Oct 11, 2015 News
– paid Ramroop’s TVG millions monthly for Learning Channel
In a major development this week, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) has launched an investigation into the discovery of special satellite uplink transmission equipment that has been sitting unused in boxes at the National Communications Network (NCN) Headquarters for the last two years.
During those two years, the Donald Ramotar administration released tens of millions of dollars to Television Guyana (TVG), a company controlled by Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop, for transmitting the Learning Channel across the country. But all the time NCN had the capacity to do so.
Ramroop is a close friend of former President Bharrat Jagdeo under whose watch the Learning Channel was started up.
The present coalition Government, when they were in the Opposition until the May 11 General and Regional Elections, had accused the previous administration of deliberately positioning TVG and Ramroop to receive $3.6M monthly ($43.2M annually) for transmitting the signals.
Why NCN did not install the equipment since acquiring it in 2013 is what officials at OPM want to know now.
The matter has reportedly also been brought to attention of the Cabinet of Ministers.
According to NCN officials familiar with the investigations, the new David Granger administration had been reviewing the contract with TVG and recently approved $23M for the purchase of transmission equipment for NCN so that it can take over the satellite uplinks for The Learning Channel.
This was before the Cabinet of Ministers received the shocking news that all the required equipment, to the tune of millions of dollars, had been already purchased by NCN since 2013, and were still in its unopened boxes at the NCN Homestretch Avenue headquarters.
“What this means is that the previous government had been knowingly paying $3M a month to the Ramroop Group (owner of TVG) when these monies could have been paid to NCN instead,” an incensed senior Government official said yesterday.
It is understood that the NCN management did not inform the new Government of the equipment it had on hand. It was only discovered when a former staff tipped off senior officials and an investigation was launched by OPM, which has the portfolio for public information and oversight of the state media.
The disclosures would continue to raise serious questions over the management of state agencies and assets by the previous administration of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic.
NCN itself had been described as a hotbed for corruption and fraud with evidence emerging that the previous Government frequently interfered in the day-to-day operations.
In April 2011, months before he ended his constitutional two terms in office, Jagdeo announced the launch of The Learning Channel.
That same month, the then Government also announced that it will be using Cable Channel 80 as The Learning Channel for broadcasts in the city and its environs. Different channels are being used for outlying areas.
The juicy deal with TVG was not made known until two years later, in April 2013, when former Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, in response to questions by then Opposition MP Jaipaul Sharma, disclosed that $3.6M was being paid monthly to Jagdeo’s best friend.
Manickchand had said then that for The Learning Channel to send the signal to the satellite, it would have had to set up a commensurate service that would have required an initial capital outlay of US$150,000 ($30M) plus monthly recurring costs of over $4M in bandwidth rental and associated services.
She insisted that The Learning Channel was using “the only teleport capable of up-linking video-signals in existence in Guyana,”
She added that because the Learning Channel’s bandwidth is bundled with the bandwidth of TVG they are able to negotiate better rates from the satellite operators.
It was widely believed that Ramroop, coincidentally, moved to establish his satellite uplink ahead of the 2011 launch of The Learning Channel.
Contract to End
Last month, Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, indicated that Ramroop’s contract comes to an end in December and that his government had no intention of renewing it.
The Minister had noted that The Learning Channel is not being accessed all over the country as it was intended to. He added that NCN is already able to reach all across Guyana so he can see no problem with NCN being able to fulfill this mandate once the other facilities are put in place.
The Alliance For Change (AFC), which forms part of the Government coalition, had made it clear that it is convinced that the TVG deal for $3.6M monthly, was one of the many schemes by Jagdeo to further enrich his close friend.
TVG, it has been reported, collected $70M in 2011 for the transmission of the channel throughout the country, using a dish network receiver system for remote communities.
The Learning Channel is described as a non-commercial, apolitical educational television broadcast network, focused on education, since it started up on April 2011.
It has been producing local programmes including Maths lessons and broadcasting them.
These latest developments surrounding The Learning Channel and its arrangements with TVG would call to mind the drug storage facility that was controlled by New GPC, another company owned by Ramroop.
Government had been paying millions of dollars to rent a facility from New GPC before the shady deal was brought to light.
Several of Ramroop’s companies have reportedly benefited, under questionable arrangements, from billions of dollars in contracts and even state properties over the years from the PPP/C governments.
Opposition MPs, questioning Ministry of Health officials a few years ago, were shocked to learn that New GPC which was supplying drugs to the then Government was being paid to store it.
A new storage facility has since been built in Diamond, East Bank Demerara.
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