The Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield was grilled by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), yesterday, on a number issues and procurement practices that the Guyana Elections commission (Gecom) has undertaken.
In the Parliament Chambers yesterday, Lowenfield was made to answer why Gecom spent more than $14M for the purchase of 2400 narrow head diagonal pliers.
The CEO said that this was necessary because during the conduct of previous regional and general elections, ballot boxes were damaged when elections officials attempted to open them. Lowenfield explained that the pliers ensured that there was no damage to the ballot boxes since the pliers clip the seal without any damage.
The purchase of the pliers had raised serious questions about accountability and Gecom’s need to have expended such a large sum on pliers.
The Auditor General (AG) is now conducting a special audit into that affair among other strange transactions at that entity.
The committee, through its chairman, Irfaan Ali, sought answers as to what is being done about 11 digital cameras that were reportedly stolen from the commission’s store in 2005.
Lowenfield explained that the matter was handed over to the Guyana Police who subsequently found that there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone. The CEO was asked what is being done to prevent a similar situation from happening.
Lowenfield said that since the theft, security at the store has been beefed up with additional close circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed. A police rank is now stationed outside of the entrance to the store, he added.
Another strange occurrence that caught the attention of the PAC is the fact that on one day three separate contracts worth millions of dollars were awarded to the same contractor. On top of that, the committee heard one contractor was awarded nine contracts worth $82M.
Chairman Ali said that those decisions raise many questions with the Auditor General concluding that this might have been done to split contracts. As if that was not enough the commission, again on a different date, awarded multiple contracts on the same day to another supplier.
Ali asked the CEO if he can appreciate that such decisions by Gecom leave many questions unanswered and Lowenfield concurred. He gave an assurance that all efforts will be made to ensure that there isn’t a repeat.
Further the PAC learnt that when the AG’s office did physical verification on items, it was revealed that 33 items valuing $69M could not be accounted for. In offering his explanation to address this issue Lowenfield said that the missing items were burnt during the fire at the Kingston head office.
Minister of Public Health and PAC member Volda Lawerence said that the issue of the missing items has been prolonging for some time and efforts should be made with the assistance of the AG’s office to have the items written off.
The commission according to the PAC flouted the procurement regulations when it purchased 50 high frequency radios at a cost of $99.5M and used what was termed at ‘restrictive tendering’. The CEO said that as far as he was aware the proper procedures were followed.
In a lengthy encounter with the PAC, Lowenfield was made to explain why 11 expense vouchers totalling $26M were not presented for audit examination. Two additional vouchers totalling $80,000 lacked the necessary supporting documentation. The CEO explained that the commission is currently checking its records for the missing vouchers.
The Guyana Elections Commission is now the subject of a special audit that is being done by the AG. That report is due to be released shortly.
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