PM orders full probe of questioned spending at Chronicle

-Duncan’s dismissal of finance controller rescinded

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo is at centre. Sherod Duncan is at right. (Office of the Prime Minister photo)

Following a report that more than $5 million was spent in three months on social media and other items, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo has ordered a full investigation into the spending at the state-owned Guyana National Newspapers Limited (GNNL) under the leadership of General Manager Sherod Duncan.

On Saturday it was reported by online news agency, Demerara Waves that since assuming the post on June 1 Duncan has authorized expenditures totaling in excess of $5 million in an attempt to revamp the social media presence of the Guyana Chronicle which is published by GNNL.

Following the report, Duncan issued a dismissal letter to Finance Controller Moshamie Ramotar. When Ramotar’s dismissal was reported by the same news agency, Nagamootoo summoned Chairperson of the Board of Directors, Geeta Chandan-Edmond and Duncan to an emergency meeting.

Also present at the meeting were Director of Public Information Imran Khan and GNNL Editor-in-Chief Nigel Williams.

During the meeting Nagamootoo was briefed by both and presented with relevant documentation detailing the expenditures.

A statement issued after the meeting noted that “the Chair and the GM agreed that the letter of termination issued to the Finance Comptroller will be immediately rescinded and that the Board should determine the appropriate course of action that could follow.”

The Prime Minister further instructed that a full investigation be conducted by the Board on both the dismissal and the expenditures and that a report be presented to him, as subject minister, upon its completion.

A date has not been set for the submission of the report but the board is scheduled to meet before the end of the month. Stabroek News reached out to both Chandan-Edmond and Duncan for comment on the situation but was unable to reach Chandan-Edmond up to press time.

Duncan stated that he did not wish to “prejudice the investigation by saying anything outside the official statement on the matter.”

Stabroek News understands that in June the company paid $189,995 for a laptop for Duncan and $100,000 in July for one Apple IPad. Other expenses allegedly include $160,000 to one “Jeffers” for work on the Chronicle’s Facebook Page and GY$190,000 to IntellectStorm for work on its website and FrontPage. In August, another GY$400,000 was paid to IntellectStorm as well as $54,000 to “Jeffers”.

The company also purchased a drone in July for $140,000 and paid $92,000 for two backdrops- one in July and another in August. A retractable banner valued at $55,000 was also purchased in August, as was a truss and tablet floor stand for $271,806. 

The Social Media Coordinator was provided a computer valued at $260,000 and 75,000 spent on a drone case.

The Live Streaming of the announcement of the National Grade Six Assessment results was pegged at $74,000 while $140,000 was expended for the streaming of the World Cup.

Several other expenses detailed included a $180,000 payment for freelance journalist Zina Edwards for editing the International Edition of the paper, $93,500 for tickets to the Guyana Press Association Dinner, various payments for gas and repairs to the car assigned to Duncan and more than $700,000 in travel expenses for a trip to Lethem and one to New York.

The spending controversy and the swiftly reversed termination of the finance controller are the latest in a line of controversies to have gripped the Chronicle since the APNU+AFC administration took office.

The sacking by the newspaper of columnists David Hinds and Lincoln Lewis earlier this year saw a number of board members quitting in disgust. Duncan’s appointment as General Manager has also been a  source of controversy.

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