Govt Probes Opuni Contracts

Hackman Owusu-Agyemang

Government is set to open fresh investigations into all contracts awarded by the former management of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) under the leadership of Dr Stephen Opuni, who is already being investigated by the Economic and Organised Crimes Office (EOCO).

Chairman of the newly constituted Board, Hackman Owusu-Agyemang, dropped the hint yesterday after the swearing-in of the new board members.

He assured President Akufo-Addo that “we have our jobs cut out for us and we know with the backing of the president and the brief and remit that he’s given us, we will rise to the occasion.”

Resolve

He indicated that “we will start by reviewing all contracts that has been signed. Just sometime on a cursory look, you’ll see definitely they are completely out of place; we will also go further and make sure that value for money is achieved.”

An obviously unhappy Mr Owusu-Agyemang said, “It cannot be the case that those who produce for us to earn the foreign exchange for us are the ones who are going to be disadvantaged; if it is cocoa roads, with the approval of the presidency and the ministers, it has to benefit cocoa farmers, if its scholarship, it has to benefit proper cocoa wards and not people who live in the cities. It cannot be the case.”

Aside that, he said, “We cannot also live with the situation where for example, the cocoa roads have overrun its budget in excess of GH¢5 billion; we have to operate within the confines of the rules set out by the president and the party and we have to get the COCOBOD staff with us to also understand that the proceeds from cocoa are not only to be used for the staff.”

Measures

As part of measures he wants to take, the Board Chairman underscored, “Transparency will be the order of the day and with immediate effect for example, no disbursements will be done [which is] more than GH¢2 million, if the Finance Committee of the Board which I hope to chair, has not approved it.”

In other words, Mr Owusu-Agyemang noted with emphasis, “We have to do what we have to do to make sure that the cocoa industry rises to the one million tonne production [threshold] the president has given us.”

Issues

He also expressed concern about the fact that “the syndicated loan of $1.8 billion that we had hoped to use for this production year, unfortunately Mr. President, is all gone.”

As to where the money is gone, he did not indicate, except to say that, “We are yet to finish the purchase of the crops; so it falls on us to immediately organize some financing to carry on the process.”

The Board Chairman also talked of the Board’s huge indebtedness, saying, “Indeed, when you look at it, then the debt overhang of the government itself becomes insignificant and stressed the need to as it were, rationalize expenditures and establish modules for moving the industry forward.

“We have to look at all manner of procedures in the Board, including making dramatic cuts on the salaries, the wages of the top management,” he stated.

Mr Owusu-Agyemang was sure that after the pay cuts, the salaries of staff of COCOBOD would still be higher than the highest of the famous ‘Article 75’ office holders.

The Board also intends to tackle the issue of the falling price of cocoa from $3,200 per tonne to $2,200, with a loss of $1,000 per tonne on the back of a production of 850,000 tonnes and $850 million in losses.

“We want to assure our cocoa farmers that they should have the pride of place; in everything that we do and at the end of the day, they should realize the benefits of their labour,” he assured.

Fat Salaries

The Board Chairman, in a follow-up interview on Citi FM, dropped the hint of a possible review of salaries of top management members, with some of them pocketing GH¢75,000 every month as take-home pay.

He said the company would go into negotiation with the staff to get the review done, as it doesn’t make the company viable.

Board Members

Other members of the Board are Joseph Boahen Aidoo, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Kwame Sarpong, Dr Abdul Nasir Isahaku, Governor of the Bank of Ghana (BoG); Nana Adwoa Dokua; Nana Johnson Mensah; Nana Obeng Akrofi; Peter Atta Boakye; Charles Adu-Boahen; Carlos Ahenkorah and Dr Gyelle Nurah.

By Charles Takyi-Boadu, Presidential Correspondent

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