An investment banker, Dr Samuel Ankrah, has called on the government to take immediate steps to permanently plug the loopholes in the internal control systems at the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) to stop any financial hemorrhage.
According to him, Cocobod is the financial life blood of the economy and therefore, all efforts must be put in place to ensure that revenues accrued to state is intact.
Subsequently, he pushed for measures to enhance the internal control procedures of the COCOBOD, particularly in the area of accounting, to prevent the misappropriation and misapplication of revenue from the country’s cocoa proceeds.
According to him, the COCOBOD’s accounting controls must have integrity and the internal financial information and the accuracy of financial reports provided to outsiders, regulatory and oversight agencies must be apt to ensure credibility.
Dr Ankrah made the call in an interview with the GRAPHIC BUSINESS after rumours went viral that the US$1.8 billion cocoa syndicated loan sourced last year by the previous administration had either been misapplied or misappropriated.
This means that the government has to find money from elsewhere to fund the purchase of cocoa beans in the major crop season.
The Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, has, however, indicated that there is no cause for alarm after he was quizzed on the issue by an Accra-based radio station on last Wednesday after the inauguration of the new board for COCOBOD.
Meanwhile, the new Board Chairman of Cocobod, Mr Hackman Owusu Agyemang, has painted a gloomy picture about the COCOBOD, stressing the need for immediate steps to address the various loopholes within the institution.
Former CEO quizzed
Already, the immediate past Chief Executive Officer of COCOBOD, Mr Stephen Opuni, is reportedly under investigation by the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) in connection with some issues bothering on what some have described as ‘fraudulent award’ of contracts.
Details of the allegations are sketchy but many are of the view that the financial malpractices at COCOBOD is as a result of loose financial systems that make it easy for heads of the board to manipulate the system.
Some have argued that considering the role played by COCOBOD in the country’s revenue generation, there is the need for the government to ensure that all leakages are blocked to prevent a few from enriching themselves at the expense of the entire country.
“We need a strong financial control system to ensure that policies and procedures are put in place to track, manage and report COCOBOD’s financial resources and transactions,” Dr Ankrah said.
He added that “the financial control systems of COCOBOD should include its income statements, cash flow statements, budget sheets, accounting systems, operating ratios, and balance sheet, among other things.”
According to Dr Ankrah, these controls must be examined and tested constantly for adequacy by an independent external audit firm such as PWC.
Role of Parliament
“Since Parliament is the authorising body for the approvals of loans for COCOBOD, I suggest a paradigm shift in the loan approval process by Parliament. The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament must maintain a close oversight responsibility over COBOCOD’s procurement and disbursement of loans to cocoa farmers for purchase of cocoa beans,” he said.
Dr Ankrah said the committee could exercise that oversight by ensuring that COCOBOD submits to it the terms and receipt of approved loans and the list of intermediary or direct cocoa farmers from whom COCOBOD is purchasing from.
“The committee can also set up an independent task force made up of accountants, auditors and procurement experts to ensure proper disbursements that matches actual purchase invoices to actual sellers of cocoa beans.
He said Parliament could also be required to set up an independent disbursement agency under which COCOBOD purchase from cocoa farmers could be done through the use of payment vouchers.
“This means farmers can submit their vouchers to the independent disbursing agency/bank to make the payment.
“Subsequently, a complete and an independent forensic audit of all the transactions should be conducted after the purchasing season and the report submitted to the Public Accounts committee for review,” he said.
Dr Ankrah said presently cocoa was Ghana’s cash cow and “all the necessary measures must be put in place to ensure that nothing leaks.”