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GECOM to probe procurement of local govt ballot papers

PPPC-nominated members of the Guyana Elections Commission (left to right) Sase Gunraj, Robeson Benn and Bibi Shadick.

PPPC-nominated members of the Guyana Elections Commission (left to right) Sase Gunraj, Robeson Benn and Bibi Shadick.

The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has decided to probe the procurement of US$500,000 worth of ballot papers and other sensitive material for the upcoming Local Government Elections (LGE) but the Chairman of that elections management authority, Dr. Steve Surujbally said it is too early to speak about a forensic audit.

People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP)-nominated GECOM Commissioner, Bibi Shadick told a news conference that the seven-member Commission has agreed to conduct a probe after the March 18, 2016 Local Government Elections. “We have taken a decision, all six commissioners without exception…The six commissioners have agreed that this particular procurement of ballot papers and materials for this year and the whole process of when it started to when it arrived…,” she told a news conference.

Dr. Surujbally shied away from saying “investigation” but he disclosed that steps would be taken to inquire what transpired from those concerned. “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. He said at this point in time there has been no decision to conduct a forensic audit “but it might evolve into that, who knows.”

Among those to be questioned are the two GECOM Commissioners and Information Technology expert who travelled to Canada to oversee the process for the ballot papers and other items

Shadick said observations of the arrival of the ballot papers, statements of poll and tally sheets at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) on Tuesday, March 1, 2016 from Canada and pictures taken there would be included in the report that would be sent to the forensic auditors.

Shadick explained that a full investigation would be conducted by taking statements from all the parties involved in the procurement process, questions from the Commissioners and the finalizing of a forensic audit of the entire process would be undertaken. She said the cost and manner of the procurement of the ballot papers and other sensitive material was a matter of concern to all the commissioners.

The PPPC-nominated commissioners said GECOM has no proper procurement process including the advertising for products and services, resulting in huge sums of monies being spent without any formal agreement or documentation. “There seems to be no rules being followed…the instrument that would cause an accountant to pay money has to be a contract… not an invoice that turns up and services have to be procured in a proper way,” she said.

With GECOM now being a budget agency that is allowed to draw down funds directly from the Consolidated Fund, she said there would now be greater scrutiny of accountability procedures. Shadick noted that the Chief Elections Officer authorized to spend up to GYD$250,000 at any one time after which he should seek approval from the Commission. However, she said GECOM paid a Canadian company US$500,000 for the ballot papers and other sensitive material and more than GYD$6 million to a lawyer without the Commission’s approval.

The PPPC Commissioners said in the end GECOM forked out 25 percent more than the estimated cost and that other freight had accompanied the ballot papers in the “grossly oversized” aircraft that the Commission paid for.

The PPPC- nominated Commissioners said that even after Commissioners had identified arrangements for printing and logistics to be treated separately, they were presented  with full invoicing from a party which “seemingly inserted itself into the process- the very party about whim grave reservations were held with respect to past and procurements at the very start of the process.”  “It appears as if disparate communications were undertaken seemingly with the express intent of undermining and thwarting the Commissioners’ goal of achieving the timely, transparent, cost effective sourcing and delivery of print materials for the LGE,” the PPPC Commissioners said.