-report on obsolete radios completed
State auditors who last year started a major probe into the questionable purchases of millions of dollars in toners for photocopiers and printers at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) are wrapping up their work.
Giving an update this past week, Auditor General, Deodat Sharma, disclosed that the Audit Office has sent off a draft report on the purchases to Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield, for his comments.
He also disclosed that another major probe, this time into a $100M purchase of obsolete communications radio sets in 2015, was being finalized.
“We are making progress on the matters as I speak,” the official said.
GECOM is facing some burning questions following the May 2015 General Elections in which the Coalition Government, under President David Granger, was declared winner, ending the 23 years rule of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic.
Months after, whistleblowers armed with procurement documents and evidence, revealed that GECOM spent hundreds of millions of dollars with little scrutiny and ended up with obsolete equipment. At the same time, the entity paid some highly questionable prices, some to the tune of millions of dollars, on items like batteries, nippers, stationery and toners.
In regard to those toners, GECOM in 2015 paid over $92M.
From indications, GECOM deliberately ordered far more than it needed. It was left with a huge stock on hand. In fact, reportedly, shortly after the elections, there was an entire roomful of it at the Coldingen, East Coast Demerara bond.
The contracts for the toners were largely handed to M-Tech Business Solutions, which is owned by Water Street businessman, Michael Brasse.
Brasse’s other business, Mobile Authority, is the same one that supplied the 50 radios which cost $100M.
That $100M purchase in 2015 by GECOM was a major scandal that saw the Audit Office of Guyana descending on GECOM facilities, including its Kingston, Georgetown headquarters.
A number of suppliers insist that GECOM never advertised back in 2015 but rather sole sourced for services and items from mainly the friendly businessman and his brother.
No local agent
What made matters worse for GECOM was the fact that M-Tech reportedly received orders for toners for different printers and photocopiers.
It is normal for most companies to go directly to local suppliers. For example, in Guyana, the local agent for Canon copiers and printers was Laparkan. GECOM has several Canon copiers and printers.
It also has equipment from Brother, Xerox and reportedly from Hewlett-Packard (HP). Yet there was little evidence that other local agents were approached.
Laparkan, the local agent for Canon, received just $1.35M while another business, Andrews Enterprise, received $4.96M for supplying toners in 2015.
In regard to the radios, just over a week before the May 11, 2015 elections, the then administration of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) approved $99.5M for the purchase of 50 high frequency (HF) radios.
Those radios were supposed to be used by GECOM for communications in the outlying areas on polling day and after.
However, there are indications that the radios were never put into use.
From documents seen by Kaieteur News, local suppliers were asked to submit quotes in mid-April 2015. Cabinet granted the no-objection to the award of the contract that same month, April, leaving GECOM just days to have the supplier order and import the radios.
GECOM insiders and Government officials insisted, yesterday, that based on past experience and other factors, it would have been nigh impossible for the radios to have been delivered by the supplier; checked to ensure that they are operational and then delivered to the outlying areas in time for use on Elections Day, May 11, 2015.
What makes observers and others more convinced that the whole deal was a clear plot to dump old radios that had been bought years before, was the fact the equipment needed installation in the hinterland areas.
The radios would have needed a base station, cables, pipes, a power supply and then technicians to install them. It would have been impossible to order them, have them delivered in the country, clear Customs, delivered and checked by GECOM and then deployed in time for the voting.
Brasse’s Mobile Authority and his two other businesses, M-Tech Business Solutions and Mibra Trading, were awarded almost $290M in contracts in the same year.
It seemed Brasse was dealing with everything. He supplied toners, stationery, office equipment, electrical items, Duracell batteries and even furniture, raising suspicions of sole sourcing.
From payment records, it appeared that several of the payments could be linked to what is known as contract splitting, an arrangement where contracts are deliberately kept below a certain amount to avoid attracting attention from oversight bodies like the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB).
Another strange thing that is being investigated by auditors is the fact that GECOM apparently collected two different brands of radios- 30 of the ICOM 718 models and 20 of the older Barrett radios.
GECOM appeared to have asked suppliers weeks before the elections for quotes of newer Barrett ManPack radios which have the capabilities of sending faxes, going online and making voice calls.
Instead, GECOM collected something else. The reports of the radio purchases have drawn the attention of Barrett Communications, the manufacturer of some of the radios that had been delivered. Through its European office, Barrett in a statement to the newspaper, said that it never delivered radios for the 2015 elections in Guyana.
Rather, several of its radios that were seen in photos published by Kaieteur News were from a purchase made since 2006.
According to Barrett, it stopped manufacturing those radios since 2009. That raises questions of the warranties GECOM was offered by Mobile Authority.
GECOM and Lowenfield had declined to comment on the radio purchases, saying that an investigation is currently ongoing by State Auditors.
Former Chairman, Dr. Steve Surujbally, had made it clear that while the Commission would in principle agree to purchases and other transactions, the actual transactions are left to GECOM’s Secretariat.
This year, in retaliation to all the revelations by Kaieteur News, GECOM stopped placing ads in Kaieteur News.
While Kaieteur News enjoys the widest circulation in Guyana, it was only granted about $500,000 in ads up to mid-January.
Stabroek News, on the other hand, received up to $4.4M in ads.
Lowenfield had attempted to defend the ads placement saying that Kaieteur News received millions of dollars in ads in the past years.
He did not explain why GECOM stopped the ads and how Guyana, which is supposed to benefit from the widest reach of its messages in the media, would have benefitted by the ads going elsewhere.
A number of GECOM’s Commissioners, representing the Opposition, complained recently that since the departure of Chairman, Dr. Surujbally, in February, they have not met and are not being updated about the people’s business.
President David Granger is considering a third list of nominees for a new Chairman.
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