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Mr Sattaur’s exit from NCN
Posted By Staff Writer On July 2, 2012 @ 5:02 am In Editorial | No Comments
In the era of former President Jagdeo and a PPP/C parliamentary majority, the shake-up that has been visited upon state TV, the National Communications Network would have been unheard of. Friday’s announcement that the Chief Executive Officer of NCN, Mr Mohammed Sattaur, tendered his resignation to President Donald Ramotar and programme manager Mr Martin Goolsarran has been suspended for eight weeks has to be interpreted in the backdrop of the change in presidency and the pressures that have been brought to bear as a result of the PPP/C’s loss of majority in Parliament.
Mr Sattaur survived a previous attempt by the board to discipline him after President Jagdeo intervened on his behalf. This time there was no rescuing Mr Sattaur and after the board had concluded its investigations into various matters that arose recently out of NCN’s relationship with GT&T it became clear that Mr Sattaur would have to go. In the Jagdeo era none of that would matter. It would be unheard of that the CEO, a confidante of Mr Jagdeo, and Mr Goolsarran, a long-serving employee of NCN who enjoyed the confidence of the government, would be disciplined in this matter. Moreover, Mr Sattaur has close ties to the PPP/C and is also the Head of the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre – hallowed ground for the PPP. He would not be easily dislodged and there is no doubt his departure would have required President Ramotar’s imprimatur. Mr Sattaur’s exit can also be seen as tangible evidence that Mr Jagdeo’s influence is not omnipresent.
Opportunities arise from upheaval. Mr Sattaur had been a divisive figure as far as the opposition was concerned. There was little traction with respect to their advertising, programmes and reservations about the way in which NCN was being run. These concerns persisted for much of Mr Sattaur’s tenure and crystallized recently in questions about the financial underpinnings of NCN which in turn triggered a series of events including the present upheaval. Having gained control of Parliament, the opposition flexed their muscles and severed NCN’s subvention. This was to have wide-reaching repercussions as will be seen later.
Ad interim, the departure of Mr Sattaur provides an irresistible opportunity for the PPP/C to demonstrate that it has to come to grips with the reality of the present parliamentary configuration and to recognize that the valid concerns of the opposition have to be taken on board. As Minister of Information, it is in President Ramotar’s interest to secure a replacement for Mr Sattaur who would have the confidence of the opposition and who would be able to discharge his/her obligations in an impartial way. At the same time, the President should clear the way for the board of NCN to be more representative and for its broadcasting policy to be revisited in light of the clear bias it has shown in the past even if there have been recent attempts to balance the composition of its panels.
Failure to take advantage of this opportunity will cast President Ramotar in the mould of a leader not interested in reform and unwilling to accept that the expression of the democratic will on November 28, 2011 requires fair and equitable involvement of the opposition in decisions pertaining to sectors such as state broadcasting.
As for the NCN investigation itself, the board has not favoured the public with a detailed understanding of the issues it investigated. The public has a right to know of any shenanigans at the state broadcaster even if some details might have to be excluded. Thus far, the key fact gleaned by the media is that a payment by GT&T for services provided by NCN ended up in the account of Mr Goolsarran for subsequent distribution to employees of the state broadcaster. This is wholly unacceptable and contravenes acceptable standards of conduct. So whether suspension of Mr Goolsarran for eight weeks is a justifiable penalty has not yet been established. The public also needs to know the extent of the irregularities and what measures have been put in place to prevent a recurrence.
All of this interestingly has its genesis in the cut-off of NCN’s subvention. In the days that followed and with the realization that more money would have to be mobilised, NCN gave an apparently exorbitant quotation to GT&T as the cost for the broadcasting of the final of the 10/10 competition. This was soundly rejected by GT&T and led ironically to salvoes between Mr Sattaur and the now also resigned GT&T CEO Mr Yog Mahadeo. The contretemps led to the board assessing how it was going to address the loss of the state subvention and disgruntled employees who were unhappy over the payments that were to be made by GT&T via the Goolsarran account then complained to directors.
This scandal clearly fed back into GT&T which after an investigation spearheaded by its ATN principals resulted in the exit of its CEO and the dismissal of three senior accounting staff. Bad commercial business –whether in the public or private sector – radiates toxically in many directions. While GT&T is not obliged to present its findings to the public, its principals may have various reporting requirements to regulators abroad which may eventually filter back here.
It will be to its peril and that of the public if the government fails to heed the warning of sober-minded persons such as Mr Ralph Ramkarran and others who have spoken about the “pervasive” corruption that exists in society. President Ramotar has been slow off the mark and ineffective on this front. His utterances at the Private Sector Commission AGM on Thursday are no substitute for action and a formidable framework within which the corruption battle can be waged. Swift action is needed in areas such as the composing of the Integrity Commission and the Public Procurement Commission and the public needs to be convinced that procurement for large ticket items such as drug supplies are completely above board.
The international community and international financial institutions are in no mood for cosmetic action. Last week’s pulling of US$1.2B in World Bank credit for Bangladesh’s ambitious Padma Bridge in the wake of allegations that Canada’s SNC-Lavalin employees bribed government officials in Dhaka is a cautionary tale. Interestingly, SNC-Lavalin also had a presence here. In its statement explaining its decision, the World Bank said that Dhaka’s response to the corruption complaints had been “unsatisfactory” and it added “The World Bank cannot, should not, and will not turn a blind eye to evidence of corruption. We have both an ethical obligation and a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders and IDA donor countries. It is our responsibility to make sure IDA resources are used for their intended purposes and that we only finance a project when we have adequate assurances that we can do so in a clean and transparent way. “
This need to take corruption seriously and ensure transparency at state agencies such as NCN should also prompt the government to reflect on the fact that a formal World Bank edict on CHEC, the proposed builder for the airport expansion project, remains in place and that the World Bank is also the repository for the large sums of monies that Norway is investing in the protection of Guyana’s forests.
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