National Communications Network (NCN) Board Chairman Bishwa Panday proceeded with the appointment of new Chief Executive Officer Lennox Cornette, despite his admission that his forgery of a signature led to his exit from GTT.
According to leaked email exchanges between NCN Board members, first reported by news website News Source and later seen by Stabroek News, Panday defended his decision to proceed with the appointment over objections by Board member and Director of Public Information Imran Khan, who vehemently disagreed with the decision.
“The board went through a transparent process. I called a special meeting. The Board agreed to Mr Cornette. I received two calls.
“I investigated the matter. I reported to the board. I received the authority of the Board to make an offer. I made an offer which was accepted.
“You can have your objection or disagreement noted but I was transparent and I have followed due process.
“I never promised more.
“Mr Cornette is the new CEO,” Panday wrote in an email in response to concerns raised by Khan, who indicated that he could walk from the Board over the issue. Panday, however, maintained that the appointment could stand up to scrutiny.
In a statement on Friday, Panday announced that Cornette emerged as the best candidate based on his diverse communication, financial and executive management background and noted that he possesses the qualifications and experience needed for the job.
Attempts yesterday to get comments from Panday and Khan were unsuccessful. Stabroek News was also unable to contact Cornette.
According to the emails seen by Stabroek News, Panday was made aware that in 1999, while associated with the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company, Cornette allegedly forged the signature of then general manager, the late Terry Holder.
In light of this information, Panday undertook investigations.
“I met with Mr Cornette and put the GT&T issue to him. He readily admitted that in 1999, he did sign Mr Terry Holder’s name and there was a parting of ways between him and GT&T. He said it was [a] mistake he has regretted ever since and it’s the only blot on his copy book,” Panday said in an email, dated April 13, 2016.
He added that he asked Cornette whether he was charged or if he went before the court for the matter and believed him when he said no.
Panday further noted that since the incident Cornette had a very cordial relationship with GT&T and also enjoyed the support of his last two employers, Jailing Forest Industries Inc and Conservation Inter-national Guyana, both of which spoke well of him when contacted.
Panday reported former GT&T CEO Retired Major General Joe Singh as saying that Cornette worked with him at Conservation International and he was someone he could recommend. Singh also said apart from the issue at GT&T in 1999, Cornette worked very well.
Panday further pointed out that GT&T partnered with Cornette in hosting the Tele-gathering for 16th anniversary and also financially assisted him with his book, The Development of Telecommunications in Guyana, in 2015 and the list of persons thanked included R K Sharma of GT&T.
“In view of the above I am satisfied that apart from that blemish in 1999 Mr Cornette has had an unblemished career,” Panday wrote, while adding that he would, therefore, proceed to carry out the mandate of the Board to negotiate a package with Cornette and make the appointment.
In a response, Khan asked that the Board stay the decision, while noting, among other things, that it was “exceedingly difficult,” despite Panday’s explanations, for him to overlook the infraction admitted by Cornette.
“I am gravely afraid of entrusting Mr Cornette with the authority of CEO at NCN, or anywhere else for that matter, in light of his admitting to what effectively constitutes fraud. Should this information become public Chair and colleagues I am afraid that we would find ourselves in extreme difficulties to defend it. In fact I cannot see how we could successfully. This is especially against the background that we do not now have the excuse of plausible deniability and would have made a deliberate judgment,” he wrote.
“Further it would be against the background that Mr Cornette is not the only candidate, that we have at least one other credible candidate who does not have any similar blotch to his resume of which we are aware. This matter frightens me Chair and colleagues. Should we proceed with Mr Cornette and there is a single instance or hint of fraud or financial malpractice, we as a Board are taking a huge risk with Mr Cornette and would have to offer our immediate resignations as a result. Is that a risk we, as a collective, wish to take by placing a company who Director [Paloma] Mohamed has repeatedly rightfully defined as not only a national asset but one which is at the centre of national security in the hands of someone who has admitted to effective fraud, however small or large it might have been? Fraud is fraud am afraid,” he added.
Khan also cited Cornette’s lack of experience in broadcast media, which he argued is needed in light of the “myriad problems” the network faces.
“We are currently suffering from having a CEO who is unfamiliar with broadcast media and [I] fear that with Mr Cornette we are making a similar error in judgment. I believe we need an executive head of NCN who understands the business intimately and who can be augmented with specific administrative skill sets in the areas of Human Resources, Marketing, Finance and Administration. What NCN most lacks is someone who understands broadcast media inside out. I fear that we have that person and who is also keenly interested,” he wrote.
The other credible candidate referenced by Khan is veteran broadcaster Enrico Woolford, for whom he lobbied.
The appointment of Cornette, who replaces Molly Hassan, will take effect from May 1.