THE race to name Guyana’s next Chief Elections Officer (CEO) was narrowed down to two candidates as Vishnu Persaud and Leslie Harrow, both with experience in electoral bodies, have been named as the final two top candidates by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) following its meeting last Wednesday.
GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj told the Guyana Chronicle yesterday that the interviews will be done on Monday. Persaud and Harrow have survived a revision by the statutory body of an initial shortlist of six candidates.
That shortlist, published by this newspaper last week, was created from submissions from GECOM representatives for the governing People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and the parliamentary opposition A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC).
The full list included Aneal Giddings, Eugene Petty, Kurt Clarke, and Deodat Persaud who have all been eliminated from this revised shortlist.
According to Gunraj, the Commission was focused on candidates with both technical and academic experience. The statutory body will meet on Thursday to finalise the evaluation criteria to be used in the interview process.
Persaud served as GECOM’s Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO) during the time of GECOM Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally. However, upon Surujbally’s departure from the Commission, Persaud encountered challenges which blocked his chances of continuing in the role.
After a case of possible racial discrimination was raised, the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) had established a Sub-Committee to investigate the employment practices at GECOM with a specific focus on the appointment of Roxanne Myers to the position of DCEO when Persaud had not only contested but reportedly scored higher in the evaluation process by the Commissioners.
The Sub-Committee was chaired by Appeal Judge (Ret’d) Stanley Moore and included human resources consultant, Jairam Petam; and Retired Deputy Police Commissioner, Lloyd Smith. The ERC’s representatives on the Sub-Committee were Major General (Ret’d) Norman Mc Lean, and Norris Witter.
When Persaud competed against Myers for the second-in-command position, it was former GECOM Chairman, Justice (Ret’d) James Patterson, who broke the Commission’s deadlock. Myers was named DCEO.
Myers served from 2018 to 2020 up until her removal from the office as charges were laid against her alleged involvement in electoral fraud during the March 2020 General and Regional Elections which concluded in August 2020.
Persaud served at the elections commission from 2001, first in the capacity of Public Relations Officer (PRO) while performing other duties. He was eventually appointed DCEO in August 2014, serving three years.
With the expiration of Persaud’s contract in 2017, the 2018 report of the ERC Sub-Committee noted he expressed intention to have his contract as DCEO renewed three months before the expiration.
When the contract expired without acknowledgment of the intention to renew, however, the Sub-Committee’s report noted: “He was then instructed by the CEO [Keith Lowenfield] that the Attorney General [Basil Williams] had advised that since GECOM was in a state of hiatus due to the resignation of Chairman Surujbally, the request for the renewal of his contract could not be processed.”
The Sub-Committee report stated that Persaud did not return to GECOM but noticed a media advertisement several months later for the vacant position of DCEO. He applied.
At that time, concerns had been raised that Persaud had lied about his academic qualifications. Then-GECOM Chairman Justice (Ret’d) Patterson was interviewed by the ERC Sub-Committee on the matter and he reportedly told the body his decision in favour of Myers was because “there was some evidence of one candidate lying”.
Persaud reportedly holds a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) with management certificates, a diploma in public relations, and several years’ experience in the electoral body. Myers, on the other hand, held a Masters in Gender and Peace Building with experience in media monitoring and civil society.
Recording his distrust of Persaud, Justice (Ret’d) Patterson reportedly said: “One candidate, if I recall, say he had certain degrees which he didn’t… one candidate seems shifty, the other candidate wasn’t”.
Upon inquiring which candidate appeared “shifty,” Patterson responded, “Persaud”. The report further said Patterson had come to these conclusions despite not meeting Persaud nor Myers.
The investigative body had asked the former Chairman to provide documentation to support his position that Persaud was “shifty”.
It later reported in its findings: “Retired Justice Patterson’s failure to produce the documentation on which he based his conclusion that Mr Persaud was an unsatisfactory candidate has grossly discredited his finding concerning Mr Persaud’s shiftiness, unreliability, and dishonesty.
“Throughout the course of this investigation, the Sub-Committee found no evidence to suggest that Mr Persaud made any misrepresentation with regard to his qualification to the Commission.”
Myers, and GECOM Human Resources Manager, Marcia Crawford did not participate in the four-week-long hearings. “This failure cannot be described as anything other than deliberate and wilful,” the 2018 report of the investigative body read. Myers is currently still before the court along with former CEO Lowenfield.
Jamaica-born Leslie Harrow is a career civil servant in Jamaica who, according to his LinkedIn profile, worked with the Electoral Commission of Jamaica since 2002.
His position there was only briefly interrupted by his seconding to the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) in November 2020 as Director-General. Harrow, however, exited the position seven months later in May 2021.
The Jamaica media carried headlines that Harrow resigned from the position of Director-General because of the treatment he received while working at the body and also because he reportedly did not appreciate the political directives handed to him.
Harrow has since denied the allegations made by the Jamaica Observer and Jamaica Gleaner newspapers. In a letter sent by Harrow and published by the Observer, Harrow wrote: “I came to the agency on November 1, 2020, on a six-month secondment (sic) from my substantive position at the Electoral Office of Jamaica, with an option to seek an extension at the end of that period.
“This period ended on April 30, 2021, and I wish to state publicly that my decision to return to the EOJ has nothing to do with any unhappiness with or interference from the minister, ministry or the agency, as is being implied and stated in media reports. I had and still have a cordial relationship with the honourable minister [of local government] and the permanent secretary and, indeed, other members of the ministry”.
Based on public information, Harrow is still employed with the Electoral Office of Jamaica.