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Guyana Chronicle reports hefty spending under new General Manager

Sherod Duncan

The Guyana National Newspapers Limited (GNNL) has so far spent more than GY$5 million in three months mainly on equipment as well as office furnishings, according to  records.

The spike in spending has occurred under the less than three-month old tenure of Sherod Duncan who was appointed  General Manager from June 1, 2018, just before the life of the Board of Directors expired.

Duncan, in an interview with Demerarara Waves Online News, defended the spending, saying it was aimed at cashing on revenues from Social Media through a soon-to-be-launched Social Media Unit which would be part of the Editorial Department. “This is a first for any newspaper locally. This Unit will lead our Social Media advancement both in the quality content it produces for public consumption alligned with our company mission and aims also at capturing our share of online market revenues. In both regard, the public has already seen us refocusing on quality, professional digital media content, and we are already benefiting from such revenue generation” he said. Duncan, however, could not say how much monies have been earned as a result of the Social Media initiatives. He said retreats have been held with editorial and advertising departments.

The available expenditures do not include payments for meals and transportation in the absence of a working company vehicle and meetings held off site.

As the company pushes its Social Media coverage of news, records show that in June the company paid  GY$189,995 for a laptop for the General Manager and  in July one Apple IPad for GY$100,000 from Gizmos and Gadgets;  GY$159,000 to O. Jeffers to complete work on the Guyana Chronicle’s Facebook Page and GY$191,500 to IntellectStorm for work on website, frontpages, etc. In August, another GY$400,000 was paid to that Information Communications Technology company as well as GY$54,000 to O.Jeffers for work on website, frontpages, etc.

The company also purchased a drone from Laish Sankar in July for GY$140,000 and also paid FasGrafix GY$93,024 for two backdrops- one in July and another in August- and a retractable banner valued at GY$55,180 was bought from Iconic Marketing and Printing , all at the request of the General Manager.

In August, Central Electronics was paid GY$271,806 for a truss and tablet floor stand.

The company in July also paid another GY$259,700 for a computer for the Social Media Coordinator and GY$140,000 for a drone based. The Coordinator also got headphones, hard drive and monitor from Computer High Tech and Riaz Computer Trading at a total cost of GY$65,999.

The Guyana Chronicle’s Social Media output appears to be costing the company a huge chunk of revenue, with GY$74,000 requested by the General Manager to Live Stream the National Grade Six Assessment and and GY$140,000 for streaming of World Cup. Reference was made to GT&T Company Limited for that sport event.

Information seen by Demerara Waves Online News shows that in June, he requested GY$586,602 for a trip to  New York. That amount includes GY$74,550 for daily allowances, GY$104,370 for meals, GY$106,500 for miscellaneous expenses and GY$215,982 for accommodation- all funded by L. Mahabeer and Sons Cambio. Sources said Duncan and another employee went on that trip.

The GNNL in June also purchased airline tickets from Fly Jamaica for Duncan’s visit to New York at cost of GY$149,426.

Among the lowest spent was GY$20,000 for a prayer ceremony based on a request by the General Manager and lunches amounting to GY$6,825 for his participation in the National Toshaos Conference. In August, he was also refunded GY$22,000 for a medical examination as part of his preparations for a trip to China.

Locally, the General Manger requested and got GY$200,000 of which GY$180,000 were spent on travel and the remainder on miscellaneous and meals for a trip to the southern Guyana town of Lethem.

Altogether, it appears as though the vehicle, PTT 964,  assigned to the General Manager has been a drain on the company’s coffers, with GY$319,800 paid to H. Holder in June; GY$22,000 to C. Lochan; GY$55,000 to DS Parasramand another GY$77,000 spent on repairs and servicing during June, 2018. In July, another GY$275,000 was spent on repairs to the General Manager’s vehicle.

In August, 2018 the company purchased foreign currency to the equivalent of GY$677,250 for carrier and focal point-New York edition of the Guyana Chronicle.

As far as furnishings are concerned, a table valued at GY$51,300 was purchased from STARCOMM Office Furniture in June, 2018 and a rocker chair and other chairs were purchased from UNICOMER totaling GY$212,999 plus GY$40,527 in Value Added Tax to that company. Later in August also, an additional GY$51,870 were paid to Regal Stationery and Computer Centre for table and chairs.

The GNNL, at the General Manager’s request, also paid the Guyana Press Association GY$93,500 for tickets for that organisation’s award ceremony and a donation of GY$30,000 towards a Back to School Foundation

While the Editor-in-Chief is said to have not approved a freelance payment of GY$180,000 to Z. Edwards as is usually the case, the General Manger did so.

For his part, Duncan assured that all of the spending is in keeping with the company’s rules.

He denied spending more than GY$5 million, insisting that “is absolutely not so” but all expenditures are in keeping with existing rules  and regulations of the GNNL.
“Whatever we have done, it is above board and it has been on required spending in keeping with the direction of the company,” he said.
The General Manager said Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo has been approving some spending in the absence of a board. “Whatever spending has been done has been above-board when it comes to any required approval, any required spending. In the absence of a board, any spending that was outside of the ambit of my purview has gone to the Prime Minister who is our subject minister,” he said.
He said the spending has led to the re-engagement of “people” with the Chronicle’s brand in a “competitive” manner by providing fair and balanced news.
Duncan said he last week met with Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo who “endorsed the vision that we have.” The General Manager said the new board would be updated on some of its plans.
He projected returns on investments in another six to eight months.
Duncan justified seeking a refund of the money paid for the medical examination on the grounds that it was his personal funds spent for a trip on behalf the company.
The GNNL, he said, plans to cut back on all unnecessary expenses such as transportation, fuel and electricity between September and December. “We are being very frugal with the kind of future that we want,” he said.
The company plans to push hard copies of the Chronicle and s youth paper named Xtra which would be an additional source of revenue.