Auditor in NCN probe says was not told of any gov’t concerns over recommendations

Harry Parmesar, the auditor who uncovered financial irregularities at the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN) in 2012 that implicated two senior executives, said he was never contacted about any concerns that the government might have hand about his findings.

His recent comment to Stabroek News came in the wake of the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon stating that the government has concerns about the recommendations that were made by Parmesar.

President Donald Ramotar and his government have come under pressure for not taking action on the report and its findings which identified two former top NCN officials who have had close ties with government. Luncheon’s remarks have been seen as an attempt to deflect the pressure from government for not acting on the findings of the auditor.

When asked by Stabroek News for a comment following Luncheon’s statement, Parmesar, of Parmesar Chartered Accountants, said “Since the audit there has been no communication with me and the persons who had hired me to conduct it…the first I heard of this was in the newspapers”.

At a recent press conference, Luncheon had stated that his government has concerns about the recommendations made by Singh.

“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 stated.

Almost two years after the inquiry uncovered financial irregularities at the state broadcaster, Ramotar the Minister of Information, had no answer when he was asked in March 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…,” he had said at a press conference.

Luncheon when asked for an update subsequently had said “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”.

The President was asked about the issue at news conferences over the last 18 months but despite promises he has not revealed what action he will take against the officials implicated in the financial scandal.

Luncheon opined that while it was government who had sought the services of an auditor, he felt that the recommendations made were not within his contractual requirements. This, he said, was perhaps the reason that there has not been a conclusion to the matter as the recommendations remain a source of concern for his administration.

“Whether the outcome of this special investigation and the recommendations of the auditor whose services has been solicited, whether or not they have been accepted …decisions have been taken with regards to this event… we have had two parties at the NCN whose functions were pinpointed in that report. Neither of the two remain within the employ of NCN,” Luncheon stated. “We haven’t gone much further than that,” he added.

When asked if he believed he went beyond his terms of reference in making the recommendations he made, Parmesar said that he would prefer not to comment on the issue.

However he stated that he only became aware of government’s reservation, pertaining to the execution of his duties, through the media.

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.

Key findings of the audit surround an incentive payment to NCN by the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph. At the time, board members were examining a proposal by the management of the company on the way forward in the light of the cut of its 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.

Based on the findings, Sattaur subsequently resigned and Goolsarran was suspended. He was initially suspended for eight weeks without pay. The suspension was later extended indefinitely.

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