Lead Counsel for the state at the Commission of Inquiry, Lawyer Robert B.Kowa has claimed that the then Minister of Agriculture, prof. Monty Jones ended up spending in excess of the government budget and also use an unauthorized means to expend monies in the 'forestry development account'.
At Commission 65 presided by Justice Bankole Thompson, State Prosecutor Lawyer Robert B. Kowa delved into the Direct Cash Transfer project which was initiated by Professor Monty Jones between 2015 to 2018.
The Direct Cash Transfer scheme was intended to boost agricultural activities by paying monies directly to farmers but was allegedly fraught by many problems that left room for doubt and possible corruption.
According to Kowa,the ministry failed and neglected to comply with the policy document and also the public Financial Management Regulations 2007 & 2017 as repealed.
Director of Crops at the ministry, Henry Kargbo,who was led in evidence by Lawyer Kowa, explained how the anomalies in the scheme left room for malpractices.
It was alleged by the State Prosecutor that although the sum of Le 3,000,000,000 (three billion Leones) was approved by the Ministry of Finance for the Direct Cash Transfer scheme, but that former minister and team ended up expending Le 3,225,000,000 (three billion two hundred and twenty five thousand Leones), which was in excess of what was approved by the finance ministry.
It was revealed that the finance ministry approved an initial Le1,500, 000, 000 (one billion five hundred million) but the MAF's officials ostensibly, acting on the instructions of the former minister, withdrew another Le 1,755,000,000 (one billion seven hundred and fifty five million Leones).
He claimed that the said amount was withdrawn from the Forestry Development Account, without approval from the finance ministry.
He said 28 of the Farmer Based Organisations (FBOs) that benefited from the funds did not meet the criteria as stated in the policy of which they should have operated or registered for at least two years before they benefit from the cash transfer.
He said evidence shows that most of them were less than a year old, yet huge sums of monies were given to them.
He also disclosed that there were another 25 farmer based organizations that were not registered, but were given colossal amount of about le 500million.
He said 10 FBOs benefited although they were not recommended by the District Agriculture Officer in Koinadugu District.
It was also disclosed that the direct cash transfers to farmers was never properly monitored and evaluated, but huge sums of money were pumped into it.
However, Counsel for the Persons of Interest, Lawyer Lansana Dumbuya argued that there was no evidence before the tribunal that the FBOs did not meet the required criteria of being registered for at least two years.
"Nothing is here as evidence for the eligibility for the farmers to benefit from the direct cash transfers. The state cannot pick and choose from the evidence that is not in front of the tribunal. It is my submission that if there is evidence indicating that certain FBOs were less than two years of registration and others were above as the lead counsel is alleging before the tribunal. It is not the duty of the Persons of Interest to prove that certain FBOs did not meet the criteria," he argued.
He stated that returns should be brought by the state because they are the ones that have a case with the persons of interest, as most of them are no longer in the ministry and do not have access to the documents to defend themselves.
He stated that the forestry development account is an account sanctioned by an Act of Parliament, but according to the Act, the account is not subjected to any prior permission from the ministry of finance or cabinet as the state explained.
He said the state alleged that it was unlawful for the ministry to use the funds in the account unless they are given permission by the ministry of finance or should have cabinet approval.
"The state cannot have a cake and at the same time want to eat it. We agreed with the statement made by the permanent secretary and the director of crops that is before the tribunal as evidence for them to use the account without permission," he submitted.
Lawyer dumbuya also argued that the national action plan clearly indicated to compensate farmers for the effect caused on the crops, hence what the state was alleging was not the same as the direct cash transfer.
"The plan was set for the period of 2017-2023 and the direct cash transfer process started since 2016 as stated by one of the witnesses that the state brought to this tribunal."
He also stated that the excess le225m was use to service the direct cash transfer and the national action plan of the ministry, hence they cannot be held culpable for having used the fund that they were actively entitled to.
"I agree they should have retired for the amount used but the state cannot see it to found them wanting or culpable for misappropriation," he argued.