Aug 30, 2017 News
Late last year, whistleblowers alerted the media of possible wrongdoing at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), with regards to the awards of several contracts to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Following investigations by Kaieteur News, utilizing multiple sources including GECOM workers, accountants, sources at the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB), and others, it was discovered that hundreds of millions were indeed spent by the entity that manages general and local government elections, the distribution of ID cards, and voter education.
Not only were the tenders not advertised in many cases, but there was clear fraud in the process, including the faking of quotations.
At least one prominent supplier has denied that it ever issued a quotation that GECOM submitted to the NPTAB.
In some cases, GECOM deliberately split contracts, keeping it below the $15M ceiling, to keep it from being scrutinized by Cabinet.
The reports saw state auditors descending on GECOM’s offices, carrying out months of investigations. Several red flags about the procurement procedures used by GECOM were raised by the Audit Office with the issue even appearing in reports.
At least one audit report on the purchase of $100M in communications radios for the general elections of 2015 is nearing completion, with several alarming things found.
The radios were never used, although the then Cabinet of Donald Ramotar was told that $100M in equipment had to be purchased to use in remote areas for the elections.
Several other stories were published including the exorbitant price paid for Duracell batteries, pliers and even toners. GECOM was left with a large stock of toners and batteries.
GECOM’s Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, has refused to explain, saying he is awaiting the outcome of the state audit.
GECOM’s Chief Accountant, Joseph Eastman, and Admin Manager, Michelle Ward, had also refused to take calls on how exactly taxpayers’ dollars were spent.
GECOM’s Commission, led by former Chairman, Dr. Steve Surujbally, had noted that procurement was handled by the entity’s secretariat, headed by Lowenfield.
Weeks after those reports by Kaieteur News, it appeared that GECOM and its officials took a decision to punish Kaieteur News.
It stopped the placement of ads. Rather, those ads ended up in other newspapers.
In normal practice, government ministries and agencies would place ads in all the media houses or the ones with the biggest circulation. Kaieteur News is the newspaper with the largest circulation in the country.
An analysis by this newspaper found that between January and July, more than 80 ads, some full pages, were placed in Stabroek News and Guyana Chronicle, but not in Kaieteur News.
Perhaps, the most glaring of it, occurred in April. During that month, on April 13, 16, 19 and 23, GECOM placed four full-page ads on each day in Stabroek News. Again, none in Kaieteur News.
In early July, Kaieteur News reported on yanking of the ads.
GECOM, however appeared not to care, despite that report. It continued in July placing over 20 ads in Stabroek News…none in Kaieteur News.
Government officials, over time, have acknowledged that state funds must be used in a manner that is transparent and according proper procurement procedures.
With GECOM without a functioning Commission, in the absence of a chairperson to hold meetings, the entity has refused to explain itself.
It was clear that GECOM has taken upon itself to use state funds to punish Kaieteur News.
By practice, the ads are placed with state newspaper, Guyana Chronicle, as a must.
Despite several glaring cases of procurement breaches, no action has been taken at GECOM.
By contrast, several officials at other agencies have been sent home pending investigations.
The state auditors have reportedly found 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.
With GECOM in the spotlight over the selection of a new chairperson following the departure of Dr. Steve Surujbally earlier this year, the Opposition, especially, has been calling for reforms.
With regard to the radios, weeks before the May 2015 elections, GECOM’s secretariat made a case for the purchase 50 High Frequency radios for use during the elections.
Because of the emergency nature, the purchase was approved by the then Cabinet, under former President Donald Ramotar.
The communication radio sets were outdated and came too late for them to be deployed in time for the May 11, 2015 elections.
The glaring breaches were not for those unserviceable radios alone. 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 the company that was awarded the radio contract.
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 in 2015.
Three weeks prior to the election, the entity doled out $14.8M for the purchase of nippers/pliers from a King Street, Lacytown business. The owner is the brother of the individual whose company was awarded the contract for the batteries and radios.
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 familiar brand.
This week, GECOM made the news again, after it was learnt that the locks were changed on the doors of Deputy CEO, Vishnu Persaud, who returned to work earlier this month after leave. He reportedly worked a week and then returned to his office on August 21, to find the locks changed. He was told that his contract had expired. He had been working there since 2001.
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