Sep 25, 2016 News
-strange order made after May 11 elections
High frequency radios; Toners for printers and photocopiers; Pliers and nippers. They all had one thing in common last year – Hundreds of millions of dollars were paid for them under very questionable circumstances by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
The purchases, for the May 11, 2015, are now the subject of a major investigation by state auditors.
There are two other transactions that will also come under investigations- the purchase of Duracell batteries. The batteries are supposed to be used in lamps on Elections Days, in the case of power outages or in far-flung polling stations that are without electricity. Each lamp reportedly uses four batteries.
According GECOM’s polling days staffers, as part of its kit for elections day, each station is given two lamps.
According to official figures of contracts awarded last year, there were two payments for Duracell batteries by GECOM. One contract was awarded on April 23, 2015, about three weeks before the elections for $14,529,000. This contract was awarded to Mobile Authority, a business owned by Water Street businessman, Michael Brasse.
There was another contract awarded to the same entity for $9,180,518 on May 21, 2015, making it a total of $23,709,518 paid for Duracell batteries last year.
The dates and the total number ordered in Duracell batteries would be of huge significance for a number of reasons.
Ordered after Elections
With regards to the contract date of May 21, the big question according to GECOM officials is why would the entity want to enter into a contract after the elections for the batteries.
GECOM has been left with several boxes of the Duracell batteries delivered by Brasse, who according to official figures was a favourite business for contracts by the commission.
Investigations by Kaieteur News revealed that GECOM and taxpayers paid millions of dollars more for those batteries than what they could have been acquired for.
In New York, at the Dollar Dan store on Liberty Avenue, Queens, two of those “D” batteries, Duracell brand, were retailing yesterday for US$3.99. With tax included, the total price for two of batteries was US$4.34.
Local distributors yesterday told Kaieteur News that they could have supplied any amount at US$1 each ($200).
Assuming that each of the 2,299 polling stations used eight batteries, it meant GECOM wanted at least 18,392 batteries.
Brasse could have acquired 20,000 of those “D” batteries (Duracell brand), using a $300 tag price for $6,000,000.
Instead GECOM paid $23,709,518 or about $17.7M more.
It is a known business fact that wholesale quantities attract a lower price.
This particular transaction is likely to cause anger among some local distributors who only learnt of the GECOM’s purchases after it was announced last year by former Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon.
Questioned about it, Luncheon had said, then, that the idea was to protect against any blackouts on Polling Day.
The Duracell batteries contracts would join a number of other questionable multi-million-dollar payments to Brasse and his brother, Mahendra Brasse, owner of Standard Distributors, a King Street, Lacytown business.
In late April, three weeks prior to the May 11 General and Regional Elections, the entity doled out $14.8M for the purchase of nippers/pliers from a King Street, Lacytown business called Standard Distributors.
It appeared that GECOM paid out an average of $6,000 apiece for those pliers when they could have been acquired on the local market for $600. It was not even a brand name.
Michael Brasse’s Mobile Authority, M-Tech Business Solutions and Mibra Trading received up to $290M in contracts last year.
His brother received $31M. Both men appeared to be preferred suppliers, receiving the lion’s or the hog’s share.
GECOM is under investigation by state auditors in a scandal that has dragged in the Opposition- the People’s Progressive Party/Civic which was in power prior to the May 11 elections.
The Opposition and its members on the Commission have distanced itself from the transactions of GECOM, saying that the entity asked for the money and it provided.
Initially, state auditors moved in on GECOM 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 with the audit now expanded to other things.
GECOM, 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.
The 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.
The PPP commissioners on GECOM have made it clear that many of the larger transactions did not even appear before them for approval.
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.
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.
Brasse also supplied toners for printers and photocopiers to the tune of $92M. It appeared from complaints by local suppliers that even the authorized distributors were bypassed for Brasse.
GECOM’s Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, and its Chairman, Dr. Steve Surujjbally, are currently on leave.
Dr. Surujbally has signaled his intentions to retire this year after being there for more than a decade and half.
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