More than nine months after halting its ads placement in Kaieteur News, amidst reports of procurement malpractice, the Secretariat of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) appears to have reversed its decision.
Over the weekend, the entity which oversees general and local government elections, sent one- for the procurement of a 4×4 vehicle.
The resumption would come at a time when a new Chairperson of the GECOM, James Patterson, has been sworn in.
It is unclear whether there is any connection to Patterson’s swearing in and the booking.
The entity’s transparency had come in for severe criticisms following the withholding of the ads and disclosures that a state audit report into a $100M purchase of communications radios for the 2015 general elections, has found some worrying things.
A number of probes by state auditors are also being carried out.
A few weeks ago, GECOM’s Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield, in explaining the ads placement of his entity, told Capitol News, that Kaieteur News received more than $900,000 in work, giving the impression that it was all ads. Even the Capitol News reporter believed it was all ads.
However, less than half of it – $433,000 – represented subscriptions for newspapers for the year. That meant a little more than $500,000 was payments for ads up to mid-January. After that, GECOM simply stopped placing ads.
Lowenfield never explained that for the year, as compared to Kaieteur News, GECOM made payments to Stabroek News for $4.8M. Just over $300,000 would represent the yearly subscription for Stabroek News.
In all, in addition to the subscription, GECOM signed 17 contracts with Stabroek News up to August month-end – nothing for Kaieteur News.
While Kaieteur News, the newspaper with the largest distribution, has been reporting on those ads placement (or lack thereof in Kaieteur News), Lowenfield and GECOM have been very quiet, despite some shocking revelations about procurement irregularities that came out in news reports.
Even the administration, although disagreeing with the use of ads placement as a weapon to silence media houses, seemed hesitant about speaking on the issue.
The Ministry of the Presidency, when asked, had pointed out that GECOM is independent, but there is clearly no policy of the Government to use ads as a weapon to punish media houses.
However, Commissioners of GECOM, a few weeks ago, had insisted that the Secretariat does not have permission to withdraw any ads, with the situation being compounded by the fact that there is no chairperson and therefore no meeting on the Commission to be briefed or for the matter to be raised.
According to Lowenfield in his interview, his advertising budget was cut, and this was the reason for affecting the ads in media houses like Kaieteur News.
He said for elections years of 2015 and 2016, Kaieteur News received $12M and $25M respectively. However, he claimed, this year, there is no election and it is quiet, something that Kaieteur News should understand.
Lowenfield said it is a fact that over the years Kaieteur News has been getting more ads than the other media houses.
However, Lowenfield failed to explain that GECOM and its commissioners had always stood in favour of all ads being placed in all the media houses.
In the past, it has been the policy of consecutive administrations to use media houses with the largest reach when it comes to deciding where to place the ads.
Kaieteur News is the newspaper with the widest circulation.
GECOM Commissioners Bibi Shadick and Robeson Benn, who represent the Opposition on the Commission, distanced themselves from the seeming decision to halt advertising with Kaieteur News.
”I am concerned about the situation. I had raised it before, but I am not seeing they are saying anything,” Benn had said.
Shadick, a lawyer and former minister, was even more blunt.
”What is happening is at the Secretariat level. Usually the Commission meets, gives instructions to the Secretariat…that has not happened.”
She said that Commission never discussed any issue of withdrawing ads.
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