Following a series of unfulfilled promises to reveal what action he would take against officials implicated in financial irregularities at the state broadcaster NCN, Presi-dent Donald Ramotar on Saturday stated that NCN’s Board would deal with the matter but since 2012 the Board had said it was awaiting his pronouncement on it.
Asked about the matter at a news conference at State House, Ramotar said that all the time he was labouring under the impression that the report was not made public but he understood that it was on the Government Informa-tion Agency (GINA) website for a long time until the website was hacked. He said that the report is back up again and added that an announcement on some of the issues will be made later.
It was pointed out to the President by Stabroek News that he was asked and he had promised to reveal what actions he had or would take against those implicated in the multi-million dollar financial scandal. The president responded that NCN has a Board and there are certain functions that a Board will have so “let’s first of all deal with it at the level of the Board before and let me look at that and see what will happen.”
When it was pointed out to him that the Board would have investigated the matter and had sent him a report, the president responded: “No, the Board had sent the report to me. All the Board (did) was sent a report to me. They didn’t make any recommendation and so forth.”
In December 2012, the then Chairman of the NCN Board of Directors Prem Misir, had told Stabroek News that the closure report on the financial irregularities at the state-owned broadcaster was with Ramotar, who was yet to offer his advice. “The President has been in and out… I think he just returned from Peru although I can’t say for sure but I sent him the report and it’s on his desk,” Misir told Stabroek News at the time. “The reason the President is involved is technically because he is the Minister of Information [and] so he got the closure report. He agreed to look at it expeditiously,” he had said. “I think [Programme Manager Martin] Goolsarran’s unpaid leave is still happening, that has not changed. The President has to make that decision,” Misir added. Goolsarran is no longer with NCN.
Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon in November 2012 had also announced at his post-cabinet briefing that the board had completed its probe and that the results were with Ramotar. Luncheon at that time acknowledged that he had seen the report but refused to disclose whether there were any recommendations for dismissals. “The board has concluded their investigation (and) there is a report that has been submitted to the Minister of Information, the president recognizing some interim steps and additional recommendations. The Office of the President is yet to pronounce definitively on that matter”, he said.
Responding to a question on whether there were recommendations made by the Board about dismissals, he said “There are a number of recommendations made by the Board about current employees. I am not at liberty right now to disclose what those are but I can undertake to ensure that the Office of the President and Minister of Information, (make it) public knowledge at an appropriate time.”
In a way
Last month, Ramotar acknowledged that he has taken a long time to reveal whether he took any action against officials implicated in the financial irregularities NCN and said that a lot of the issues “in a way” have been resolved.
He had spoken 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 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, 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 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 duo had allegedly pressured employees to backdate invoices, Goolsarran had deposited millions of dollars in his personal bank account and among other things, the report said, a number of functions of other staff/departments were usurped by Sattaur and Goolsarran. Both Sattaur and Goolsarran had declined to speak when contacted by Stabroek News.