Still no answers from President on NCN probe

Two years after an inquiry uncovered financial irregularities at the state broadcaster NCN, President Donald Ramotar once again had no answers when asked about the issue at a news conference yesterday.

“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 while responding to a question from Stabroek News during the news conference at State House. 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. “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.

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 and is no longer with NCN.

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