…Wary of Auditor General’s public pronouncements
Vincent Alexander has raised questions why he and other Commissioners of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) have not received the Auditor General’s report on the $100 million procurement fraud at the level of the Commission’s secretariat.
The Commissioners are scheduled to meet today for the third time since Justice James Patterson (ret’d) was appointed on October 19.
“I am still not in possession of his [Auditor General] report. Why…is another question. I have not been sent a copy of his report, so I don’t have a document that would allow me to comment on what is in that report,” Alexander told Kaieteur News.
Auditor General, Deodat Sharma and his team had descended on GECOM’s office after a series of articles pointed to what appeared to be worrying procurement practices at the entity that overlooks general and local government elections.
The audit report was handed over to Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, who is also the accounting officer for the Commission. The Commissioners are still to receive the report for further action to be taken.
Sharma has publicly stated that he intends to use the provisions of the law to take his findings to the police if GECOM refuses to take action on the report.
GECOM’s Secretariat is being accused of deliberately overseeing a system of procurement irregularities involving hundreds of millions of dollars in purchases – from radios, to pliers and batteries, to toners.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the Auditor General himself seems to have considered it prudent to be public on this matter. It is rather unfortunate. I don’t think that is the way the Audit Office should operate. It should allow due process to bear without some judgment in the public court. I am not saying that judgment in the public court should not take place,” Alexander stated.
He added, “We have had expose of this in the public court and the commissioners don’t have a copy of his report. I must confess a bit of wariness in relation to the apparent alacrity of the Auditor General.”
Alexander noted that the question of GECOM and procurement malfeasance is not new and recalled former President Bharrat Jagdeo publicly accusing GECOM of corruption; however the Auditor General was not being responsive.
“I must confess it’s a certain degree of wariness about the way in which the Auditor General has exercised his judgment on this matter. I am not saying that he is wrong, but I am saying that this is a call that should have been headed five to six years ago,” Alexander stated.
He believes that the Auditor General should look into previous allegations bearing in mind that even at the administrative level significant attempts at procurement was turned back. He stated those previous attempts would make the current $100 million procurement matter in question from being pale into significance.
“We’ve had to do that in the past at GECOM…turn back, where a trusted officer was misleading the Commission and Government about what goods were required, and not only was he misleading about what goods were required, but the price was a reflection of the same type of problem that is now being referred to,” Alexander pointed out.
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 spent.
It was found that the radios arrived too late to be deployed for the May 11, 2015 elections.
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 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 included Duracell batteries, nippers, toners for printers, and even office furniture.
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 one business place ended up in the system, when the company has denied it ever submitted one.
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