The months of cross-examination of Dr Yaw Adu-Ampomah, a witness for the prosecution in the trial at the High Court, against Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni and Mr Seidu Agongo, has finally come to an end.
At the last sitting, the court witnessed a desperate last-ditch attempt by Mr Samuel Cudjoe, the lawyer for Dr Stephen Opuni to push back on an earlier testimony, that his client instructed scientists at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) to take shortcuts and use unscientific means to fast track the approval of agrochemicals.
The efforts of Mr Cudjoe on the day proved unsuccessful as the witness calmly maintained his position, insisting and reinforcing his earlier testimony that Dr Opuni, in his time as Chief Executive of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), pressured the scientists to take shortcuts to save money.
He referred Mr Cudjoe to the testimony of three scientists at CRIG, Mr Alex Asante Afrifa, Dr Franklin Manu Amoah and Dr Richard Adu-Acheampong, which is documented in the report from the investigative committee at COCOBOD which he (Dr Adu-Ampomah) chaired and now form part of the court’s records, having been accepted by the court as evidence against the two accused men.
In the report, the three scientists, individually told the committee that they were summoned to Dr Opuni’s office and directly instructed to shorten the testing process for agrochemicals, and they felt compelled to comply.
The shortcut process which they were instructed to follow, was to only compare new agrochemicals to ones already on the market and approve their usage if found to be similar. Dr Kwasi Ofori-Frimpong a seasoned soil scientist and the senior-most soil science expert at CRIG called this process unscientific.
The implication of this shortcut process was that, new agrochemicals would not be tested in the field on cocoa plants at different stages of development over a period of months, which had been the norm in the history of COCOBOD, to establish plants’ responses to every particular agrochemical product.
In the case of the controversial Lithovit Folia fertilizer – which is the reason for the lawsuit – the agrochemical was recommended for use without going through plant testing because it was similar to NuriSmart and Vegimax, with Wet Pro; two agrochemicals which are very different from Lithovit. Also, the testing done on those two products were done by other scientists four years prior.
The change from a robust plant testing system to a flawed process is thought to have been exploited to approve the particular brand of Lithovit Folia fertilizer supplied by Agricult Ghana Limited for use without proper testing.
The efficacy and nature of the fertilizer supplied by Agricult Ghana Limited have since come under question; forming the bases of the present lawsuit against Dr Stephen Opuni and Mr Seidu Agongo, the owner of Agricult Ghana Limited.
The two men are accused of defrauding by false pretences, money laundering, corruption by a public officer, acting in contravention of the Public Procurement Act and causing financial loss to the state, to the tune of GH¢271.3 million.