Government has called its $600 million stimulus package to cocoa farmers good news, but the Minority is incensed the loan is most likely to be dissipated in misplaced and expensive initiatives.
Information Minister, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, emerged from a ministerial retreat to announce that government plans to inject $600 million stimulus package into the cocoa sector -- a vital source of foreign exchange.
It is a seven-year loan facility from African Development Bank to undertake “Productivity Enhancement Programmes” which has been explained to mean eight initiatives for the cocoa sector.
Photo: Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah
The initiatives include hand pollination of cocoa farms, irrigation, rehabilitation of infested and dying farms, increase storage capacity, and developing a database of cocoa farmers.
It is also to promote domestic process and local consumption.
The government hailed it “good news” on Sunday. But by Tuesday, the government suffered a setback in Parliament after the Minority blocked the passage of the agreement.
According to the Minority, the loan is “good news for the NPP” but not for the Ghanaian taxpayer.
The Minority spokesperson for finance and former deputy Finance Minister, Ato Forson, listed several problems with the loan deal.
Referring to details of the agreement he pointed out that government plans to use $5 million to buy chocolate bars for schoolchildren under the National School Feeding Programme and the military.
“Who said the military people can’t buy chocolate?” he fumed at what he called a waste of resources.
He also pointed out that government intends to also spend $2.5 million on “awareness creation” which has been explained to mean telling Ghanaians to buy chocolate products.
Ato Forson said the Minority wanted to know what else government intends to use the $2.5 million for beyond advertisement on TV, radio and print media.
“We asked them what they are going to do and they said that they are going to mount platforms and people will come and dance and they will pay them.
The government has explained it needs to do something about the low domestic consumption of cocoa. Ghana’s per capita consumption is estimated at 0.55kg while Europe os 6.12kg.
It has therefore set up a committee within COCOBOD for the promotion of cocoa consumption. That is what it intends to do with the $7.5 million or more than GHS37 million to buy chocolate for consumption and encouraging citizens to buy more themselves.
Ato Forson finds this a misplaced priority.
“Where is our priority Mr President? Our president has lost the way. That is not the way a developing country manages resources.”
The Minority was not finished. It had problems with the government’s plan to allocate “mind-boggling” $68 million to hand pollinate cocoa farms.
Ato Forson said the government had already spent $20m over the past two years to do hand pollination, but still could not meet its production targets.
“Two years of pollination but productivity is not being met…money is being expended but no results is coming out”, he criticised before throwing in his suspicion that “somebody is pocketing the pollination money.”
The Minority spokesperson also pointed to “another chop, chop” item in the loan agreement – the biometric registration of cocoa farmers and their household at the cost of $4.27 million.
Ato Forson wondered the need for registration of cocoa farmers when the Ghana Statistical Service is conducting a nationwide agricultural census.
The former deputy Finance Minister explained there are some “unacceptable” parts f the loan agreement. For instance, “government is going to pay interest on the loan whereas the money is sitting idle.”
Punching holes throughout the agreement, Ato Forson told journalists, the loan is “good news for the NPP” because “they are going to use it for their 2020 campaign.”
For the average Ghanaian, the loan agreement debate should represent a “sad day for Ghana”, he said because “everything proves that this loan is going to be misapplied.”
Ato Forson then announced, the Minority is going to officially write to the lenders asking for a renegotiation of the structure of the loan.
While the passage of the loan agreement suffered a setback on Tuesday, the government does not intend a repeat of this stumbling block Wednesday.
The Minority has its way yesterday because several MPs from the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) stayed away from parliamentary work in the chamber.
It has given the National Democratic Congress a temporary majority in Parliament.
As Parliament sits Wednesday, the NPP is set to remind the NDC of the status quo that it has 63 MPs more.
More than enough to pass the loan agreement to leave the Minority hapless and writing letters to the African Development Bank about a loan agreement that may have already become binding.