CEPS in shady rice deal
It has now been established that despite clear indications that the consignment of paddy rice imported into the country were unwholesome, the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) went ahead and sold it to a private company – Divine Feed Mill and Farms Limited.
Times contacts with Food and Drugs Board (FDB) and CEPS which confirmed this, said the FDB had recommended that the rice should be confiscated and destroyed. Investigations conducted by the Times revealed that despite bold inscriptions on the 25kg bags that the contents were “not to be used as food, feed or oil purpose” and “treated with poison”, officials of CEPS ignored the warning and sold the consignment to be used for production of animal feed.
The paddy was imported on August 7, 2006 on board MV Troyberg by Messrs Super Care Group Ltd from the State Farm Corporation India Ltd. After some time, CEPS declared the rice as “over stayed goods” and earmarked them for auction.
The investigation revealed that physical examination of the goods by CEPS prior to the public auction found the rice to be mouldy and this was confirmed by CEPS laboratory test of samples as expired.
An internal memo of CEPS dated June 30, 2009 from the Chief Collector at Tema to the commissioner of CEPS which was sighted by the Times made it clear that the consignment had expired. In spite of this the Commissioner consented to its auction.
Divine Feed Mill and Farms Ltd. On April 28, 2009 applied to the Assistant Commissioner of CEPS at Tema to purchase the consignment. After paying GH¢7,039 for the consignment, the company transport the paddy in three articulated trucks to Akuse in the Eastern Region and off-loaded it into a warehouse of a private rice mill owned by one Mr. Darkwa.
It was at that point that the Akuse Police had a tip-off that the consignment was to be milled in spite of the warning on the packaging. Dr. Mohammed Alfa, Head of Animal Produce and Bio safety Department of FDB, told the Times that the CEPS never informed it that there was such a consignment of paddy at the Harbour for sale.
He said following the report, the FDB immediately dispatched team to Akuse to ascertain the veracity of the story and to investigate the issue since it involved food safety. Dr. Alfa said the team gave instruction to the representative of the Rice Mill to ensure that the consignment remained intact and protected until investigations were completed.
He said this is not the first time CEPS has handled regulated items covered by the Food and Drugs Law without any reference to the FDB adding “this practice is undesirable and does not ensure effective regulation of foods and drugs.”
Dr. Alfa said permitting the poisoned paddy to be used as an ingredient for poultry feed would lead to the eventual disposition of undesirable residues in the meat of birds that would have been fed on such feed. “CEPS must always involved the FDB in all dealings with regulated products covered by PNDC Law 305B and its Amendment Act (Act 523) of 1996” he said.
He said the Animal Products and Bio-Safety department of the FDB will conduct an audit of the operations of Divine Feed Mill Ltd to determine its level of compliance of good feed manufacturing practices and good agricultural practices.
In an interview, Annie Anipa, Head of Public Relations Department of CEPS, said CEPS as an income generating organization sometimes “sells overstayed consignments in their warehouses”.
She said in this instance CEPS had approved the disposal of the consignment upon the applicant’s submission of a written permit from the Animal Production Unit of the Ministry of Good and Agriculture which said the consignment was ideal for animal feed. Mrs. Anipa said CEPS will make all documents available to establish its role in the sale of the rice in due course.