not get to know of any COCOBOD findings.”
Asked, whether he was aware that COCOBOD instructed CRIG to conduct investigation on its own and found out that though Cocoa Nti fertilizer was submitted to it on 31st March 2016, the scientific report that the witness co-authored said that it was done in May 2013 of which the witness answered in the affirmative.
Dr.Arthur, had earlier told the court that he was in charge of testing Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser, the agrochemical at the heart of the trial of Dr. Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo. But at the Wednesday hearing, however, Mr Cudjoe cited one of Dr. Arthur’s eight statements to the police dated 12 January 2018, in which he had stated that Mr. A. A. Afrifa was rather the lead scientist in the trial of Lithovit Foliar Fertiliser and had the final say.
The witness told the court that even though Mr Afrifa was the lead scientist, he was solely responsible for the nursery treatment application of the fertilizer.
Dr Arthur also told the court that some investigators told him that Mr Afrifa had consistently said that he did not do any work on Lithovit Foliar fertilizer. He even mentioned one ASP Lodonu, as one of such investigators.
He affirmed that contrary to the claims that Mr Afrifa, who was the then-Head of the Soil Science Division at CRIG played an active role in the testing of Lithovit Foliar fertiliser, he directed other persons to perform other tests on the agrochemical.
Mr Cudjoe told the court that when Mr. J. A. Dogbatse appeared before the Adu-Ampomah Committee, he informed the members that he evaluated Lithovit Foliar fertiliser in 2016 during the re-evaluation process and came out with his report. But Dr Arthur said he did not remember Mr Dogbatse saying so.
Mr Cudjoe maintained that Mr Dogbatse informed the committee that the Lithovit Foliar fertiliser he evaluated during his field reports in 2016, was liquid and not powder.
He put it to Dr. Arthur that his experiment on Lithovit Foliar fertiliser, which he claimed ended at the end of December 2013, would have been definitely seen by Mr Dogbatse because tests in CRIG are not done in secret.
But Dr. Arthur said when the Lithovit Foliar fertiliser was submitted in 2013, Mr Jerome Agbesi Dogbatse was not an employee of COCOBOD, so, he physically did not see the Lithovit Foliar fertiliser which was tested between July 2013 and December 2013.
Mr Cudjoe, in a counter, said if indeed the product was powdery as Dr. Arthur claimed, Mr Dogbatse would have rejected it outrightly and not evaluated the liquid Lithovit Foliar fertiliser.
In March 2018, the Attorney General (AG) charged Dr. Opuni and a businessman, Seidu Agongo, the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, with 27 counts.
It is the contention of the A-G that Dr. Opuni, during his tenure as COCOBOD CEO (November 2013 to January 2017), breached laid down procedures in procurement and other laws that led the state to lose GHS271.3 million in the alleged fertilizer scandal and the distribution of substandard fertilizer to cocoa farmers.
Mr Agongo is also alleged to have used fraudulent means to sell substandard fertilizer to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers.
The two accused persons have denied any wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty to all the 27 charges and have been granted a GH¢300,000.00 each self-recognisance bail by the Court. They are currently on bail in the sum of GHC300,000 each.
Justice Honyenugah, an Appeal Court Judge, sitting as an additional High Court Judge adjourned the case to Thursday, November 22, for continuation of further cross-examination of the witness.