Months after a team of state auditors descended on the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to probe allegations of a massive contract manipulation racket, it appears that they are getting ready to close it.
For more than four months now, the auditors have been working, perusing contracts and inventories, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, including spending for the May 2015 general and regional elections.
They have been working from GECOM’s headquarters in High Street, Kingston and have visited the stores at Coldingen, East Coast Demerara, among other GECOM’s facilities. The probe reportedly extended to the spending of the 2016 local government elections.
The auditors have reportedly several cases of worrying breaches of procurement procedures, excesses and wanton spending, in some cases items were purchased for four or five times the retail prices.
Yesterday, Auditor General, Deodat Sharma, when questioned, declined to go into any details except that his staff members are nearing the end of their work there.
“They are wrapping up and we will take it from there. I can’t tell you about details at the moment,” the official said.
However, GECOM and other Government sources have confirmed that the findings will worry the administration and a number of sweeping adjustments will have to be made to the entity which is tasked with issuing National Identification Cards and overseeing general and local government elections in Guyana.
GECOM last year was under severe pressure with the scandal leaving a dark cloud on the legacy of outgoing Chairman, Dr. Steve Surujbally.
The Chairman, who had signaled his intentions to step down at November 30th, has been asked by the administration to stay on to oversee the transition to a new person. The process to choose a new Chairperson is ongoing and has developed into a battle between the administration and the Opposition over the interpretation of the Constitution of the land.
With regards to GECOM’s spending, from internal documents and that filed with the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB), GECOM reportedly deliberately bypassed established procedures of the state when it comes to using tax dollars to procure services and items.
Auditors would have been looking into the purchase of high frequency radios; toners for printers and photocopiers and pliers and nippers.
They all had one thing in common in 2015—hundreds of millions of dollars were paid for them under very questionable circumstances by GECOM. There are other transactions that also came 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 to official figures of contracts awarded in 2015, 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.
With regards to the contract date of May 21, the big question according to GECOM officials was, ‘Why would the entity want to enter into a contract after the elections for the batteries?’
GECOM was left with several boxes of the Duracell batteries delivered by Brasse, who according to official figures, was a favourite businessman 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.
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.
Three weeks prior to the May 11, 2015 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 in 2015.
His brother received $31M. Both men appeared to be preferred suppliers, receiving the lion’s or the hog’s share.
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. There are questions about the urgent reasons advanced by GECOM for those radios in the first place.
GECOM, tasked with running elections in Guyana, had 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.
With regards to the radios ordered, 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.
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