Eustace Nancis, Chairman of the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) during yesterday’s JAC virtual meeting.

The National Lotteries Control Board’s inability to present audited accounts for 2013/2017 was severely criticised by Public Accounts Committee chairman Dave Tancoo yesterday – but NLCB made it clear the inability was due to issues over 2012-2013 when a lot of information couldn’t be seen.

UNC MP Tancoo heads the parliamentary PAC which also comprises PNM, UNC and Independent members.

The PAC yesterday interviewed NLCB Board and management and Finance Ministry officials on NLCB’s 2008 to 2012 accounts.

Tancoo said NLCB’s issues had been occurring repeatedly and those raised by previous PACs hadn’t been resolved.

“It’s very concerning NLCB has become a runaway horse,spending billions without audit or accountability… multiple policies and check and balances are missing,” he said.

Tancoo said NLCB’s promise that the accounts would be delivered held “no water” for him since the same was promised in 2017.

He said accounts were promised “every two months.”

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance Michell Durham–Kissoon said it wasn’t acceptable and the ministry continues writing NLCB with whom the issue resides .

NLCB chairman Eustace Nancis said he was appointed in 2019 and takes his responsibilities very serious.

He said the board worked to bring things up to date but the COVID pandemic had also affected speed and if the recent COVID- impacted months hadn’t occurred , NLCB would have been in a better position. He said accounts were completed and required only finalising.

NLCB lead finance consultant Wendy Dwarika explained the PWC firm was hired to do the 2013-2017 accounts and also started on 2018 accounts.

But she said there were issues prior to 2012/2013 and a lot of information couldn’t be seen by PWC to do the 2013-2017 accounts. PWC had to do a lot of work to reach a reasonable position and there were hundreds of “adjusted entries” to be made, she added. This in turn affected accounts for years after 2017. All information was, however, obtained.

Dwarika projected 2013-2017 accounts would be ready by April and the 2018-2020 accounts by September. She expected 2021 accounts in the first quarter of 2022.

NLCB director Camille Forde who admitted NLCB breached its statutory obligation on the reports, said NLCB had challenges concerning personnel with the required skills but was working to deal with challenges. Tancoo said that was a “typical blasé response—I can see why we have a problem.”

NLCB’s also had four financial comptrollers ( a contracted post) in the last six years and none in 2017. Finance said outstanding contract issues weren’t brought to her attention.

PAC member/chairman clash

PAC member (PNM Senator) Paula Gopee –Scoon who had asked to comment, said the situation was a “sorry state of affairs” but it was understood a lot of preparatory work had to be done on accounts. She called for NLCB and Finance to deal with issues as soon as possible .

Gopee-Scoon said she saw PAC’s chairman shaking his head as she spoke.

Later in proceedings, both narrowly avoided clashing when Gopee-Scoon attempted to continue a point she was making and Tancoo – who was asking most of the questions – wanted to continue his queries.

“I’m the chairman! ” he noted. But when she insisted, he allowed her to finish .

Both again tangled when Tancoo repeatedly and aggressively pressed Nancis on how the international firm of Adesso was chosen by sole select tender – and no procurement process – as the benchmark adviser on NLCB’s negotiations with equipment supplier IGT . Adesso was paid $1.6million for the job.

Nancis said two local companies applied and another foreign one in a two year process . Adesso made a presentation to NLCB management and board and won out. He said NLCB needed international advice from gaming industry experts . The new contract with IGT saves TT $101 million.

Gopee-Scoon had wanted to return to queries about NLCB’s strategic plan and she said lot of time was spent on other issues including Adesso/IGT .

But Tancoo said PAC member Jearlean John wanted to ask a query and if it wasn’t about IGT, Gopee-Scoon could proceed. John’s question concerned IGT.

When Tancoo resumed pressing Nancis on how Adesso had arisen in the situation Gopee-Scoon said the same question was being posed different ways, the situation was going nowhere and the interrogation wasn’t going to get the required answers. She recommended NLCB reply on the matter in writing in a time frame.

Tancoo insisted that the people who had to answer were before PAC to answer – but he agreed to move forward. Nancis said he’d submit the reply in seven days , which Tancoo commended

Later in proceedings, Gopee-Scoon again asked for a chance to question NLCB as she noted Tancoo was asking “question after question.” He allowed her. Gopee-Scoon, among points, told NLCB to be more on the ball in completing all outstanding issues and the Ministry of Finance needed more depth in its capacity with NLCB.