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Oma's lottery hand-out for probe, says Manning


PRIME Minister Patrick Manning yesterday promised a thorough investigation into the allegations of financial impropriety contained in a report on the operations of the National Lotteries Control Board between 1998 and 2001.

Speaking to reporters after the PNM's general council meeting at Balisier House, Manning said anyone who runs afoul of the law "will find themselves under the scrutiny of the law.”

The NLCB enquiry, done by the law firm Alexander, Jeremie and Company, found a number of anomalies in the financial operations of the State enterprise.

The report said there was a dereliction of duty, and possibly fraud, on the part of a number of top officials.

As reported in the Sunday Express, a US$150,000 cheque, which was sent to Oma Panday while her husband, Basdeo Panday, was prime minister, was one of issues that concerned the legal auditors.

The money was solicited by Mrs Panday to help buy a clino-mobile unit for the UNC-established Organisation of Socio-Economic Development (OSED), which she chaired.

The cheque was made payable to Tri Star (Latin America) Ltd and was sent to the prime minister's official residence at 1 La Fantasie Road, St Ann's, on September 27, 2000.

Robert Michael Sabga, former ambassador to Canada under the UNC administration, was one of the two shareholders in Tri Star at the time.

The Pandays moved into Sabga's house at Ocean Avenue, Gulf View, San Fernando, in January-a month after the UNC left office.

Their home at Bryan's Gate, Palmiste, was being renovated.

Manning said he read the Sunday Express report and will ask the "relevant authorities, in particular the Auditor General, to see what is correct and what the facts are and therefore what action, if any, is necessary”.

A senior NLCB official has since been sent on leave pending further investigations into the financial irregularities at the State enterprise.

The Express was told that the employee who was on vacation was asked to stay on leave indefinitely by the new board of directors after they received the law firm's report last July.

Insiders said the request was part of certain corrective measures being taken in the various departments.

But even as the clean-up exercise was said to be in progress the current board and management were being accused of also engaging in improper practices.

The legal auditors in their report, dated July 12, concluded that it was unlawful-based on the National Lotteries Act- for the NLCB to make donations of any amount. The report said all net income should be placed in the Consolidated Fund.

The established practice at the NLCB between 1998 and 2001 was that donations could be made with the approval of the board and, if the sum was more than $25,000, with the green-light from the finance minister.

Since the new board— chaired by Louis Lee Sing— was appointed in February the practice has continued with the NLCB sponsoring a number of events. Among those was the Independence Cultural National Family Festival, which took place at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, yesterday.

At a press conference last month, Lee Sing said $300,000 was being spent on the festival.

An NLCB official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a special team had been appointed to fully probe requests for donations before they were granted.

However, in the face of the report -which was commissioned by the board- that arrangement is also being reconsidered, the official said.

Former attorney general Kamla Persad-Bissessar queried the procedures behind the sponsorship of yesterday's festival and the granting of other donations which, she said, were given to individuals close to the ruling PNM.

She described the concerns raised in the report, about donations being made to entities that were not legally registered, as nonsense.

"Are they saying that non-governmental organisations cannot receive donations from a State corporation?

"This is election silly season.”

The NLCB has also denied allegations that it recently paid the salaries of police and Defence Force officers.

In a statement the NLCB said it was not authorised to pay persons other than NLCB employees.

"In its capacity as a statutory board under the direction of the minister of finance, the board generates income for the Government which is utilised for the benefit of the public good, which includes education, health and social welfare, to name a few.”

Lee Sing declined any interviews.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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