Sep 22, 2012 News Comments Off on NCN scandal…President awaits report from Board
President Donald Ramotar has not ruled out a full fledged investigation into the operations of the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN).
The agency has been under pressure this year after an investigation was ordered by the Office of the President into payments from the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) for work done for the Jingle and Song Competition.
The probe unearthed shocking details how over $3M from GT&T was deposited in the personal bank account of Martin Goolsarran, the Production Manager. Goolsarran was handed an eight-week suspension while Chief Executive Officer, Mohamed Sattaur, tendered his resignation.
There were allegations of missing cameras, lax internal controls, and of contracts being issued without any written agreements.
There were also indications of an attempted cover-up by the two as special auditor, Harry Parmesar, started a probe back in June.
According to President Ramotar, yesterday, while the matter has not been one of top priority for him because of other distractions, there has been a wider investigation launched by the board.
Questioned why he did not take additional actions after Sattaur tendered his resignation, Ramotar said that with all that was coming to light at the time, he had accepted it.
The official also stressed that the Auditor General will be doing work and the report will be tabled in the National Assembly.
He said he will be awaiting a report from the Board of Directors on the current investigations.
Late last month, Goolsarran was suspended for another eight weeks as the investigations continued.
Parliamentary opposition parties, A Partnership For National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC), have called for criminal charges to be laid.
Board Chairman, Dr. Prem Misir, had refused to talk on the issue. Following the damning report by Parmesar, there has been a major shakeup at NCN which controls the government’s radios and televisions stations, including 98.1 Hot FM and NCN Channel 11.
Part of the major changes at the agency included the reactivation of a special review committee, called the ‘Rates Committee’, and which includes senior department heads.
It has been the allegation that the committee was deliberately stifled for a number of years and that two senior officials unilaterally bargained with large advertising companies for lucrative low rates. In return for the low rates, senior officials of NCN reportedly took kickbacks.
The situation at the state agency has drawn widespread anger and is a major embarrassment for the new PPP/C administration.
A number of dissatisfied staffers leaked records that indicated a seemingly ‘wild west’ situation of advertisements being aired free, and of links between at least one senior staffer and a heavy equipment company.
NCN, during the Budget debates earlier this year, admitted that it raked in more than $500M in revenues, raising eyebrows on why it would still need Government allocations.
An angry opposition, upset with NCN’s ‘biased’ coverage to them, blocked a budgetary subsidy for NCN for over $65M. The opposition had called for more accountability and balanced coverage by the state agency.
The special probe at NCN was triggered when GT&T’s CEO, Yog Mahadeo, refused to pay Goolsarran when for a second time he presented an invoice for over $3M in his personal name, instead of NCN. GT&T had launched its own audit. A number of senior officials of the telephone company were sent home, including the Chief Financial Officer.
The Parmesar report made it clear that both the CEO and Goolsarran failed to carry out their duties diligently and professionally.
“They have knowingly breached the company’s internal control procedures. Their actions in dealing with the GT&T Jingle and Song Competition clearly demonstrated conflict of interest.”
The report also recommended that the Board of Directors should take necessary actions, including legal ones, to recover loss of revenue for all amounts paid to any individual.
The two, according to the report, tried to pressure staff to backdate key records in what was seen as an attempted cover-up.
There were also direct leaks of information from the board level to at least two companies, both advertising firms, which benefited from contracts and rates.
Government had declined to release the report on the findings of the investigations but it was leaked to a Parliamentarian.
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