Sep 21, 2016 News
How many pliers would it take to run an election? That is the multi-million-dollar question now being asked.
More than two weeks before the May 11, 2015, General and Regional Elections, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) spent almost $15M on nippers and pliers.
The purchase is not only raising eyebrows for that extraordinary amount but also for the revelations of who was handed the contract for the supply.
It was awarded to a business called Standard Distributors, which has operations on King Street, Lacytown.
Standard Distributors is owned by Mahendra Brasse, the brother of Michael Brasse, a Water Street businessman, who benefitted from almost $290M in contracts from GECOM last year.
An audit is currently underway to probe a major contract to Michael Brasse for a $100M purchase of high frequency communications radio sets for the May 11 elections. The sets, from all indications, were never used and there are questions about the urgent reasons advanced by GECOM for those radios in the first place.
The radio probe by the Audit Office of Guyana has brought intense focus on GECOM’s spending. A number of alarming things have been unearthed.
The fact that Standard Distributors also benefitted from millions of dollars in contracts from GECOM will continue to raise alarm bells and queries about the oversight mechanisms in place to ensure the entity’s spending is above question.
Once a budget agency that depended on Government for monies, GECOM has been granted some degree of autonomy, thanks to recent legislations being passed to ensure its independence.
However, its books are subjected to scrutiny of state auditors.
According to official figures seen by Kaieteur News, Standard Distributors received over $31M in contracts last year.
In the first instance, as early as February, it received a contract to supply GECOM with office equipment. This was for $13.3M.
On April 24, another contract was entered into for nippers/pliers for the grand sum of $14.8M.
Standard Distributors appeared to also be the general supplier. About five days before elections, it was contracted to rent “cushion chairs”. For this Standard Distributors was paid $3.19M.
It is unclear what procurement systems GECOM used.
The entity, tasked with running elections in Guyana, has refused to respond to the charges of irregularities, saying that there is an active investigation by state auditors.
With regards to the nippers/pliers contract, observers are in disbelief that GECOM would use that many. The tools were reportedly needed to cut locks on ballot boxes.
Insiders cannot recall $14M in nippers/pliers ever entering GECOM last year.
These latest revelations would continue to rock GECOM which until now has been doing well to keep a tight rein on its inner workings.
Already, the Opposition has called for the findings of the current probe by state auditors to be made public.
With regards to the radios ordered last year, it appeared that the urgent reasons advanced by GECOM to buy 50 HF radios may not have been so urgent after all.
Despite the $100M expended, the radios were never put into use, according to officials.
The radios were delivered just a few days before elections making it impossible for it to be deployed to outlying areas in time for the elections.
State auditors are also looking to verify reports that GECOM had enough of those HF radios on hand, but yet went ahead and ordered more…those “more” were never used.
Officials of the previous administration of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), who would have been around for the majority of those purchases that took place before the elections, have denied any linkages to the procurements of GECOM
It is the belief that those radios, bought since 2006, were dumped on GECOM in a deal involving officials there.
The model was discontinued since 2009, leaving GECOM facing questions over warranties and spare parts.
Following the breaking of the story of the radio purchases, the Australian manufacturer, Barrett Communications, through its European office, distanced itself from last year $100M transaction by GECOM.
Barrett said it did tender but from its information, the order was cancelled by GECOM.
Michael Brasse’s Mobile Authority and his two other businesses, M-Tech Business Solutions and Mibra Trading, were awarded almost $290M in contracts last year. He supplied toners, stationery, office equipment, electrical items, Duracell batteries and even furniture, raising suspicions of sole sourcing.
From payment records, it appeared that several of the payments could be linked to what is known as contract splitting, an arrangements where contracts are deliberately kept below a certain amount to avoid attracting attention from oversight bodies like the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB).
Several purchases of toners– for printers and copiers– by GECOM last year, supplied by Brasse are also said to also be under the radar of state auditors.
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