…As 230 Road Contracts Suspended
Hon. Eric Opoku, Minority spokesperson on Food and Agriculture in parliament, has expressed worry over the attempt by the Akufo-Addo administration and the current management of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) to harm the cocoa sector, the largest foreign exchange earner, for suspending ongoing road contracts to cocoa farming communities.
According to him, the Akufo-Addo administration is doing significant harm to the cocoa sector and the economy, as the suspension of cocoa roads construction could worsen the plight of cocoa farmers.
Mr. Opoku, who is the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Member of Parliament (MP) for Asunafo South Constituency in the Brong Ahafo Region, expressed these concerns in an Interview with The Republic in parliament last Friday.
He declared that the government, with COCOBOD, was not taking the right steps to save the cocoa sector and the economy, describing the decision to suspend cocoa roads construction as reckless and insensitive to the cocoa sector.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of COCOBOD, Joseph Boahen Aidoo, in June, this year, announced that the government has indefinitely suspended the reconstruction of cocoa roads awarded two years ago.
The decision, according to Mr. Boahen Aidoo, is to enable the administration to complete investigations into discrepancies in some of the contracts awarded and the GH¢3billion debt the new government inherited as a result of the programme.
He also claims the programme, although laudable, was abused with construction of roads at where cocoa was not grown, leaving huge debts for the COCOBOD.
The over 230 different road contracts were awarded under the erstwhile NDC administration to the tune of over GHȻ3.5billion.
However, speaking to The Republic, Mr. Opoku said, in 2015, the then president, John Dramani Mahama, cut the sod for the rehabilitation of roads in cocoa-growing areas across the country, after COCOBOD had received a $450-million package for that purpose.
The aim, he said, was to make the cocoa farming areas motorable for farmers to transport their produce to markets on time to save post-harvest losses and other challenges.
He said, though the contracts were awarded on the GHc3.5million, the contractors were to raise their funds for the work and later raise certificates to be paid for work done.
The Minority Spokesperson on Agriculture said, per the contract agreement, the government or the COCOBOD only paid where there is work done and has within 28 days interest free to pay at a percentage of work on the contract.
For instance, he said, “If the contractor raises a certificate of 20% work done on the contract, the government is obliged to pay only for that work. But that would be after the technical and engineers have evaluated the work done and approved it to be paid and government pays.”
“The engineers and technical advisors – be it urban or feeder roads – will evaluate the work done and recommend that contractor ‘A or B’ has done some work and let’s say 20 per cent and so pay him that percentage of the contract sum. So based on the certificate raised of work done, the government then pays the contractor,” he said.
He explained that the contract between the government, COCOBOD and the contractors were just a commitment to do work and could only be incurring debts when it failed to pay on the portion of percentage of work done within 28 days after the contractor had raised certificates to be paid.
He told the paper that, the current action by the CEO of COCOBOD would rather plunge the cocoa sector into unnecessary huge judgment debts, as the contractors may go to court to redeem their money if government fails to pay for work done.
He added that, apart from the suspension of the cocoa roads affecting contractors, it also has some serious effects on the farmers, noting that the roads where construction has begun and parts had been blocked would create problems and more food produce would be locked up on farms.
“As at now, the rains have set in and where road contraction has begun, there will be serious erosion, because water cannot pass. This means, the roads where work has begun will be affected, farms affected and even communities where the roads lead to health and market centres are all going to be affected,” he asserted.
“So this suspension action is going to cost the nation and they (COCOBOD) better think and allow the contractors to return to work site, while they continue with that alleged auditing which has no merit,” Mr. Opoku said.
He further cautioned the government to guard itself against the abrogation of already existing infrastructure intervention contracts without recourse to the implications of such a decision, as it could incur debts, arguing that the contractors obtained loans from banks with interest and suspending the contracts would further harm the programme.
Mr. Opoku also dismissed claims by the CEO of COCOBOD that the NDC government left debts which needed auditing, stating that the cocoa roads programme was done in a most transparent way and that the debts allegation is being used as a sloppy tactic to hide the incompetent and substandard quality of persons put to manage the affairs of COCOBOD.
He expressed surprise that, the new management claims that there is no funds to continue with the cocoa roads projects, asking, “if the NDC government which they claimed was mismanaging the economy was able to secure funds to pay contractors working on the cocoa roads, how come the new government which claimed to have the magic wand to turn things could not secure funds?”
Mr. Opoku described the action as very lazy and lack of competency to steer affairs of the cocoa sector, cautioning the government to reconsider the action and allow the contractors to return to site as the suspension could harm the cocoa sector and destroy the economy of the country.
He also expressed his reservation at the way the fertiliser policy on cocoa farmers is being handled, adding that, if care is not taken the subsidy policy which is now encouraging smuggling of some of the fertiliser could grind the entire cocoa sector to a halt.
Out of the 10 regions, five regions namely Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Western, Eastern and Central regions, grow the crop, which has been the backbone of the economy.
The cocoa road programme had extended some of the road contracts in areas where the crop is not grown, all with the aim of making transportation system to farming communities very accessible in the country.
Source: therepublicnewsonline.com/Felix Engsalige Nyaaba