Opposition members of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) are preparing to hold discussions this week on what was described as a totally unacceptable situation at the entity.
Among the issues to also be raised is the questionable placement of ads over the last few months by the GECOM secretariat, in selected media houses, in what is being seen as a clear case of discrimination in the use of state funds.
The yanking of GECOM ads from Kaieteur News this year followed a number of scathing reports in 2016 of procurement breaches, involving hundreds of millions of dollars.
Yesterday, Commissioner Robeson Benn made it clear that the current situation cannot continue with PPP members not being briefed of the situation at GECOM.
“As you know, there is no chairperson. However, there are commissioners. We have a fiduciary responsibility in the affairs of GECOM. We have oversight responsibilities but we are not being updated by Mr. Lowenfield.”
Keith Lowenfield is the Chief Elections Officer who is charged with the day-to-day running of the secretariat. As chief accounting officer with reporting responsibilities to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which overlooks public spending, it was explained yesterday that the current situation with Lowenfield is at a stalemate.
“Mr. Lowenfield is refusing to go along with our position that we must be updated on the affairs of the people. We were supposed to be briefed monthly on GECOM’s work. He is saying that because there is no chairperson, there can’t be any meeting of the Commission. Therefore we can’t be updated. We are saying that we represent the people and the people need to know.”
The dilemma would be a quite perplexing one. Despite there being no chairperson with Dr. Steve Surujbally departing in February, GECOM’s six commissioners continue to be paid. On a monthly basis, each of them is reportedly receiving over $200,000. This means that GECOM is paying over $1M monthly to the commissioners.
With no chairperson, and no meetings, the Commissioners are in essence being paid to do nothing.
“I will be in discussion with my colleagues this week on how to handle this matter. We are at a loss
how GECOM is operating without oversight. When we were receiving monthly reports, these were usually late or abysmally poor,” an upset Benn said yesterday.
“Lowenfield seems comfortable to carry on as he feels. We as commissioners want to fulfill our responsibilities, to offer advice and protection, if need arises. If there is an issue with ads placement, we would want to address it. It is our responsibility. We want our opinions shared and noted.”
The other PPP commissioners are Bibi Shadick and Sase Gunraj.
The three commissioners of the Government side are Vincent Alexander, Sandra Jones and Charles Corbin.
Government and the Opposition are currently at a stalemate over the selection of a new chairperson. The Opposition has submitted two lists of candidates- both were rejected. Another list is being prepared.
With regards to the situation of GECOM’s secretariat, last year, a number of reports by Kaieteur News painted a picture of high corruption and wanton spending there.
From indications, there was massive fraud involved with the procurement procedures bypassed in many instances. A few suppliers appeared to have been handpicked and given contracts without advertisements in the media. There were even fake quotations in the system.
The reports sparked state auditors to rush in and start a number of probes into several transactions, including the big purchase of $100M in unserviceable communication radios days before the May 2015 general elections.
The radio contract, awarded in highly questionable circumstances to a contractor, saw the equipment arriving too late and never deployed as they were not only outdated but said to be unserviceable. Millions more were spent in the purchase of Duracell batteries, pliers and toners, among other things.
GECOM has refused to comment, saying only that it would await the outcome of the state audits.
The probe into the radio purchase is almost completed with the findings highly alarming, officials say, with Lowenfield asked to respond to them.
Following a heads up over the weekend from a sister media house, Kaieteur News discovered that GECOM, upset by the coverage of its spending for the 2015 general elections and for the Local Government Elections last year, had pulled its ads from the newspaper.
Under policies, government agencies would place ads in all the media houses or with those with the widest reach. For the newspaper, Kaieteur News has the biggest circulation with one of the latest online readership in the region.
As part of its mandate, GECOM is bound to regularly publish educational messages and other updates to ensure citizens are informed.
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