In recent weeks, disclosures of how hundreds of millions of dollars were spent for the 2015 General and Regional Elections have rocked the nation.
Not only did the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) not take care to ensure taxpayers received value for their dollars, but there are growing indications of corruption.
The cavalier spending appeared to have also spilled over to the Local Government Elections that were held earlier this year.
According to both Government and GECOM officials yesterday, it is clear from evidence and established procurement systems in place, that officials of the entity played a decisive role when it came to influencing who should win a particular tender.
GECOM’s insiders explained that the process of procurement was a simple one. The entity’s staffers would relay immediate “needs” to a GECOM’s evaluation committee which is headed by Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield.
Once the committee green lights the acquisitions of the supplies and services, it is conveyed to the Administration and Support Services Department, where the wheels are set in motion for the procurements.
GECOM’s staffers would then ask for and collected three quotes from businesses. The quotes are prepared by the Administrative department and forwarded to the CEO.
According to GECOM staffers, the CEO would then prepare a letter to the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB), asking for approval for a particular business to be awarded.
Last week, Lowenfield made it clear that it was not GECOM but NPTAB that takes the decision to award a particular business the contract.
He did not say that GECOM is the one take that recommends. There are very few instances that NPTAB would go against GECOM, insiders said yesterday.
The revelations would indicate how much leeway GECOM had when it came to determining which business it wanted to deal with.
The bulk of the spending did not see any much advertising, a critical part of the transparency that is supposed to follow state contracts.
According to established procurement regulations, GECOM can spend below $250,000 without seeking approvals.
Between $250,000 and $15M, NPTAB has to grant approval. For spending above $15M, it is both the NPTAB and the Cabinet that have to grant approvals.
At least $700M was paid out last year for GECOM’s contracts with a vast majority of them never being advertised.
Less than half of that staggering sum went to two brothers who supplied GECOM with all kinds of items, from chairs, high frequency radios, stationery supplies and furniture, toners and even Duracell batteries.
GECOM, which is currently facing a major probe by state auditors into a $100M purchase of radio communications set, has been refusing to talk about its spending, saying that the audit probe is ongoing.
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.
GECOM apparently used what is known as 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.
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.
The spending has raised eyebrows and has seen state auditors expanding their 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.
Several purchases of toners– for printers and copiers– by GECOM last year, supplied by Brasse are also said to 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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