Times are tough, but one business is making record profits. Between 2016 and this year, the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) saw earnings of $300 million and sales of $2.9 billion. The figures surpassed anything in the NLCB’s history.
But to what use is this windfall being put? And how sound are practices within the NLCB? Those are some of the urgent questions that emerged last week at a historic sitting of the Parliament’s Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Statutory Authorities. Though the NLCB is an important source of revenue for the State, last week’s committee hearing marked only the first time NLCB officials ever appeared before a JSC. And worse, while the NLCB is arguably the most profitable statutory authority, it has consistently failed to submit financial statements to Parliament and the Ministry of Finance.
Something has gone wrong.
Poor accountability affects the public’s ability to scrutinise the affairs of the NLCB. It is also an affront to the Minister of Finance who is in charge of issuing policy directives to the board.
According to NLCB officials, the problem is a high staff turnover. There have been four finance comptrollers in four years due to low pay.
The NLCB human resources manager said the issue of keeping a finance comptroller is linked to the fact that salary has been set at $18,500 by the Chief Personnel Officer, the independent official who is in charge of determining public sector pay levels.
Given the profitability of the NLCB and the importance of the role of a finance comptroller, this is difficult to swallow.
The NLCB must have adequate systems in place to fulfil its legal obligations regardless of who sits in the chair. This is not just a question of bigger salaries.
It is about operational efficiency.
Worsening the appearance of internal dysfunction are the reports of questionable spending at the NLCB. In October, Opposition MP Dr Roodal Moonilal claimed the NLCB was wasting money on trips and spending lavishly on events.
At a public event weeks later, NLCB chairman Marvin Johncilla said the board will not be as free-handed with its spending as in years past because lottery winnings will now attract a ten per cent tax.
Ironically, the event Johncilla was speaking at was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the NLCB Buccooneers Steel Orchestra, held at the Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort in Lowlands, Tobago.
There is clearly need for better prioritisation of spending within the NLCB.
At the same time, the board is right to assure that it will not cut back completely. The NLCB plays a vital role in community outreach.
A better balance must be struck. Otherwise, the NCLB will simply squander its jackpot.