Mar 07, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – Russell Lancaster, the Managing Director of Videomega Productions Limited, the company owned by former Minister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes, which was said to have received over $6M in contracts from her Ministry, has offered “clarification” on the matter, which however contradicts Hughes’ claims that she played no role in the granting of the contracts.
Kaieteur News had reported on the issuing of the contracts, which were supplemented by documents distributed by Public Affairs Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister, Kwame McCoy. The documents had shown an excess of $6M being paid to the company and Hughes in one instance appearing to have personally approved a payment, with her signature, as Minister.
Notably, in 2019, the ex-Minister categorically denied using her office or participating in the decision-making process that led to the award of an $832,000 contract to Videomega for the production of ads for the oil and gas sector on behalf of the Department of Energy. Hughes had contested that there was no conflict of interest given that she did not preside over the Department of Energy. Adding to that she had claimed that in any case, she did not know that the contract was even issued.
In a statement on his Facebook page, and sent as a letter to the press, Lancaster claimed the media failed to investigate adequately, resulting in the publishing of stories not substantiated by hard evidence. “As Manager of Videomega Productions since 2015, I have had the opportunity to be privy to the transactions that have taken place between the Ministry of Public Telecommunications and our Company over the period in question, and I can state categorically that Videomega Productions did not receive in excess of $6 million as has been stated by the media over the past few days, and again in an editorial in the Kaieteur News on March 3 2021,” Lancaster outlined.
He said that there is a context that is pertinent to preventing the misconception that there was an underhand attempt to place government funds in “the private hands” of Videomega and ultimately Hughes. In his statement, he said that upon him taking over in 2015, Hughes relinquished all day-to-day activities to concentrate on her duties as Minister. This publication had also reported on Hughes claiming that she stopped being a “member of staff” of the company when she took public office.
After seeing Lancaster’s statement, this publication contacted him to query whether Hughes still had proprietorship for the company and if her proprietorship was given up when she took office in 2015. The question was also posed to Hughes last week, but no response was given. Lancaster said that Hughes is no longer the proprietor of the company as it was transferred to him some two years after she became Minister. This publication requested to see documents showing the transfer of proprietorship from Hughes to Lancaster, but he stated that he could not provide them at the moment and he would have to consult with Hughes.
This contradicts Hughes’ claims that she played no role in the awarding of the contracts, since she would have been the proprietor of the company for two years following her being sworn in as Minister and the contracts were awarded between 2016-2018.
Moreover, even as Lancaster stated that the proprietorship was transferred to him, but in his statement, he only identified himself as the Managing Director. He also affirmed that Hughes is currently a director within the company, leaving concerns as to whether she ever stopped being a “member of staff” as she had claimed or what her precise role in the company was during her tenure as minister.
In his statement, Lancaster suggested that it was Hughes’ lack of familiarity with her role as government minister, that would have resulted in her role in assigning business to her own company: “While the Minister may have been naïve in her actions, and that is understandable seeing that she was new to the arena and had come from a private sector background where things happen quickly, she should certainly not be accused of graft, which seems to be the distinct impression being peddled.”
In summary, in 2016 the company received $1.13M in payments for ads; in 2017 $1.4M in payments for ads; in December 2017, $68,400 for “Community ICT Hub-ICT in Education (Transfer of footage) (Collation of Video Footage MOPT);” in July 2018, $2.33M for “Community ICT Road Show, 2018-Television & Radio, Caribbean ICT Radio Show, 2018-Advertising Ress Ads, Caribbean ICT Road Show-Camera-ready Artwork,” Berbice Advertising “Caribbean ICT Road Show, 2018-Television Commercial-45 secs” and even an interview with Hughes herself, “Caribbean ICT Road Show, 2018-Television 33 secs” and “Caribbean ICT Road Show, 2018-33 secs Radio;” and $956,519 for Publishing of Advertisements for “ICT Planning Officer – 8x3BW, ICT Education Officer – 8x3BW, ICT Business Analyst – 8x3BW, Technical Admin. Assistant – 10x3BW.”
Lancaster stated that Videomega merely acted as an advertising agency for Hughes’ Ministry adding that “it is a well-established fact” that advertising agencies receive a 15 percent commission for ad placements and that is what Videomega would have received. At the time however, during the Granger administration, the Department of Public Information was responsible for the placement of government ads. Additionally, the records provided also indicate that the services provided by Videomega did not only cover placement, but also some aspects of production.
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