“We did not do due diligence” – Bynoe admits on Videomega saga
Director of Energy, Dr Mark Bynoe has admitted that his Department may have dropped the ball by not being diligent in awarding media company, Videomega Productions – which is owned by Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes, contracts to do advertisement.
“The Department went for an individual or requested an individual. It wasn’t asking for a firm. To the extent that a firm subsequently was contracted, is somehow not where we wanted to go. The one issue, maybe, that the Department can be accused of is possibly not doing sufficient due diligence.
But from where I sit as Director, I welcome any possible investigation of any sort that persons may feel to clear the air in terms of whether there were any nefarious activities or whether it was a case of favouritism,” Dr Bynoe noted.
According to the Director of Energy at a press conference on Friday, they had initially requested an individual instead of a firm because it was more cost effective.
“It is not, as was inaccurately reported, a multimillion-dollar project. This was largely a small project for an individual, which is why we were going for an individual rather than a firm… Another consideration is that what it would have cost us to go for a firm against an individual. It would have cost us significantly more to do three PSAs [Public Service Announcements] for television purposes and three for radio. So it was nothing more than us trying to ensure that we’re getting the messages out to the Guyanese Public,” he explained.
Videomega Productions recently came under the spotlight after it was revealed that it had been awarded contracts to do ads for the Department of Energy.
Subsequently, however, the PPP Opposition had disclosed that the company also benefited from several other contracts from various Ministries last year.
In fact, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has called for a full investigation into the matter, saying that it is a clear case of conflict of interest. He claimed that within four months in 2018, contracts totalling some $10.3 million were awarded to the company from various Ministries. Three of those contracts totalling $3.350 million were from Hughes’ Ministry, he said.
“So this warrants a full-fledged investigation [into contracts awarded]. The Minister signs the cheques. You cannot give up day-to-day running from 2015 and then be signing cheques to place ads on behalf of the company,” Jagdeo argued at his weekly press conference on Thursday.
Videomega Productions recently released several invoices for work it did arranging advertisements for various Ministries after it came under the spotlight for a contract that it had been awarded in connection with the Department of Energy. According to the company’s release, a total of $3.6 million was paid to the media houses, but according to Videomega Productions, all it pocketed was a 15 per cent agency commission totalling $481,577.
The contract that Hughes’ Ministry awarded to her company was for ads ranging from full paged, full colour to 7×2 in size to be placed in the daily newspapers for its Caribbean Information Communication Technology (ICT) roadshow 2018.
In addition, the Natural Resources Ministry also commissioned Hughes’ company to produce full-page, full-colour camera-ready artwork that was placed in almost all the dailies on March 22, 2018. This cost $406,501.
Ads were also placed in all the dailies for the tobacco legislation media campaign on behalf of the Public Health Ministry in October and November of 2018. These two campaigns cost $1 million each.
Since 2015, the company has been managed by Russel Lancaster and received contracts from the Energy Department to produce television Public Service Announcements (PSAs) for the Department, which is coordinating preparations for Guyana’s oil and gas sector.
It had been reported that the company was also contracted to produce brochures. It is unclear at this point in time what, if any, tendering process the Minister’s company went through to get these contracts.
Nevertheless, Minister Hughes, as well as the company, has been contending that she played no part in the running of her company after 2015 and had no knowledge of the Government contracts it was receiving.
However, in a statement last week, Transparency International Guyana Inc (TIGI) pointed out that while there may not be any direct actions that constitute a “conflict of interest”, whenever a Minister or public official owns or has private interests in a company then there is the possibility of favouritism being shown to that company due to the known association with the Government.
TIGI further noted that an examination of the procurement procedures would provide important insights on the potential for such an occurrence. As such, the transparency watchdog added that in order for Guyana to make progress with regards to “transparency and corruption perception” then it is important to address issues that arise decisively and in ways that close opportunities for recurrence.
“Establishing a clear policy on specific actions that should be taken by Ministers and other public officials who have firms that compete for local business especially with the Government would enhance our attempts to address conflict of interest in Government. We should also recognise that the code of conduct for public officers is weak. It fails to articulate any specific penalties for breaches and it should be strengthened,” TIGI asserted.