NLCB operating like ‘runaway horse’

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Public Accounts Committee chairman Davendranath Tancoo. –

Davendranath Tancoo, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), says the NLCB (National Lotteries Control Board) is operating like a “runaway horse with no audit and accountability,” despite spending billions in recent years.

He was speaking at a virtual PAC meeting on Wednesday morning.

He said he “unfortunately” needed to reiterate certain issues as they are yet to be rectified.

They include an outstanding audited financial statement that was supposed to be sent to the auditor general since 2013.

In December 2019, he said, the NLCB was reminded of this and said it would be dealt with soon. But it still has not been sent.

“Multiple policies are missing, with no timelines identified as to when these things are going to be resolved. Essential cheques and balances are missing, and have been for many years,” said Tancoo.

The NLCB said the process can be completed within the next two months, but an unimpressed Tancoo said this promise “holds no water.” He said similar promises have been made throughout the last four years.

“The Ministry of Finance advised the PAC these financial statements would have been prepared within nine months of 2017. Today you are saying two months.

“In 2019, it was promised during the financial year, today you are saying two months.

“Last year, it was promised by March 2020. Today you are saying two months.

“There seems to be no urgency in getting the financial statements complete.”

NLCB director Camille Forde, in reply to a question from Tancoo, said that in 2019, the board earned a revenue of $2,843,873,048 and its expenditure was $2,607,013,651.

Tancoo said he asked this to prove a point, questioning how a company that can earn an average of $2.8 billion a year can still have so many outstanding financial documents and statements.

He then asked the Finance Ministry’s permanent secretary, Michelle Durham-Kissoon, if this was acceptable and she said no.

She said the ministry has been doing all it can, which is to continually write to NLCB officials. She also said the ministry gave approval for the board to procure an entity to provide the financial statement.

“The issue resides in the NLCB,” she said.

NLCB chairman Eustace Nancis said as far as he’s aware, most of the work is “already completed and it is just (left) to finalise.” He later said it is 90 per cent complete.

The process began in January 2018 and the draft accounts were completed in September 2020.

NLCB finance lead consultant Wendy Dwarika said, “They did all the years because there were adjusting entries within the following years that would have affected prior years. So we couldn’t just finish one year and submit to the auditor general, because there were entries in the following years that would have affected 2012 and 2013.”

Asked by Tancoo if there was a “deficiency” at the NLCB causing this, she said no, but added, “We do, at times, have a challenge with the correct staff and people with the required skills to do the job. But we are working to overcome those challenges as well as we go along.”

NLCB officials also said the covid19 pandemic contributed to the delay as they were not always physically present at work.

In response, Tancoo said, “This is the 2013 statements we are talking about. Covid19 was last year. Let me save you from yourself in regard to that.”

Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon interjected, asking if she could finally speak, and was allowed to do so.

She said the situation was a “sorry state of affairs,” adding, “We need to understand that a lot of preparatory work…needed to be done. So, even though the audit accounts were given to PwC (PriceWaterhouseCoopers) to be done, there were a number of things to fix. And this is not an easy situation.”

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