Minister of Agriculture poised to crack the whip over claims of rot at Produce Buying Company Featured

Credible information seen by the Daily Statesman indicates that top officials at both the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Ministry of Finance are unhappy about developments at the Produce Buying Company (PBC).

The tension follows alleged underhand dealings involving two senior officials of the company which threaten to push the PBC back on its knees after it was resuscitated by the Akufo-Addo government.

There are fears that resources being pumped into the company will once again go to waste because of the conduct of elements in the company’s board and management.

Information suggests that Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, the Minister of Food and Agriculture, may move over the next few days to crack down on activities of an alleged “cartel” in the company to save national resources from once again being poured down the drain.

Deep-throat sources say the move may affect the PBC’s current structure at the seniormost level.

Bake and consume cakes

According to the sources, two senior managers of the PBC are engaged in “insider trading”, having surreptitiously set up a transport company, and have been awarding haulage contracts to themselves.

Information also shows that although several petitions and complaints have been sent to the PBC’s board of directors about the two officials’ alleged illegal deals, it has failed to take any action. This has raised suspicions of complicity by the board.

The situation is said to be affecting the PBC’s financial and operational capacity negatively, despite interventions by the government to resuscitate the company, including an injection of capital.

The PBC was badly mismanaged and was virtually bankrupt before 2016.

Millions in debt

Before the Akufo-Addo government entered office, the PBC was saddled with over GHC700 million in debt which had almost brought the company to its knees.

Incapable of servicing the debt, which was owed to about ten different banks, the company was also unable to engage in its core business of commodity trading.

In an effort to restructure the company and revive it, the new government entered into negotiations with the locally owned banks to offer a six-year repayment moratorium.

The government’s intervention, through the Ministries of Finance and Food and Agriculture, was to enable the PBC to concentrate on other core mandates such as haulage and the hotel business.

The Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) has also allocated roughly GHC600m to the company to enable it to purchase cocoa beans from farmers over the current crop season.

Workers are worried

But now PBC workers are worried that these laudable interventions will go to waste “because of the greedy and selfish interest of some senior management members”.

The managers are said to have set up private companies, positioning relatives as proxies, to engage in haulage and transportation using the company’s resources.

“They are actually fleecing and milking the company dry by awarding juicy contracts to themselves,” a worried worker told the Daily Statesman yesterday.

Is the board complicit?

Other information suggests that “the internal herrmorrhage” of the indigenous company “is being executed by a cartel which is not limited only to the two senior managers”.

Reliable sources say the board, apparently complicit, has failed to perform its fiduciary duties as the oversight authority for management.

“The board has failed to take any action to check the illicit activities of the two officers, despite several appeals from agitated workers of the company,” our source said.

The workers have written two separate petitions cataloguing the duo’s “filthy deals” to the board, yet it has failed to act.

Workers are said to be preparing to protest publicly against the company’s board and management if nothing is done about the problem in the coming days.

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