State broadcaster NCN is expected to restart the process of collecting millions owed to it by advertisers this week and after officials initially refused to speak on the matter, the network yesterday defended the $2.5 million debt settlement reached with Merundoi Inc.
“We will be amassing all the evidence, with invoices and letters written, and also the logs that we have. We will be resubmitting these submissions and we will be making submissions to the general secretary of the PPP concerning the monies owed…the same process is being embarked upon with all the persons indebted to NCN as we will be seeking to recover those monies,” Chief Executive Officer of NCN Lennox Cornette told Stabroek News yesterday.
The CEO’s position comes following the public release of a forensic audit report on NCN which was made available last week even though the audit was done since last year. The report revealed that the network’s top 20 customers owed the broadcaster $102.6 million as at 31st May 2015, with total receivables at a whopping $230 million.
The biggest debtor is the now opposition PPP with the report revealing that the party benefitted from over $55.2 million in advertising that it was either not billed for or had not paid for up to May 2015. The party racked up the debt when it was in power. The report revealed that in 2011, the PPP was not invoiced for $18.2 million in advertisements aired by NCN, while in 2015, the party was similarly not billed for $3.7 million in ads for a total of $21.9 million. Some $12.9 million of the sum for 2011 was recorded under the guise of being Public Service Announcements.
Further, the report revealed that at the end of May last year, the PPP/C owed $33.3 million to NCN for ads. Of this sum, $17.3 million was owed by the Impressions advertising agency, which represents campaign ads placed for the PPP/C for the 2011 Regional and General Elections, while the PPP/C itself owed $9.5 million for campaign ads placed for the May 2015 Regional and General Elections. Additionally, it owed NCN $6.3 million since 2008.
Cornette told Stabroek News that while the PPP’s General Secretary Clement Rohee has said that his party was never contacted about its debt, NCN has amassed evidence that dispels this and will be corresponding with the party to collect monies owed. “We did write letters to Mr Rohee, we have copies and I can email those to you,” he asserted.
Asked how soon he expects to begin the collection process, the CEO responded: “Within the week. I wanted to do it earlier but I wanted to make sure we have all our evidence available.”
Meantime, in a statement later yesterday, NCN urged all those indebted to it to engage the network in arriving at settlements for outstanding debts.
The audit report had said that the then NCN Chief Executive Officer Molly Hassan had the debt owed by Impressions written off but NCN yesterday defended her actions.
“In relation to the Auditors’ report that our former CEO Ms Molly Hassan wrote off millions of dollars of debts by an advertising company, we wish to categorically state that Ms Hassan neither had the authority to do so nor did she write off any debt,” the statement said. It emphasised that she always acted in accordance with the direction of the Board of Directors.
“In the case referred to, she was asked to enquire whether a debt over 3 years old and incurred in 2011 was legally enforceable, which she investigated and advised upon. She did not write off the debt. The debt remains but it is statute barred. NCN is satisfied that Ms Hassan always executed her duties with financial rectitude,” NCN said.
The audit report had said there is no evidence that NCN made efforts to recover the debt from Impressions nor was there any evidence that legal action was initiated to recover the debt.
On the Merundoi settlement, the statement said this came after an offer was accepted to allow NCN access to two previous seasons of programme content of the “Merundoi” radio serial drama and also to collaborate with NCN to produce a TV sitcom.
According to NCN, Merundoi Inc, whose Executive Director Margaret Lawrence now sits on the NCN Board, had approached the network around March 2012 with a written proposal to make available the production content of Merundoi for NCN’s broadcasting, with Merundoi paying 50% of the normal broadcast charges and NCN absorbing the remaining 50%.
“Merundoi’s proposal in 2012 was welcoming NCN to partner with the NGO to reach audiences across Guyana in an effort to tackle gender-based violence and other social issues,” the statement said. It added that NCN did not respond favourably or otherwise to the proposal but collected the 50% broadcast fees and aired the programme.
It noted that in 2014, NCN instituted court proceedings against Merundoi for the 50% of broadcast charges, and the matter engaged the court.
According to NCN, on April 4 this year, Merundoi Inc made a proposal to pay $250,000, plus agreed to allow NCN access to two previous seasons of programme content of “Merundoi” which amounts to over 500 episodes and also to collaborate with NCN to produce a TV Sitcom “Cheap and Sweet,” the pilot of which it had submitted to NCN since 2012.
“At a special meeting on April 7th, 2016, the Board unanimously agreed to accept the offer. Ms Lawrence was not part of the meeting. In arriving at the decision, the Board took account of, among other things, the fact that Merundoi is an NGO, it is not for profit, and it was willing to make the programme content available to NCN and to collaborate on the production of local TV Sitcom. Reports that the Board’s decision was not unanimous are untrue and erroneous,” the statement asserted.
Stabroek News had previously reported that there was concern at the writing off of the $2.5 million owed by Merundoi. NCN’s Chairman Bish Panday had said in response that the settlement is not the public’s business and Lawrence had refused to comment.