AMID swirling allegations of corruption levelled against top officials at the Guyana Elections Commission, the David Granger-led administration said it will not intervene in the affairs of that constitutional body. In recent weeks there have been several media reports of corrupt financial transactions and racketeering that have ensnared Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield and his deputy, Vishnu Persaud. Both Lowenfield and Persaud have sought to deny the allegations.
Speaking at his post-Cabinet news briefing on Thursday, Minister of State Joseph Harmon made it clear that government will not intervene in the affairs of GECOM. He said while government provides financing for entities such as GECOM, it is not within its ambit to conduct audits of the entity. “At this point in time, we will have no consideration to say let us do an audit…these are now independent bodies and as so we cannot go and say to them, do this and do that. The commission is being run by commissioners and they have a structure and the government and people of Guyana would have to put pressure on that structure to function,” said Minister Harmon.
He stressed that the APNU+AFC coalition government has promised that constitutional agencies will remain independent and it intends to fulfil that promise. “We have actually provided funds for these agencies and for them to spend their funds without government intervention or interference. Secondly, what seems to have happened from the reports I am reading in the media, is that there seemed to have been a breakdown in the procurement system that occurred even before we came into office.” He said notwithstanding the revelations coming out of GECOM, his administration will continue to finance the entity.
Earlier this week, the opposition, People’s Progressive Party called for a “full and comprehensive investigation into the allegations of corruption at GECOM and for the publication of the results of the audit.” The PPP said that observers claim that Granger may be tempted to set up another Commission of Inquiry into the charges of corruption at GECOM with a view to taking greater control of GECOM’s machinery and to insert APNU+AFC operatives on a full-time basis in the system. “Such a move along with Granger’s refusal to make public the imminent retirement of Dr Steve Surujbally, Chairman of GECOM and to invite in [sic] the Leader of the Opposition for consultation on the naming of a new chairman, forms part and parcel of the administration’s prevarication to address in a timely and transparent manner reforms at GECOM.” The PPP also called for the immediate removal of Surujbally and Lowenfield from GECOM and for the process to be initiated with respect to finding replacements for both Surujbally and Lowenfield respectively.
Top officials at GECOM have told this newspaper that the opposition might be using Persaud to leak information to the press about the procurement transactions at the commission — a charge which the DCEO has denied.
Meanwhile, despite having a Public Relations Officer (PRO) at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Persaud carried out some of that officer’s duties during the last elections, documents shown to this newspaper have revealed. Sources within the commission told the Guyana Chronicle that Persaud took charge of all Civic and Voter Education responsibilities despite it falling within
the ambit of the PRO. However, Persaud denied those allegations. In 2014, Persaud while appointed as DCEO, wrote and signed documents as the entity’s Public Relations Officer. In documents seen by this publication, Persaud signed as PRO and DCEO. It was observed in a recommendation and justification as to why TroyTec Video Production should be awarded a contract to provide infomercial advertising for Polling Day staff working during the 2015 General and Regional Elections.
In the contract valued at $9,507,490, VAT inclusive, the commission was required to pay the company awarded in three tranches: an advance of 40 per cent of the total contract, payment of an additional 40 per cent upon completion of 50 per cent of the work and a final payment of 20 per cent on completion of the works and tear sheet as well as documentation attesting that the works have been satisfactorily completed.
Final payment had to be made on the submission of a written request to GECOM by the contractor. On March 3, 2015, the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board approved the contract for the publication of notices about the General and Regional Elections-2015 to TroyTec Video Productions.
Persaud who was DCEO at the time wrote Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield on the publication of notices about the 2015 elections outlining why Digicel Inc and Knights Video Production were not best suited for the job. He described the quotation provided by TroyTec as “more inclusive” than the others and recommended that that company be “considered favourably” for the job. To justify his selection, Persaud in attached appendices showed why Digicel Inc fell short. In the case of Knights Video Production, no NIS and GRA compliance were provided and that entity was therefore ineligible for selection.
In appendix two and three of the said missive to the CEO, Persaud showed the comparison and at the bottom of both, signed as “Vishnu Persaud, Public Relations Officer” and “Vishnu Persaud, Deputy Chief Elections Officer/ Deputy Commissioner of National Registration.”
“Persaud did do everything himself…he picked TroyTec and then made a recommendation to the Administrative Manager who then forwarded it to Lowenfield who wrote the Tender Board,” said the GECOM source. According to the source, it was the responsibility of the PRO at the time, Richard Francois, to fulfil the functions which Persaud, who was the previous PRO, did. “He knew what he was doing, that’s why the new PRO couldn’t do those things.”
The GECOM source said too that an Evaluating Committee should have been set up at the Commission but it was never done. “Evaluating Committees were only set up for public tendering which is done through the Ministry of Finance.”
Another source told the Guyana Chronicle that Persaud was allowed to get away with the signing of the documents as PRO though he no longer held the position, because he was encouraged to do so by Surujbally. It is reported that commissioners were aware that Persaud was signing the documents as PRO and urged him to desist from same. When questioned Thursday night, Persaud told Guyana Chronicle that it was impossible for him to sign under both posts. “Something is wrong, fraudulent document… I can tell you that without any doubt,” he said.
“I am extremely careful not to get involved in stuff like that. It would mean that the appendices that you have ought not to be attached to that document, but some earlier document. It was tampered it. This is a manipulative move,” Persaud continued. He said as PRO he was entrusted with conducting civic and voter education by the commission and noted that there was no need for the former PRO Francois to take on that responsibility.
“Civic and voter education is a separate activity from public relations to the extent that there is a position for a substantive civic and voter education manager–I did it as PR- because the Commission had entrusted it to me… it wasn’t my responsibility, he explained. He said it is an operational function and it was not necessary for Francois to take it up. “At that time the office was vacant,” added Persaud. Addressing the allegation of handpicking TroyTech Video Production, Persaud stressed that in every instance the production company was awarded, advertisements were placed in the media. He said GECOM’s Administrative Manager Michelle Ward was responsible for publishing the advertisements in the newspapers. “When the evaluations are done they return to the CEO for his approval, it then goes to the tender board for their checks and approval, in the case of $32M that had to get cabinet’s approval…anything over $15M goes to Cabinet. I followed due process to the T,” he added.