September 27, 2016

GECOM probing multimillion-dollar ballot paper procurement

… Commissioners suspect fraud, SOPs breached

Amid concerns expressed by several of its Commissioners, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has decided to launch a probe into the recent procurement of ballot papers and other sensitive materials purchased to the tune of US$500,000 for the upcoming Local Government Elections (LGE).

GECOM Chairman,  Dr Steve Surujbally

GECOM Chairman,
Dr Steve Surujbally

The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) nominated Commissioners at a news conference on Saturday, related that GECOM does not follow any structured procurement process but rather makes haphazard purchases of items without specific authority and for this reason, they are deeply concerned.
In fact, the Commissioners expressed that this is a concern shared even by the Government-nominated Commissioners.
“Commissioners on both sides have expressed ongoing concerns relative to appropriate and transparent procurement practices by GECOM,” PPP/C Commission Robeson Benn disclosed.
Expanding on the situation, Bibi Shaddick explained that the matter revolves around the manner in which it is executed.
“The practice seems to be, ‘Hey, we need to get this done and the Chairman says to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Hey, go do it…and then the CEO says to the Chief Accountant to prepare a cheque for so much and whatever’… there seems to be no rules being followed,” Shaddick observed.
She continued “Huge sums of monies are being expended at GECOM, huge sums without any form of agreement of any kind of formal documentation. Somebody just says go do it and that’s not how procurement is done.”
She further noted that, since being at GECOM, the only activity taken to the National Procurement Board is for the contract of establishing billboards across the country.
With respect to the situation being investigated, Shaddick explained that the ballot papers, Statements of Poll, tally sheets and other sensitive materials were purchased from a Canadian printing company without any attempts being made to find out if another company would charge less.
On that note, Commissioner Sase Gunraj revealed that GECOM has been procuring materials from the same company since the General and Regional Elections in 2011.
However, he pointed out that following the General and Regional Elections 2015, some Commissioners raised concerns about the company.
Consequently, he contended that steps should have been taken to address those concerns and to explore alternative companies.
When prompted, he disclosed that those concerns were in relation to the cost of the process, particularly in areas where GECOM could have saved money as well as the efficiency of the process.
“But the concerns were staunchly and stoutly rejected,” Gunraj posited.
Moreover, the PPP nominated Commissioners pointed out that they are unaware of the costs to place the various GECOM advertisements in the media though they are the ones who should have been involved in the decision-making process.
Additionally, they highlighted that GECOM paid a lawyer over GY$6 million to prepare an application to strike out the Elections Petition which was filed by PPP/C Member Ganga Persaud.
Again, in this instance, the Commissioners revealed that no attempts were made to follow a standard procurement process to determine if a lawyer could have charged a much cheaper cost to prepare an Elections Petition.
Shaddick, a lawyer for more than a decade, expressed that GY$6 million for that purpose is exorbitant. She posited too that GECOM will still have to pay more lawyer fees, in addition to the GY$6 million.
Attempts by Guyana Times to contact GECOM Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally for a response on this matter proved futile. However, reports indicate that he is aware of the probe but opted not to consider the activity an “investigation”.
“Investigation is a strong word, the first thing one would want to do and that is what we have agreed on is that all the parties that are involved in this thing, let’s interview them, let’s call them and let’s see what is this all about so that’s the first step before you go into some audit,” he said.
Surujbally said at this point in time there has been no decision to conduct a forensic audit “but it might evolve into that, who knows,” the Chairman is quoted as saying.
Guyana Times understands that among those to be questioned are two GECOM Commissioners and an Information Technology expert who travelled to Canada to oversee the process.

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