— top on agenda of GECOM’s new CEO, Vishnu Persaud
VISHNU Persaud was, on Tuesday, sworn in as the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), a role which he took an oath to execute without fear or favour.
Persaud took his oath before the Chief Magistrate, Ann McLennan, at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court and was sworn into office before Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George at the Demerara High Court.
Between 2014-2017, Persaud served as the former Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO) of GECOM and was snubbed for the role in 2018. However, on December 10, he was named CEO by a majority vote of the seven-member GECOM statutory body after being shortlisted for the top position. Not only will Persaud serve as the head of the commission’s secretariat, but he will also assume the responsibility of Commissioner of National Registration.
Speaking with the media at the High Court, the newly-sworn in CEO said, “… nobody has to have any worry about my neutrality or that I may deviate from a proper path,” adding: “I have not taken disappointment, bringing any of those stuff with me. I carry no grudge, I hold no malice… I welcome the opportunity to now come back and represent GECOM in the best interest of all concerned.”
While away from the forefront, Persaud explained that he kept updated on all elections matters and is now ready to serve Guyana.
On top of Persaud’s agenda is preparation for Local Government Elections (LGEs) and rebuilding the public’s trust in GECOM following the 2020 elections debacle.
“I have in my mind some ideas already on how I will go about doing that. There would be some people who might venture that the reputation of the commission is not damaged, there are others who will disagree. The perception is out there… as time goes on, we will see how these strategies will be unfolded.”
For his first task, Persaud will be visiting various GECOM departments to assess what works need to be done. “I have to get a feel as to what is happening in the various departments, what they have ongoing now, what is in the pipeline and see how I can engage myself with that,” Persaud said.
“In terms of the bigger picture, I will have to be guided and advised by the commission, and this has mostly to do with things like registration and preparations for elections. I don’t know what the thinking of the commission is at this time, so I will have to be guided by them,” the newly-sworn in CEO said.
WITHIN A YEAR
When questioned about GECOM preparedness for LGEs, Persaud said that voters can expect to be heading to the polls within one year. Initially, LGEs were due by December 7, 2021, but due to the absence of a CEO, the Commission was prevented from indicating its readiness to host the elections.
Among other things, Persaud said that he has an “open door” policy with the public and the media and with his background in public relations also, he will always make sure that the public will be informed of the affairs of GECOM.
“I am one who stands for transparency and accountability…. It is something that I will always push for, so that all concerned are always abreast with what the Commission is doing,” he said.
Persaud was among an initial shortlist of six candidates submitted to GECOM Chairperson, Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh, for the top position. On December 11, it was Justice Singh’s vote, which effectively broke the inevitable tie between GECOM’s three People’s Progressive Party/Civic-aligned commissioners and three A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC)-aligned Commissioners.
In a statement following the vote, the GECOM Public Relations Unit confirmed Persaud’s appointment and gave justification for the Chairman’s vote.
“Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission, Justice Claudette Singh, in justifying the reasons for endorsing the successful applicant posited that; having heard the Commissioners and having read the endorsement of the former Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally, she is of the view that Mr Persaud has acquired institutional knowledge having been employed with GECOM for seventeen (17) years,” the release said.
The release quoted Persaud’s extensive background with the elections body, which began with his appointment as Public Relations Officer in the early 2000s. He remained in that position until 2014 when he climbed to the role of DCEO up until 2017 when his contract was not renewed despite his expression of interest.
The DCEO post was advertised; however, then GECOM Chairman, James Patterson, overlooked Persaud in favour of Roxanne Myers. Patterson, who was appointed by then-President, David Granger, was later removed from his post after the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that his appointment was unconstitutional. Myers, along with several others, is accused of electoral fraud and has since been charged and removed from GECOM.
Recently, Local Government and Regional Development Minister, Nigel Dharamlall, issued a gazetted order recognising the limitations of the Elections Commission and effectively provided a legal pathway for postponing the Local Government Elections and extending the life of all local government bodies.
The December 8, 2021, gazetted order from the subject minister, titled Local Authorities (Postponement of Local Government Elections) Order 2021, is effective from December 6, 2021.
The Order read: “In accordance with the Local Authorities (Elections) Act and in respect of the Local Authorities Elections prescribed to be held during the period of November 1 and December 7 this year, and being satisfied, on the advice of the Elections Commission, that it is impracticable to comply with the provisions of this Act regarding the date for the holding of an election to elect members of a local democratic organ, I hereby order that Local Government Elections 2021 be posted until a date to be specified in a subsequent order.”
The minister also ordered: “Every person who is a councillor including the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, the Chairman or Deputy Chairman, during this prescribed period for the holding of elections shall continue in, and discharge the functions of his office until his successor enters on the duties of his office.”
Currently, several key positions in GECOM’s administration are still to be filled including DCEO, Assistant Chief Elections Officer/Assistant Commissioner for National Registration (ACEO/ACNR), Chief Accountant, and Managers for Logistics and Civic Education.