Radio sets fiasco
As controversy continues to deepen over a decision by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to purchase 50 defective high frequency radios from a city businessman for a whopping $1.9 million each, leading to an audit over suspected corruption, former Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon distanced the then People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Cabinet from the scandal, making it clear that Cabinet’s role was limited to its “no objection”.
Dr Luncheon’s comment came in light of a claim by GECOM’s Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield, who was quoted in the media as saying that GECOM had nothing to do with the actual procurement of the radio sets, but rather the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) and the PPP/C Administration.
Lowenfield explained that his spending ceiling as CEO is $249,999 and any amount over that has to go through NPTAB and Cabinet.
“Outside of that if it is over 250,000 it goes to National Tender Board, which is the agency responsible for scrutiny and integrity of submissions made by agencies and contractors. We provide to them the contractors and who are shortlisted. Once we hand over to the Board the selection of the provider is with the Board,” he told reporters.
He also stated that prior to the 2015 General and Regional Elections, GECOM was still a budget agency with financial oversight by the Finance Ministry and Dr Luncheon played a pivotal role.
But, Dr Luncheon told Guyana Times that despite Lowenfield’s claims, the procuring agency, in this case, GECOM was responsible for evaluating the bidders and then submitting the shortlisted bidders based on rankings to the NPTAB, thus the CEO could not exculpate himself
“Cabinet has no original role to play in any procurement that is at Cabinet level – that’s over $15 million; the original role is by the procurement entity, in this case GECOM,” Dr Luncheon explained.
In this case, the amount is close to $100 million and according to the former Head of the Presidential Secretariat, the bids would have been opened at the NPTAB.
He explained that the Tender Board would have sent all the bids after they were opened to GECOM for evaluation.
The procurement entity’s top brass, in GECOM’s case, probably the CEO, is assisted by one or two people appointed by the central Tender Board to be the evaluators and they evaluate those responses and then send them back with their recommendations to the central Tender Board. If the central Tender Board sees that the recommendations are consistent with the role and it is the least responsive tendering, they send it to Cabinet for its no objection, Dr Luncheon explained.
The former Head of the Presidential Secretariat was confident that Lowenfield headed the evaluation team that recommended Mobile Authority as the supplier of the radios.
“The evaluation committee I am certain was headed by the CEO. He headed the evaluation committee; he was responsible for submitting the evaluation to the central Tender Board,” Dr Luncheon declared.
He is also confident that the ongoing audit, when completed, will clarify a number of issues.
When contacted, Chief Executive Officer of the NPTAB, Donald De Clou declined to comment.
GECOM earlier this month was caught in a web of corruption allegations surrounding the purchase of the radios from Mobile Authority, a company owned by a Water Street, Georgetown businessman, while sidelining Barrett Communications, the manufacturer of the said radio sets. Barrett subsequently distanced itself from the radio sets and highlighted that it had ceased production of that particular equipment since 2009, six years before they were purchased by GECOM.
Subsequently, reports surfaced that the Commission doled out close to $100 million to M-Tech Business Solutions, another company owned by the same Water Street businessman, this time for the supply of toners used for photocopiers and printers, office furniture and equipment, photo paper and scanners, printing accessories, and even Duracell batteries.
Additionally, the Commission is accused of purchasing a whopping $14 million in nippers from another relative of the same businessman at a whopping $6000 each. The very pliers/nippers are sold in many parts of the city for a mere $600.
Last week, PPP/C GECOM Commissioner Robeson Benn stated that corruption at the electoral body was deep-rooted, with key players at many levels of the organisation. He went on to describe the management of the organisation as “a national disgrace”.
In moving forward, the PPP/C Commissioner stated there needed to be some house cleaning and some heads must roll, the first being the Commission’s Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally.
Surujbally already distanced himself from the controversy, stating that he was not responsible for the financial affairs of the Commission, but rather the CEO.
In March 2014, Lowenfield was appointed CEO.