Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM, Dr. Steve Surujbally Thursday dismissed concerns by the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) about the previous political party involvement of some of elections staff in the electoral process and their ethnicity.
Surujbally admitted that there may be cause for some concern that a number of GECOM polling day staff might have been previously polling agents for a political party, but at the same time he stressed that he was relying on eligibility criteria.
The Commission Chairman appeared extremely concerned and angered at the fact that the PPPC had questioned why GECOM has been employing mostly Guyanese of African descent. “We have a procedure, we have a process. We do not employ Afro-Guyanese and we do not employ Indo-Guyanese. We employ Guyanese,” he said.
Highlighting that all meetings in GECOM’s Board room are audio recorded, Surujbally said PPP General Secretary, Clement Rohee insisted that he wanted to know the ethnic make-up of the more than 12,000 persons who had been employed by GECOM for the May 11, 2015 general and regional elections. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is what is on a tape,” he said. Surujbally said the real test was whether any of the employees had done something badly that would have impacted on the outcome of an election.
Historically, Afro-Guyanese support the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) , which is the largest partner in the governing coalition, while Guyanese of East Indian descent back the PPPC.
While in and out of office, the PPPC had been also concerned about the ethnic imbalance of the security forces, but despite best efforts comparatively few East Indians have been enlisting because of perceptions about discrimination, diet, religion and deployment away from their homes and communities.
Surujbally explained that the GECOM’s employment procedures are that positions are advertised, applications are considered, personnel trained and they are employed based on marks awarded at the evaluation.
He recalled that GECOM was given a list of 50 names of persons from among more than 12,000 persons who had been employed by GECOM for the May 2015 elections but had been previously employed as party polling agents in 2011. Surujbally admitted that “that disturbs me in some way” and “worthy of concern” which should have been brought to the commission’s attention before the elections. “I need those not after the elections. I need that before the elections so we have it out…,” he said.
The GECOM Chairman said he was provided no evidence showing that the 50 persons had performed duties in an improper manner that was detriment to the electoral process. “Nothing tells me on those fifty people or fifty-plus people where they erred, where they were miscreants, where they were vagabonds, where they did things that were inimical to the interest of a party- that is not part of the comment,” he said.
He said that despite their political preferences, they were still have a right to a job having passed their examinations and executed their duties properly. The GECOM Chairman said he would not be party to any process that decides on employment based on party preference or ethnicity.
The PPP has filed an elections petition challenging the results of the general and regional elections held this year that saw it losing its 23-year long grip on power by one seat in the 65-seat National Assembly.