Sep 01, 2017 News
Two sitting members of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) believe that the decision to change the locks of the doors of the Deputy Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Vishnu Persaud, should never have happened.
According to Bibi Shadick, the decision to hire or not renew contracts of senior officials is clearly one for the six-member Commission.
The problem is that there is no chairperson, following the retirement of Dr. Steve Surujbally earlier this year. Surujbally had been there for over a decade. As such, there have also been no meetings with commissioners.
Echoing Shadick yesterday was Commissioner Robeson Benn. Both represent the Opposition on the Commission.
The comments came after it was learnt that Persaud returned from leave mid last month and worked for an entire week. He returned to work again on August 21 and met the locks changed. He was told by officials of the GECOM secretariat that his contract had expired.
Persaud had been there since 2001 and after the current Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, is the most powerful person in GECOM.
According to Shadick, a former minister and parliamentarian, when the Commission meets, it is to discuss and give directions to the secretariat, headed by Lowenfield.
“That has not happened. Lots of things are happening at GECOM that should not be happening. Shadick pointed out that although there is no chairperson and GECOM is an autonomous body, its secretariat can’t make certain decisions without approval from the Commissioners.
“I suppose decisions are being made with approval from somewhere else.”
Shadick noted that the current impasse of appointing a new chairperson is affecting the work of GECOM.
Under regulations, the President has to select the chairperson based on a list of six names submitted by the Opposition Leader.
For this year, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has already submitted three lists. The first two were rejected, the third is being considered.
According to Commissioner Benn, the issue of Persaud’s departure is a deeply troubling one.
“I expect the others to be concerned as well, since the employment of the senior officials of secretariat is a matter of the Commission. We have not been consulted; we have seen a couple of emails.”
Benn said that commissioners should be regularly updated about GECOM’s work. GECOM is charged with managing local and general elections as well as the distribution of national identification cards.
“In as much as we are awaiting a new chairman, one would expect we receive regular updates. There are activities during the month which may involve critical issues. We have not been receiving anything.”
Benn admitted that while Persaud’s contract may have ended, there are clearly issues with his duties, and “…when and how and if, suspended or renewed, it should be considered on its merit.”
Benn was also critical of the current makeup of GECOM, which he said reflects a situation of less and less “diversity”.
“We want professionals and efficient management of duties at GECOM…that is all we want.”
GECOM’s operations have come under the spotlight after numerous cases came to light last year of what appears to be procurement fraud.
In retaliation to the coverage of those details of the contracts, which amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, GECOM this year withdrew its ads from Kaieteur News, the largest selling daily in the country.
Government has largely been silent on the issue which is being viewed in some quarters by critics as a clear attack on press freedom.
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