Akufo-Addo Storms Court Over India Rice
Some ministers in the erstwhile Kufuor Administration including the flagbearer of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in the last December elections, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, yesterday stormed an Accra Fast High Court trying former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Akwasi Osei-Adjei, for causing financial loss in the importation of rice from India.
While some of the ministers were subpoenaed to testify in the case, others including Nana Addo were there in solidarity with the embattled former Minister, who insists that no loss had been caused to the state in the Indian rice deal involving the National Investment Bank (NIB).
The 2008 NPP presidential candidate, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was spotting an all black attire, attended the court session with Stephen Asamoah-Boateng, former Minister for Information and National Orientation; Abraham Ossei-Aidoo, former Minister for Presidential Affairs and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs; Joe Baidoe-Ansah, former Minister of Trade and Industry as well as friends, relatives and party faithful who were there to offer the former minister some moral support.
Testifying at the gruelling court session that lasted for about six hours, Kojo Owusu-Tweneboah, Deputy Managing Director (MD) of NIB, told the Accra Fast Track High Court, Financial Division, that it was unlikely that the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Akwasi Osei-Adjei, benefited financially from the rice deal because payment was made directly into the accounts of the suppliers.
The deputy MD was among four witnesses including two former ministers of state who testified at the trial of Mr. Osei-Adjei and Daniel Charles Gyimah, former NIB boss. The accused persons are being tried in a court presided over by Justice Bright Mensah for their role in the importation of 15000 metric tonnes of rice which is yet to be fully sold. The state claims the importation has led to a financial loss.
The witness told the court that it would be far-fetched for anybody to imagine that the two persons did benefit from the rice imported from India because no money passed through their hands and it would be difficult for them to influence the payment of money through letters of credit.
Mr. Owusu-Tweneboah said this under cross-examination by Godfred Yeboah Dame, counsel for Mr. Osei-Adjei, and noted that more than three-quarters of the rice imported by the former minister on behalf of the state had been sold, except for some which got burst, adding that until all were sold, he could not definitely tell the exact financial loss it had occasioned.
The witness stated he was not aware that there were supposed to be tax exemptions on rice and oil importation but was handed a law on tax exemption which had been in place since last year by Mr. Dame. Consequently, Mr. Dame put it to him that it was wrong for NIB to have paid import duty on the rice as the witness claimed.
Mr. Owusu-Tweneboah had earlier told the court it was likely that there might be a financial shortfall after the rice was sold after all costs were deducted, considering the amount charged on each bag of rice sold, as some of them got burst while others got caked up as a result of sea water.
He agreed with counsel for the former minister who suggested that five months of delay could have worsened the state of the rice, but said warehouses had ways of maintaining goods to ensure that they were in good condition.
The NIB Deputy MD, who said the goods were insured, agreed with Mr. Dame that the losses of some bags of rice as well as damage, if any, could be claimed from the insurers and further added that no such move had been made.
The witness agreed that the bill of lading showed that NIB was the consignee of the rice and not the government. He also admitted that the government of Ghana did not guarantee the transaction.
The deputy boss of NIB tendered various documents covering the importation of the rice from bill of lading, through commercial invoices, and parking lists among others which helped in clearing the goods.
Explaining how the bank took control of the rice, he said MV Adeventure was the vessel that brought in the rice in February and noted that the bank’s immediate step was to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which facilitated its importation and he tendered in an evidence letter to the Ministry of Finance.
He said the Director at the Ministry of Finance, after informing his minister, gave them the go-ahead verbally to clear the goods and after they got the necessary documents like bill of lading among others, they started clearing the goods.
He disclosed that they wrote to the Finance Ministry on March 12, 2009 to give them an indication of the means of disposal. According to him, when they asked for tax exemptions from the state, the Finance Minister told him that it was the policy of the new government not to grant tax exemptions because they were becoming too many and asked him not to wait for that but go ahead.
Furthermore, he stated that on April 3, 2009, a meeting was held between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ghana High Commission to India, Finance Ministry and the bank for them to meet Ambassador Aggrey.
Ambassador Aggrey, who chaired the meeting, informed them that the government would be asked to pay so that the rice would later be distributed to schools and other institutions.
Explaining further, he said a call came from the Ministry of Finance asking the bank to take control of the rice and sell it, adding that the last quarter was what was being sold. Under cross-examination by Rtd. Col. Alex Johnson, the witness admitted the role of the bank was to facilitate the deal by supplying letters of credit and discharging its other obligations under Article 14 of the agreement.
He also denied that he told his former boss to back out of deal which he refused, saying the decision was irrevocable. Under cross examination by Mr. Dame, the witness admitted that even though there was supposed to be a surveyor to check the goods, nothing like that was ever done.
Fred Asante, a chief records supervisor from the Ministry of Trade, tendered a records book in which letters on the importation was sent to India and other ministries. When Hon. Joe Baidoe-Ansah, Former Minister for Trade and Industry took his turn as the third witness for the prosecution in the trial, he told the court that due to the floods in the North, among other reasons, he realised there was going to be a shortage of rice in the country at that time, and due to the global recession, governments of various rice-importing countries had placed a ban on exporting rice to ensure that their citizens had enough food.
He therefore initiated the idea of rice importation to help solve the problem. According to him, the government of India could only sell rice if the government of Ghana was to buy it for the benefit of all Ghanaians; so he wrote to the Indian Minister of Commerce and the then President John Agyekum Kufuor followed up later to India on his trip from Libya and finalised the deal.
He expressed surprise that there was import duty paid on the rice, saying its documents were sent to Parliament which approved the exemption for import duty as it relates to rice. Hon. Baidoe-Ansah observed that government, last Wednesday, even tabled a proposal before Parliament for the law on tax exemption to be brought back.
He said the final process was taken over by Mr. Osei Adjei who facilitated the importation of the rice and tendered a news report on the global food shortage from Bloomberg, financial analysts.
Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, a former deputy Minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also testified on a letter she wrote in the absence of her boss on the importation of the rice. She told the court that Ghana belonged to a group called Team Nine- a group of countries in West Africa that had contacts with India and had a strong bilateral relationship with them- adding that the act of facilitating the importation of rice by Hon, Osei Adjei was an excellent idea since he was the Foreign Minister.
Nana Addo sat in the courtroom throughout the six-hour session and left in the company of the former ministers after proceedings. The case continues today.