Gov’t has concerns about NCN probe report

-Luncheon says auditor exceeded mandate

Government has concerns about the recommendations made by the auditor who uncovered financial irregularities at the state-owned National Com-munications Network (NCN), Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon revealed yesterday.

“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 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 said, when asked for an update.

Almost two years after an inquiry uncovered financial irregularities at the state broadcaster, President Donald Ramotar too, up to late last month, had no answer when he was 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…,” he had said at a press conference.

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.”

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. 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 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.

The decision to investigate the incentive payment was taken 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.

Based on the findings, 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.

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