By Ignatius Okorocha
After frantic efforts to convince Senate’s joint committee on Finance and National Planning of transparency in the joint venture the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and Startimes entered into in 2008, the Committee on Tuesday ordered the management team of the venture to step aside.
The Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola led committee declared that forensic audit of the account of the non-profitable venture to NTA, must be carried out to unravel the quantum of money that had been fraudulently taken out of the country within the last eleven years, estimated to be N200billion
Disturbed by the development in the running of agency, the lawmakers described the affected management team namely, Maxwell Loko who is the Managing Director of the joint venture and Tunde Aina who serves as Chief Operating Officer (COO) as unpatriotic Nigerians working for Startimes but receiving monthly salaries from NTA.
Trouble came the way of the management team of the joint venture when the Committee interfacing with heads of government agencies on revenue projections for the N12.6 trillion 2021 budget, called on them one after the other, to explain why the joint venture has not yielded any profit for NTA as lamented by the Director General, Yakubu Ibn Mohammed before the committee on Monday.
Mr. Maxwell Loko told the Committee that he agreed that the business is not thriving because Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) being operated through the venture, is capital intensive as against the Satellite model.
He lamented that out of the 4 million subscribers Startimes have, only 20 percent are active, which according to him, makes the venture not profitable for both parties (NTA and Startimes).
But the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Adeola and other members, faulted his arguments based on records obtained from the Audited Account reports submitted by both the NTA and the joint venture.
Senator Adeola in particular, put it to the MD, why as obtainable in the Audited Account reports presented, proceeds of transactions from the joint venture are both in dollar and Naira .
“Based on records made available to us, both the expenditure and revenue components of transactions made on the joint venture since 2008, have been recorded in Naira and dollar, indicating capital flight intension.
“For example, as clearly stated in the Audited report before us, in 2018 alone, your revenue from subscription was $36.1million which is N11 billion .
“Also in the expenditure component for the year, monies incurred were put in both dollar and Naira and in that year, your expenditure (N19 billion), far exceeded the N11 billion revenue allegedly generated.
“With what we are seeing, you people as management of the venture, are collaborating with Startimes in siphoning money abroad.
“You need to be put under oath along with the other management team, collecting monthly salaries from NTA and working for Startimes and in the process, indulging in capital flight in collaboration with foreign staff of the company.
” By rough estimations, all the revenues made through the joint venture and recorded in dollar , amounted to about N200billion between 2010 and 2018 “, he said .
Attempts made by both the COO and Director of Tax and Audit of the venture to disabuse the minds of the Committee members on any sharp practices, failed as they resolved that they must all step aside from their current positions for forensic audit to take place .