GECOM in showdown over Vishnu Persaud for Chief Election Officer

Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 November 2021, 17:16 by Denis Chabrol

Vishnu Persaud

The seven-member Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on Tuesday appeared split down the middle over whether former Deputy Chief Election Officer (DCEO) Vishnu Persaud should be given the nod to succeed Keith Lowenfield as Chief Election Officer (CEO).

Pro-People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Elections Commissioner, Bibi Shadick was quite confident that Mr. Persaud could be appointed “hopefully by the end of the week” as the new administrative head of the commission because he is experienced and qualified in the area of elections management. “It turns out that there is only one person who has minimum academic qualifications as well experience so we may end up not having to interview anybody; we may mend up having to appoint the person but we haven’t come to that point yet,” she told News-Talk Radio Guyana 103.1 FM/ Demerara Waves Online News.

Ms. Shadick said there is urgent need for a new CEO because of a backlog of administrative decisions that have to be made.

She indicated that the three foreigners appeared to be out of the race and a GECOM official, said to be Aneal Giddings, is an Assistant Registration Officer but that s not necessarily considered a senior position. Noting that the opposition Election Commissioners are insisting on the need for 10 years experience, Ms. Shadick said that means that only one applicant is eligible.

However A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC)-aligned Elections Commissioner, Vincent Alexander charged that Mr. Persaud’s tenure as Public Relations Officer could not be considered senior management based on the elections management body’s own organogram. “It is not! It is not! The PRO position is on scale eight, the other persons who are not ‘yellow men’ in our organogram and yellow mem are our senior administrative positions so formally GECOM itself has never described or attributed to that position senior managerial responsibility,” he said. He added that the PRO does not manage electoral systems. He acknowledged that the PPP commissioners were attempting to add Mr. Persaud’s stint as PRO to make up the required 10 years experience.

Mr. Alexander also argued that Mr. Persaud’s three-year stint as DCEO could not add up to 10 years experience. While Mr. Persaud had been PRO, he had worked on Civic and Voter Education but Mr. Alexander countered that “he never occupied that position in a manner that would give the amount of years we are looking forward in terms of experience.”

But Ms. Shadick contended that the PRO is a “commission-appointed” position. “Those are senior positions. What do they want to say?… It also says training in electoral systems and Vishnu has a whole list of training in electoral system so they are on a losing battle trying to discredit him,” she said.

The pro-opposition Elections Commissioner declined to say what would be the next move by himself and colleagues Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman if the Commission goes ahead by a majority and appoints Mr. Persaud even if further checks about the experience prove that they are unsuitable. Mr. Alexander said that normally under such circumstances organisations would re-advertise the post.

Mr. Alexander remarked that the Commission has already taken the position that Mr. Giddings and former St Kitts and Nevis Elections Supervisor, Eugene Petty “may not” meet the criteria for having 10 years experience in elections management. He said more questions have been asked about former Regional Manager of the Electoral Office of Jamaica, Leslie Oliver Harrow, and United States-based Dr. Kurt Clarke. Their full curriculum vitae have since been circulated with the option of seeking more information from those organisations with which they had worked.

Forty-three persons had applied for the post of CEO.

Back in August 2017, when Persaud’s contract had expired as DCEO, padlocks had greeted him on arrival at work and in March 2019, he had been turned down for the same position although he had been regarded as the most qualified. The Commission had instead gone ahead and approved the hiring of  Roxane Myers as the  new CEO. She and Mr. Lowenfield have since had their contracts terminated amid lingering controversy over the declaration of results for the March 2, 2020 general and regional elections.