BY: NEIL KUMAR
The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) as a constitutional Agency, is subjected to being audited by the Audit Office of Guyana. The Auditor-General Mr Deodat Sharma must be allowed to do his work and his recommendations enforced for accountability, and enforce necessary sanctions where they provide overwhelming evidence of corruption. The role of the Auditor MUST not be diminished and if it was appropriately acted on in the case of the GECOM Secretariat, would have saved Guyana from the emerged threatening and embarrassing March to August 2020 fiasco.
The GECOM Secretariat since 2014 was increasingly criticized for a less than candid approach to procurement and operational matters, and it was proved to be a nest of corruption and distrust leading up to, and following March 02, 2020, General and Regional Elections. The ignored signals were camouflaged by former President Mr. Granger’s pretense of respect for the constitutional autonomy of the organization, while his party’s henchmen wreaked havoc. It created a situation which perilously threatened national civility and all democratic rights, which MUST no longer be ignored. Our citizens demand an immediate restructuring of the legal operation basis, and a forensic cleansing that will disembowel the cancerous agents exposed through the X-rays of the recount and accompanying sequence of events.
The Audit report for 2014 raises some very serious queries of damming corruption and breach of procedures, to which the Chief Executive Officer Keith Lowenfield has flagrantly and bluntly refused to respond. It was an alarming signal evidencing a glaring abuse of positional authority and a quite troubling indicator of what should never occur in an institution which pillars, ought to have been grounded on transparency, trust, and accountability. Indeed, a conundrum of inaction against the conflict was created by the loud silence of the then APNU/AFC Government in the apparent advancement of rewards for their intended surreptitious rigging attempts.
There is no doubt that the foregoing framework and actions, served the mushrooming explosion of the most unacceptable public behavior from a GECOM Chief Executive Officer, in the history of the organization hosting of Elections. This has realized a need for urgent deterring actions, that are necessary to halt further and future questions against evidential damming likeliness of corruption. GECOM since 2014, was appropriated over Twenty billion dollars from the Parliament. In preparation for the 2015 General and Regional Elections, approximately one Billion dollars was spent on purchasing equipment and flimsy Capital works.
An overview of the emerged conflicts between the Audit Office and the GECOM, highlights many areas of lack of cooperation with the Auditors while prepared response Statements were shelving as Lowenfield refused to answer. The serious Political interference by David Granger further confounded matters when he unilaterally appointed James Patterson as the Chairman of GECOM. The Auditor-General’s request for the Chairman of GECOM James Patterson to assist his Office in getting Mr. Lowenfield to provide reasonable answers to the queries, was met with a rude referral to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). To date the numerous thieving questions, remain unanswered and Mr. Lowenfield behaviour has become more unacceptable for a person holding the sacrosanct office to Chairman of the Elections Commission.
The GECOM status on accountability since 2014 remains deficient and must be put above board as taxpayers’ monies are being spent. In 2015 and 2016, the GECOM Secretariat did not respond to the queries referred by the Auditors while in 2017 and 2018 there were no audits conducted. It is of serious note that a rollover of expenditure from 2018 was reported in 2019. Compounding matters is that in 2018 GECOM spent One hundred and $48M and another $586M on Capital works in 2019. These spending must be properly verified given that the Parliament in 2019, was told that there were G$ B 4.239 billion dollars rollover while a further G$ 3.9 billion were further appropriated to GECOM.
It is extremely serious that GECOM bond and by extension Stocks were not allowed to be audited for years. This is because the CEO Lowenfield refused to give permission for the necessary verifications. As such, the Auditor-General’s Office may have to give a “disclaimer” in respect to the millions of dollars of stocks that were bought and never accounted for regarding Stationary, black ‘Water’ tanks, plyers, Cameras, Paint, and many other items.
Information received indicate that on December 31, 2019, GECOM issued 37 cheques totaling a sum of $86.2 million dollars including $37M spent on media matters. On January 03, 2020, GECOM a further two hundred and fifty-eight cheques totaling a massive sum of Five hundred and sixty million dollars was also issued. At the same time, there have been reports of massive spending at the organization paying ‘Phantom staff”. It is now imperative that we see the verification of the staff and their work clearing up all the dubious employment and suspicious practices.
Let the forensic Audit begin now! The Guyanese people deserves better!