Almost two years after an inquiry uncovered financial irregularities at the state broadcaster NCN, President Donald Ramotar had no answer yesterday when asked why he had not done anything about the findings.
“I wasn’t prepared for that question at this point in time but I’ll probably look into it and see if I can give you an answer after…,” the President said while responding to a question from Stabroek News at a news conference at the Office of the President. He smiled as the question was being asked. “You have a memory like an elephant,” he said, then laughed and said that he wasn’t prepared for the question.
The President, who is also the Minister of Information was asked about the issue at prior news conferences but despite promises, he has not revealed what action he will take against officials implicated in the financial scandal. Ramotar has made several promises to reveal what, if any, action he was going to take in relation to the findings of the probe but thus far has failed to do so. Last April, he had said that he would make his decision known “very soon.”
His lack of action on this matter comes in the wake of a report released by a committee of experts from the Organisation of American States last Friday which said that Guyana needed an anti-corruption strategy and specialized units to tackle graft. The committee members also pointed to the few prosecutions of corruption and the lack of data on these cases.
Former NCN Pro-gramme Manager, Martin Goolsarran and NCN’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mohammed ‘Fuzzy’ Sattaur were implicated in the scandal.
In January last year, Ramotar told a news conference that he planned to discuss the findings with the persons involved before saying what decisions will be made. Critics have said the reason why there has been no action is that the two persons at the centre of the probe have close ties to the ruling party and they visibly played up the positives of government on state TV while closing out the opposition from the airwaves. Analysts also see it as a litmus test of whether the government is serious about accountability and financial probity in the state sector.
In June 2012, the NCN Board launched an investigation into suspected financial irregularities at the network. Sattaur subsequently resigned and Goolsarran was suspended. He was initially suspended for eight weeks without pay for allegedly attempting to cover up financial irregularities by pressuring staff to prepare backdated invoices, among other things. The suspension was later extended indefinitely.
Jingle and song
Goolsarran was first sent on administrative leave in relation to a $3.9 million cheque made payable to him by the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) as an incentive for the production team that worked during the company’s jingle and song competition, held between September 2011 and February 2012.
The decision to investigate the incentive payment was taken at a meeting by NCN board members in 2012 to examine how the cutting of the $82 million government subvention to $1 by the combined opposition, would affect the company.
At the time, board members were also examining a proposal by the management of the company on the way forward, in the light of the cut of the subvention. The board decided to dig deeper on seeing the proposal, since NCN had publicly indicated that most of its revenues come from advertising and that it raked in over $500 million in advertising revenue in 2011.
Parmesar Chartered Accountants was then hired to carry out a special investigation into the alleged financial irregularities and several breaches were uncovered.
Among other things, it stated that Goolsarran, in the presence of Sattaur, in June 2012, requested that the finance manager prepare an invoice to be dated January 2012 to cover production costs for the GT&T Jingle and Song competition for the period November 2011 to January 2012. The amount of the invoice was for $3.6 million but the employee refused to prepare the invoice “as no Job Order was given to her for these activities.” The employee told the investigators that Sattaur and Goolsarran made “a few requests” to her to prepare the invoice.
After the finance manager refused, the report said, Sattaur and Goolsarran instructed another employee to prepare a Job Order for the GT&T competition production services and forward it to the Finance Department for the preparation of an invoice. This employee also refused to carry out the instruction. “The two employees reported that they felt that it was unethical to prepare a Job Order that should have been prepared in the normal course of business since January 2012 and submitted to the Finance Department for invoicing in June 2012,” the report said.
Both Goolsarran and Sattaur had declined repeated requests by Stabroek News for responses to the allegations contained in the report.
The report also said that a copy of an invoice dated 10 January 2012 with Goolsarran’s home address was obtained.
This invoice was addressed to GT&T and represented production costs for the Jingle and Song Competition for November 2, 2011 to January 6, 2012. The report pointed out that the invoice amount was $3,620,000 which was the same amount and services that the finance manager was asked to prepare the invoice for in June 2012 and backdate to January 2012.
Goolsarran admitted that he received on two occasions, amounts totalling $3,930,000 in December 2011 from GT&T for production services. “These amounts were deposited in his personal bank account. He said that the $3,930,000 was paid to HJTV on two occasions for their services,” the report said. It noted that a receipt dated January 21, 2012 from HJTV was presented with details of two payments made by cash in December 2011 and January 2012 for a total of $3,930,000. “The details on the receipt referred to recording and editing of “GT&T Guyana Star 2011 Competition” which is a separate activity from GT&T Jingle and Song Competition,” the report said.
The report said that based on the evidence gathered, it could be concluded that Sattaur and Goolsarran failed in carrying 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 said while adding that their conduct tarnished the reputation of NCN and its management.
Further, a number of functions of other staff/ department were usurped by the two officers, the report said, adding, among other things, that they entered into arrangement with GT&T for the Jingle and Song Competition without a written agreement and further, this event was not referred to the ‘Rates and Special Events Commit-tee,’ which has responsibility for such events.
Among other things, the report said that Goolsarran submitted personal invoices to GT&T for production services provided by NCN, collected payments of $3,930,000 and deposited same into his personal bank account while reliability of payments of $3,930,000 to HJTV for production services could not be reliably verified.