The Minority spokesperson on Food and Agriculture and Cocoa Affairs, Eric Opoku, has expressed surprise at comments made by the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, not long after he had officially informed members of parliament that the government has put in place new arrangements to take care of production of cocoa in the country.
According to him, efforts by the Agriculture Minister to blame the immediate past COCOBOD Board for squandering last year’s Cocoa Syndicated Loan on noncore activities and thereby forcing COCOBOD to contract additional funds from the central bank is completely baseless and untrue.
The Agric Minister accused the former management of COCOBOD of misappropriating funds meant for cocoa farmers and as a result of that the new board, led by Hackman Owusu-Agyemang, is forced to contract an additional $200million loan from the Bank of Ghana, which is said to attract an interest rate of 22 percent.
“A budget has been approved by management to follow and then the board sits and oversees the quadrupling of what they themselves have set as ceiling. This is unthinkable and the cause of all the financial challenges COCOBOD is facing now.
“What is more revealing is that all the cocoa roads they captured that the money was used for do not exist. Those roads are not there. We have ordered investigations to help government proceed to the court,” he said.
However, Mr. Opoku maintains that the Dr. Afriyie Akoto is economical with the truth and trying to tarnish the image of past board members of COCOBOD, and further explained that the NPP government this year raised an amount of $1.3 billion lower than the previous 1.8 billion dollars in a syndicated loan last year contracted by the NDC government to pay for cocoa beans in the 2016/2017 crop season at a rate of about 1.5 percent.
He mentioned that when the Agric Minister was asked on the floor of parliament as to how he was going to pay cocoa farmers with such a small amount of money, he responded by saying that the government will be going to the central bank for additional money, a comment the minority group in parliament were not too happy about because of the high interest rate charged by the central bank on such loans.
“If anyone tells you that COCOBOD is broke and for that matter it needs to contract a loan from the Bank of Ghana then it’s a big lie. Because parliament has approved the syndicated loan and that is what the government will be using to pay cocoa farmers in the country. Parliament has again approved additional $200million to support other activities relating to cocoa production. During a review of the Utilization Report submitted to us we raised concerns about the additional loan that COCOBOD would be taking from Bank of Ghana,” he stressed.
Mr. Opoku who is also the Member of Parliament of Asunafo South Constituency in the Brong Ahafo Region, debunked the Agric Minister’s claim that Ghana has lost about $1billion as a result of the price slump of cocoa on the world market from $3,000 in 2016 to around $1,800 in August, this year.
He revealed Ghana always sells its cocoa beans on the international market, using a process known on the market as ‘Forward Sales’ ahead of time and so using the forward sales system shields the country from any eventualities, including price slump on the market.
“Before the country receives the cocoa syndicated loan, we should sell our cocoa already first because all the companies that are willing to give you loan would like to know in advance which companies are buying the cocoa for 2018 and since Ghana around the globe has one of the best cocoa beans on the market, it’s so easy to have companies ready on standby to buy our cocoa at a certain premium. So how come the minister wants us to believe that because of the current price fluctuation we will be losing such an amount?” He asked.