GECOM split on renewal of Lowenfield’s contract

Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield

…but agree for him to stay on for March polls

By Lisa Hamilton

CHIEF Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield’s contract will be up in March and Commissioners of the Guyana Election Commission (GECOM) have all agreed that he should remain on the job for elections but split on whether his contract should be renewed.

Lowenfield, in accordance with his contract, has expressed his interest in serving once again as CEO but at least two People’s Progressive Party (PPP)-nominated commissioners have indicated that they will not support his return.
These are Commissioners Robeson Benn and Bibi Shadick. A commissioner confirmed this and more to the newspaper on Wednesday. “It’s a unanimous decision that he should stay for the elections but they are saying renewal of the contract [is the issue],” the individual said.

On Wednesday, this newspaper was made aware that the CEO’s contract requires him to take all of his leave before the end of contract and the commissioner had accumulated a substantial amount of leave. The decision was therefore taken to pay him in lieu of leave so that he would continue in the position up until elections next year March. His leave was expected to commence on Monday while his contract is to be up on March 13, 2020.
On Tuesday, PPP-nominated Commissioner, Sase Gunraj, told the Guyana Chronicle that no decision had been taken to pay Lowenfield. However, the Guyana Chronicle was able to confirm that no commissioner, during the meeting, had disagreed when the option for payment in lieu leave was put forward.

According to the commissioner who spoke to this newspaper, Commissioner Benn made an application at Tuesday’s meeting that an evaluation be conducted of the CEO’s service. This comes, as there have been much negative statements about the CEO by the PPP Commissioners as well as executives within the PPP such as Former President, Donald Ramotar, and Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, when things didn’t go their way.

Since the passage of the no-confidence motion against the government, they have been against several key decisions of the CEO and, at one point, sought to take him to court. With the disagreement and request for evaluation, all commissioners are therefore expected to make submissions and present the same next Tuesday. It is likely that the matter will come down to a vote and, if tied, will be broken by the Chair, Retired Justice Claudette Singh.

There is a clause within Lowenfield’s contract which stipulates that he must indicate his willingness to serve in the position again when his contract is approaching expiration; this, the CEO communicated in the affirmative. “He did that in keeping with his contract,” the commissioner said. The full membership of GECOM back in March 2014 had decided unanimously to the appointment Lowenfield to the position of Chief Elections Officer and Commissioner of National Registration. The commission’s decision had brought to end, a very lengthy and meticulous procedure associated with the matter including advertising the vacancy locally and overseas. Some fourteen persons had applied for the post.