Newly appointed Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), retired Justice James Patterson, is still to call his first meeting of the Commission. Commissioners of the Opposition, People’s Progressive Party (PPP), are eager to address several pressing issues, including a forensic report into the alleged $100M fraud that surrounds the purchase of communication radios.
Auditor General, Deodat Sharma, has indicated a willingness to use the powers of his office to call in the police if the Commissioners fail to act on the recommendations in his report.
The audit report was handed over to Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, who is also the accounting officer, but without the meeting of the Commission, further action has not been taken.
GECOM’s Secretariat, which is headed by Lowenfield, is being accused of deliberately overseeing a system of procurement frauds involving hundreds of millions of dollars in purchases– from radios, to pliers and batteries, to toners.
PPP/C Commissioner, Bibi Shadick, finds it astonishing that the Commission has not met, especially since Government is set on moving past Patterson’s controversial appointment on October 19.
“It is not as if work doesn’t have to be done,” Shadick told Kaieteur News yesterday.
The Commission has not met since Dr. Steve Surujbally officially worked his last day as Chairman on February 28, 2017. According to Shadick, the Commission usually meets on Tuesdays and on additional days should other pressing matters arise.
“I don’t know the reason for the delay in calling the first meeting. We have important matters to be addressed. We have the two reports that came from the Auditor General; these are very important and we would have dealt with (them) in the normal course of things. Without a meeting, the report cannot move forward,” Shadick stated.
Other matters, Shadick is eager to address at the level of the Commission relates to the GECOM’s withholding of ads in the Kaieteur News around the same time that the publication had started to report exclusively about the alleged irregularities at the entity.
Shadick also noted that the pressing matter of the non-appointment of the Deputy Chief Elections Officer, Vishnu Persaud, who reportedly met new locks on his doors when he arrived to resume work on August 21, last, must be discussed.
According Shadick, Persaud could not be issued with a new contract because the commission has not been meeting.
“The routine matters at GECOM have not been addressed for months. The Commission approves financial spending of GECOM and so all things that have to do with money and capital works are first discussed and approved by the Commission so we have quite a lot of stuff we have to do,” Shadick maintains.
The PPP/C Commissioner said there is also the need to give direction for the names from last continuous voter registration process that ended in July to be included in the National Register of Registrants (NRR). And then there are vacancies to be filled at the Local Government level where positions have to be held via bi-elections to replace persons who would have resigned.
The Auditor General had descended on GECOM’s office after a series of articles pointed to what appeared to worrying procurement frauds at an entity that overlooks general and local government elections.
One of the purchases for the 2015 general elections was the purchase of several communication radios. It was found that less than 90 percent of the radios were used despite the strong reasons advanced by GECOM to the administration for the purchases. Some $100M was being spent.
It was found that the radios arrived too late to be deployed for the May 11, 2015 elections.
The radios were purchased from Mobile Authority, owned by Water Street businessman, Michael Brasse.
The report found that on top of that purchase for the radios which were all outdated, GECOM went ahead and bought 12 satellite phones for use in case the radios could not be put into operation. When Local Government Elections were held in 2016, the radios were not used.
Checks on the radios found that six of the 50 radio sets were not working.
GECOM defended itself for not going to tender by saying that it had little time before the May 11, 2015 elections to undertake the purchase. There were other questionable purchases, forged quotations and prices that were way above market prices paid for several other things.
Some of these include Duracell batteries, nippers, toners for printers and even office furniture.
While Mobile Authority quoted for other brands of radios, it was selected over another bidder, Advance Officer Systems, which met the criteria. In the three quotes for the radios, one was from Massy Technology dated a year earlier.
The Audit Office found GECOM breached procurement regulations when they went ahead and evaluated the quotes for the radios without first seeking the approval of the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB). This was done after.
In fact, the audit report found that GECOM signed the contract for the radios six days before the elections, making it impossible for the radios to be sourced, delivered, and installed in remote locations and for staffers to be trained.
GECOM, in its defence, said that it could find nowhere in the report where anyone could be found culpable and that it would be difficult therefore to engage the police to pursue criminal indictments.
Among other things, the police are being asked to find out how a quote from Massy Technology ended up in the system. The company has denied it ever submitted one.
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