Massive layoffs loom at COCOBOD, workers in fear

Hackman Owusu-Agyemang and Joseph Boahen-Addo Hackman Owusu-Agyemang and Joseph Boahen-Addo

Top management members atthe Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) have hinted that thousands of staff wouldlikely be laid off next year as cocoa production keeps declining. COCOBOD'S permanent staffstrength is about 12,574 in addition to contract staff who are over 14,758.

Majority of the contract staff have beenengaged as spraying gangs, hand pollinators, disease spotters, among others.

The only thing holding theredundancy exercise is the current political climate.Staff who have gotten windof the impending layoff are worried and agitating quietly especially those whohave spent over five years at COCOBOD as africaneyereport.

comsay its sources say they would be targeted for thelayoff.A management member, whowants to remain anonymous for now, explained that with the decline inproduction, there cannot be a turnaround in the organization's administrativecost overrun if COCOBOD maintains the huge number of staff employed acrossboard.

This development has put COCOBOD'S Management in adifficult position as they defer the decision being mindful of the politicalrepercussions, especially with the 2020 general elections in focus.

Meanwhile, sources say some of the staff who maysurvive the massive lay off at COCOBOD would be shipped to the Ministry of Foodand Agriculture (MoFA) as was done under former President Kufuor's regime tostreamline its operations to save it from financial collapse. This exercise isnot far fetched but the only immediate challenge is the current politicalclimate.

A few months ago, Bloomberg reported that COCOBODis having a hard time paying debt owed purchasing agents after the coronaviruspandemic slowed exports and sales.

Also, it is not clear when production in thecountry will peak as the current situation appears to have been compounded bythe deadly coronavirus pandemic.

Moreover, a Reuters poll of London cocoa futuresin August forecast that cocoa would cost 10% less at the end of the year,because of rising production and a hit to demand from the coronavirus crisis.

COCOBOD is said to be overstaffed now because thecurrent administration at COCOBOD was compelled to employ more personsaffiliated to the governing party when it came to power. This distorted theongoing restructuring at COCOBOD under Dr Stephen Opuni regime aimed at ultimatelyincreasing cocoa production.

Ghana's cocoa production has been declining inrecent years after picking up in the 2016/17 crop season. The country recorded969,511 metric tonnes in 2016/17 but fell to 904,740 in 2018 and 811,606 in2019.

Meanwhile, COCOBOD has received approval fromparliament for US$1.3 billion dollars for the purchase of estimated 900,000tonnes of cocoa beans for the 2020/21 crop season.

It is instructive to note, a management memberpointed out, under the erstwhile National Democratic Congress (NDC)administration, COCOBOD supported cocoa production with supply of freeseedlings, free fertilizers and chemicals to farmers, among other notableinterventions.

The source commended Dr Opuni for presiding over ameritorious staff training, promotion and benefits including but not limited tostaff housing projects and massive disbursement of car loans.

Upon assumption of office, the NPP-led COCOBOD'Smanagement under Joseph Aidoo Boahen championed a new course which includedreplacing the free fertilizers distribution regime with subsidy. Today, farmersbuy fertilizers at ¢80.

This according to sources is of major concern tofarmers and they are very much unhappy about it. The farmers are agitating fora return to the free fertilizer distribution regime as was done under theerstwhile NDC administration.

Hand pollination exercise.

It is emerging that COCOBOD'S much-touted handpollination exercise failed to yield the expected results and it is dawning onkey industry players that millions of cedis in investments have been wasted inthe light of declining cocoa production. COCOBOD is in a financial crisis growingfrom financial imbalance grounded in unsustainable financial management andcontrol.

Some staff fear COCOBOD could suffer the same fateas it happened to some banks during the financial sector crisis.