-brothers received over 40 percent of monies doled out
Almost $700M in contracts were handled by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) last year for the May 11 General and Regional Elections.
Official figures are indicating that the entity used loopholes to ensure a small circle of preferred businesses benefitted from a majority of the transactions that were never even advertised.
According to Ministry of Finance figures, before the polls- between January 1 and May 11, 2015- more than $600M in contracts was doled out.
After elections, upwards of $90M in payments were made to businesses that provided air and land transportation, meals and a host of other services.
The figures, in the absence of transparency and a number of possible procurement breaches, would paint a worrying picture of how GECOM had been spending taxpayers’ dollars.
Among the beneficiaries for the contracts were two brothers whose businesses received about 40 percent of that $700M.
Millions of dollars were also paid to businesses for producing infomercials, stationery, communication radio, transportation and meals.
A number of prominent companies were sidelined in the procurements. They have been complaining of not even knowing about the tenders.
While GECOM’s Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, insisted over the weekend that all was above board and that all the spending over $250,000 was vetted by the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) and by the Cabinet when applicable, he was unreachable Tuesday, despite several calls.
He had agreed to give clarity to a number of burning questions on GECOM’s spending last year. GECOM itself had been silent saying a current investigation into its spending by state auditors is ongoing and it would prefer to wait on the outcome.
GECOM’s Chairman, Dr. Steve Surujbally, had made it clear that contracts were handled by the secretariat.
The revelations of GECOM’s spending have seen the Opposition- the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C)- distancing itself, saying that in the lead-up to the elections, through its Cabinet, it granted “no objections” to a number of contracts, including a $99.5M payment for high frequency radios.
According to officials, GECOM has authority to spend below $250,000. Anything above that and below $15M has to be approved by NPTAB, which oversees state contracts.
From the figures of contracts awarded, it appeared that GECOM went out of its way to keep its spending below $15M.
This resulted in GECOM embarking on what is called contract-splitting-—keeping the amounts below $15M- so as not to attract Cabinet’s scrutiny.
An example of this was on February 13, 2015 when two sets of payments were approved.
One was for the procurement of office equipment. This contract was awarded to Standard Distributors for $13,346,800. This King Street business is owned by Mahendra Brasse.
On the same day, another contract was approved for $14,932,353 for the supply of office furniture. This was awarded to M-Tech Business Solutions.
This business is owned by Water Street businessman, Michael Brasse. The businessmen just happen to be brothers.
Those amounts would be significant as they are below that $15M ceiling.
Both businesses are not immediately known to be suppliers of office equipment and furniture.
There are many more cases of these in GECOM’s spending for last year.
One company, Troy Tec Video Productions, on March 30, just happened to also have benefitted from a $14,759,102M contract to produce infomercials for voters’ education for the elections.
It received another hefty contract in early April for $32,834,168M for similar work. In both cases, there is little evidence that local companies were allowed a chance to participate in the tendering process as there is no evidence of advertising.
According to insiders, GECOM would reportedly collect submitted quotes from three businesses or individuals for a particular service or supply, and forward this to NPTAB, recommending one of the businesses it “evaluated” to be best one.
Throughout it all, there was little indication to say how GECOM went about hiring boats and vehicles and persons to provide meals for polling day staffers.
The spending has raised eyebrows and has seen state auditors expanding it probe as there are several questionable spending.
More than two weeks before the May 11 elections, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) spent almost $15M on nippers and pliers. The contract was awarded to Standard Distributors.
From calculations, GECOM spent about $6,000 for pliers that retail for $600.
Then there was the case of the $100M purchase of high frequency communications radio sets from Mobile Authority, a company owned by Michael Brasse. 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.
Brasse also received $23M in contracts for supplying Duracell batteries. It appeared GECOM paid almost $1200 for a $300 battery.
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.
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.
PPP Commissioners on GECOM said last week that they were stonewalled when they asked for information. Very few contracts came before the commissioners to be approved, they said.
It is the belief that those radios, bought since 2006, were dumped on GECOM in a deal involving officials there.
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.
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. Over $92M was paid.
GECOM reportedly has been left with a large stock of toners.
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