15 March 2019

Sierra Leone: Director of Crops Testifies in Fertilizer Saga

Director of Crops at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Henry Kargbo, on Wednesday, 13th March, testified before the Commission of Inquiry presided over by Justice Bankole Thompson, that he had advised the procurement officer to procure NPK 0-20-20, but that they procured NPK 20-20-20.

Led in evidence by State Prosecutor, Robert B. Kowa, the director said he had worked at the ministry since 1986, and sometimes in May, 2016, he was appointed the substantive Director of Crops at the ministry.

He told the commission that his duties include helping, formulating and ensuring the implementation of policies in the crop sector, coordinating and supervising crops activities nationwide, and carrying out functions dedicated to him by the Executive Management Committee (EMC).

He said the membership of the EMC comprises the minister, his two deputies, the Permanent Secretary, the Chief Agriculture Officer, Deputy Chief Agriculture Officer, the Head of the Strategic Advisory Unit, the Chief Accountant and one consultant.

He explained that as Director of Crops, he was not part of the committee during the procurement of the fertilizer in 2016, but in 2017 and 2018, he had served as secretary to the EMC and was later promoted to Deputy Chief Agriculture Officer, thus adding that the minister was the Chairman of the Committee.

He said the EMC which was the highest decision making body of the ministry, was established after the erstwhile minister, Professor Monti P. Jones took office and that it has not been only serving as an oversight committee for the ministry, but also approved major decisions for the infective and efficient running of the ministry.

He recalled that in 2016 and 2017, the ministry purchased three types of fertilizer including Urea fertilizer, NPK 0-20-20 and NPK 15-15-15, and that he was at some point once asked by the procurement officer to provide the types and specification of fertilizer they were to procure.

He said before the procurement officer approached him for the specification, the EMC, which was chaired by the minister, had come up with a flagship programme to increase production and productivity of rice and other crops, which required the use of fertilizers.

He noted that the idea was discussed by the EMC which came up with a decision to purchase two hundred and fifty thousand bags of fertilizer, adding that he was asked to provide specification and types of fertilizer.

He told the commission that the Directorate of Crops was part of the procurement committee, but can't ascertain whether the Chief Agriculture Officer was also part of the committee, noting that he was only invited when there were procurement issues relating to crops.

He said he had attended meetings of procurement relating to crops and members in that meeting were are normally the Permanent Secretary, the Chief Agriculture Officer, the Chief Accountant, the Directorate or representative of Crops, the Procurement Officer and sometimes a representative from the ministry of finance.

He further told the commission that it was not the responsibility of the end-user to conduct market price survey on fertilizer, but that he only provided the type and specification of fertilizer, adding that he did not prepare or initiate any procurement recitation for the procurement of the two hundred and fifty thousand bags of fertilizer.

The witness admitted recognizing the documents of invitation to various bidders for the supply of the fertilizer, but that he had problem with the specification of NPK 20-20-20, because the one he had given was 0-20-20.

He said the manager of one of the bidders, Balsam Enterprises, had written a letter to the ministry requesting clarification on the specification of that fertilizer and that he was copied. He said he replied that the specification should be NPK 0-20-20 and not NPK 20-20-20.

He also identified a valuation report document which he said was prepared by the ministry, but that he was not part of the valuation team which report was approved on 19th July 2016, thus stating that the type of fertilizer contained in the valuation report corresponds to the executive clearance of former President Ernest Bai Koroma.

He said when a request by the procurement officer was made for the type of fertilizer to be procured; he wrote to him that NPK 0-20-20, NPK 15-15-15 and Urea take precedent because they enhance increase in rice production and productivity which was the main objective for the purchase of the fertilizer.

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