GECOM Commissioners voice concerns
HPS internet order…
The recent order by Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) advertise through the internet rather than in the local press was high on the agenda yesterday when GECOM’s Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally and Commissioners of the body met.
The meeting was held at the GECOM’s High Street, Kingston, Georgetown, office.
Some members of the media were able to solicit comments from a few of the commissioners ahead of the closed-door forum.
Speaking on the matters of concern to GECOM yesterday, Commissioner Moen McDoom revealed that although GECOM is an autonomous body it is somewhat constrained by the fact that it is funded by Central Government.
Last week, the independence of the organisation came into question when Dr Luncheon, the Cabinet Secretary, ordered that GECOM stop advertising in the local press. He further ordered that GECOM advertise through the electronic system. Dr Surujbally has since objected to the order. He is contending that most of the people to whom the advertisement is directed do not have access to the internet.
According to McDoom, being a budgeted entity, GECOM is governed by certain legalities. He nonetheless contended that should GECOM seek to utilise merely the internet for advertising purposes its operation could be severely impacted.
“For instance, if we are going to hire people to do work…I don’t know how the internet could work because quite a lot of people don’t have access to the internet and computers and what have you. If it is a constitutional matter we are entitled to advertise in the local media.”
Against this background, McDoom noted that the remarks uttered by Dr Luncheon must be clearly interpreted at some point. He said that over the past years the Commission hadn’t any problems of such nature during the run-up to elections.
“This time we are hearing the new trend about advertising through the internet…”
Another Commissioner, Robert Williams, asserted that the pronouncement by the Head of the Presidential Secretariat is, in fact, a very serious affair thus the need for some urgent decisions to be made in keeping with what is best for GECOM.
And in making decisions, Williams added that efforts must be made to take into consideration what is best suited for the Commission even as it relates to the ordinary investor, supplier and the public in terms of transparency in the procurement process. “Today is the first opportunity we will get to discuss the issue in detail on the question of placing ads in the media regarding GECOM’s activities…The Commission is always concern over payments legitimately negotiated and obtained for goods and services supplied for GECOM.”
And according to Williams, the process and the procedures for such engagement for GECOM are very clear.
“On each occasion as far as I understand the National Tender Board has been involved in such matters and therefore Cabinet also has to issue a no-objection, and if there is a problem, GECOM needs to be advised exactly what the problem is. Failing this, once the National Tender Board and Cabinet issue a no-objective, the procurement is legitimate and must be undertaken.”
And given the level of literacy and the limited access to the internet by the populace, Williams said that there should be no directive ordering an independent GECOM to restrict its awareness mechanism.
“I do not have access to my own computer, therefore, at my level I am in no position to see the advertisement and the information or the public awareness that is being sent out for GECOM, so what about some of the other people in society.”
As a result, Williams added that it is imperative that GECOM strive to reach the people in society at the best possible means accessible to them. He suggested that newspapers and the radio station are two of the best means, especially in areas where the television is not accessible.
And though Commissioner Charles Corbin, up to early afternoon, had not personally seen Dr Luncheon’s directive, he noted that there are currently a number of issues that are engaging the Commission with respect to the execution of its task.
Among the issues that have been addressed is the matter of public education. And according to Corbin, “we have been assured by the CEO that he has the appropriate funds to execute our public education programme…”
This disclosure, he said, has come on the heels of concerns that were raised over reports that GECOM must restrict its awareness efforts to the internet. “We have been assured by the CEO and we now have written communication from Dr Luncheon which says that our constitutional mandate will not be impaired. This means that we can place our public education programme in the press; that is the understanding that this Commissioner has,” Corbin added.
In amplifying his concerns yesterday, too, Commissioner Vincent Alexander asserted that “once GECOM continues to be a budget agency there will always be the concern about its independence.” He further expressed his conviction that since GECOM is a budget agency, its operations in essence clashes with the basis of the constitution.
“Therefore that provision in itself is what opens GECOM to interference,” Alexander added. He theorised that some mechanism be put in place for the parliament to vote, thereby allowing agencies like GECOM to spend monies allocated to them without reference or deference to the executives.
Concerns were also raised yesterday about GECOM’s failure to pay for goods and services already utilised, a situation which was expected to take prominence at yesterday’s meeting. “This again has to do with interference. GECOM has entered into contracts and is obligated as far as I am concerned to pay those people but the fact that GECOM has to go through some so-called Minister or Ministry is what interferes with GECOM meeting its obligation,” Alexander passionately related yesterday.
And one of the most glaring cases of interference, he disclosed, is GECOM’s failure to pay for its rental of the K. P. Thomas building. “I don’t know what problems the government has with K. P. Thomas, but it is clear GECOM entered into a contract, undertook to pay, and owes the man…”