Oct 16, 2016 News
A number of Commissioners within the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) have crossed swords with Chairman, Dr. Steve Surujbally, over allegations of fraud at the entity. A major investigation of fraud is currently underway by state auditors at GECOM.
The auditors will be investigating several instances of inflated prices, sole sourcing and forged quotations from known businesses.
Yesterday, Commissioner Robeson Benn said that a meeting on Thursday saw a defiant Chairman unwilling to entertain questions about the allegations.
Rather, said Benn, Dr Surujbally opted not to discuss the issue, saying that he will await the report of the Audit Office.
“He said that he is chomping at the bit to replying to the reports in the press and other media. However, he has been barred by his lawyers from replying,” Benn said yesterday.
It is all a delaying tactic by the Chairman to block the Commissioners from investigating what really went on last year, Benn said.
“In essence, he blocked proper oversight to have an inquiry into GECOM and he blocked legitimate questions from Commissioners who have a right to ask and are entitled to know what is going on. Our perception is that the refusal to have a discussion on the allegations is a delaying tactic.”
Surujbally is due to retire in another month after more than a decade and half at GECOM.
According to Benn, a former Minister of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), he and two other commissioners- Bibi Shadick and Sase Gunraj- recently wrote Dr Surujbally for a meeting of the Commission.
“We wrote a letter requesting a meeting for an update on continuous registration and to discuss the issue on the question of electronic voting…electronic registration preparation and for a possible consultant to guide on the way forward. However, we were not getting any meeting.”
According to Benn, the GECOM Chairman recently emailed them asking for them to commit via a round robin vote on the registration exercise.
The three PPP Commissioners did not respond, so Dr Surujbally called a meeting for last Thursday.
According to Benn, the GECOM Chairman said he wanted to discuss the registration exercises but the PPP Commissioners were insistent on discussing other urgent issues, “especially ones relating to the spending that were carried in the press.”
“We have several questions regarding the press reports of the revelations, including the reported inflated prices for nippers and pliers, procurement of radios, photo papers, toners. The fact is we have been facing a stone wall when it comes to getting information from GECOM.”
The GECOM Chairman also faced objections when he raised his possible participation in an overseas
trip to the Organisation of American States (OAS).
“He said he had an invitation to an OAS country as a farewell tour for, from his words, the longest serving elections chairman in OAS countries.”
However, the PPP Commissioners reportedly objected to an overseas trip at a time when GECOM is under pressure on a number of issues.
“This issue here goes along with a number of others including a petition filed in the courts over the 2015 elections. There is a continuing pattern of blocking information both internally and outside. Surujbally is not the Commission…He is merely the Chairman. The Chairman is supposed to bring together the Commission to deliberate the issues to find the best approach in arriving at solutions,” Benn pointed out.
Last week, Auditor General, Deodat Sharma, said that his office has expanded a current probe to look at other spending at GECOM.
There were early general elections on May 11, 2015 with figures coming out of GECOM indicating worrying procurement breaches.
Several weeks ago, the Audit Office launched a probe into a $99.5M purchase of communication radios for the elections.
The payments of millions of dollars in inventory and services have a pattern of not only collusion within GECOM but with contractors too.
Documents indicated that staffers, in all likelihood, colluded to deliberately split contracts to avoid Cabinet’s scrutiny.
Payments included for the radios, Duracell batteries, photo paper, pliers, toners and a host of other items.
Of an estimated $700M in contracts last year, GECOM doled out almost 40 percent to the businesses of two brothers- Michael and Mahendra Brasse. From all indications, the proper procurement procedures were not followed.
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