Ramotar still blank on NCN probe

President Donald Ramotar on Saturday acknowledged that he has taken a long time to reveal whether he took any action against officials implicated in financial irregularities at the state broadcaster NCN and said that a lot of the issues “in a way” have been resolved.

Questioned about the matter at a news conference at State House, the President initially said that he was not ready to speak on the matter and “hopefully by the next time, I’ll be ready.” 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.

During the news conference on Saturday, the president spoke at length about his administration’s efforts to fight corruption and when it was pointed out that it has been two years since NCN officials who have close ties to the PPP were implicated in the financial scandal at the state broadcaster, the President agreed that it has been a long time. However, he said, “a lot of the issues in a way has been resolved, the CEO is not there…they have not been there but we’ll get to that I promise you.”

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. At a news conference on June 7, he again had no answers when asked about the issue. “I have nothing new to report on that. I really was preoccupied with many other things at this point in time. I’m sorry, next time hopefully I’ll be in a better position,” the president said.

“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 in March. In April 2013, he had said that he would make his decision known “very soon.”

Last April, Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon said that government has concerns about the recommendations made by the auditor who uncovered the financial irregularities at NCN. “I think the review of what the auditor submitted as recommendations… and his specific Terms of Reference [ToR] continue to be a source of some concern by the administration… I for one feel that he overstepped his bounds, went beyond his ToR in the recommendations that had been made and more than likely that has stultified any action on those recommendations,” Luncheon had told a news briefing.

“I would want to believe that the matter would have died, but it obviously has not died and actually I suspect that there may well be some imminent interventions, revelations that would bring this matter again to the fore,” he had said.

Harry Parmesar, the auditor who uncovered the financial irregularities at NCN subsequently told Stabroek News that he was never contacted about any concerns that the government might have had about his findings.

Former NCN Programme Manager Martin Goolsarran and NCN’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mohammed ‘Fuzzy’ Sattaur were implicated in the scandal. 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. Analysts see the case as a litmus test of whether the government is serious about accountability and financial probity in the state sector.

The scandal erupted when board members were examining a proposal by the management of the company on the way forward in the light of the cut of its 2012 subvention by the opposition. 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.

Key findings of the audit surround an incentive payment to NCN by the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph. Goolsarran had deposited millions of dollars in his personal bank account and among other things, the report also said that a number of functions of other staff/departments were usurped by Sattaur and Goolsarran.

Based on the findings, Sattaur subsequently resigned and Goolsarran was suspended. He was initially suspended for eight weeks without pay and is no longer with NCN.

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