One of former Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield’s final acts before he was sent on leave and ultimately fired from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) was to renew the contract of his personal assistant for another three years, an act that has raised eyebrows at the electoral body since it reportedly did not followed protocol.
Reliable sources have informed this publication that the contract of Lowenfield’s Personal Assistant Duarte Hetsberger, who was arrested last year during the police probe into electoral fraud, was supposed to end on December 8, 2021.
Instead, Lowenfield renewed Hetsberger’s contract in June of this year, shortly before proceeding on leave even as the Commission debated his own job. Lowenfield’s contract was subsequently terminated on August 12, 2021, along with his Deputy Roxanne Myers and Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo.
In an interview with this publication on Wednesday, GECOM Commissioner Bibi Shadick expressed the view that the renewal of Hetsberger contract is void. According to her, it breaches a contractual stipulation that requires contracted employees to give notice of their intent to renew their contract three months before it is supposed to expires.
“The CEO knew he was going to have to leave. He couldn’t do the things he’s done, charges laid. What reason would Keith Lowenfield have to renew Hetsberger’s contract as personal assistant for three years?” she questioned.
“Not all contracts have a clause, which says three months before your end of contract the contracted officer will indicate in writing his interest in continuing in the job, at which time things kick in. Evaluations done. That hasn’t happened. The man has a new contract and the expiry date of the new contract is December 8, 2024.”
According to Shadick, she has not even seen evidence to indicate that Hetsberger formally requested the renewal of his contract. The Commissioner explained that Hetsberger’s contract formed part of the commission’s discussions on Tuesday. She vowed that she would continue to probe the matter and find out what else Lowenfield was up to clandestinely.
“I am going to continue speaking. And I am going to continue trying to find out. Because I had asked for documents before. And I only got them for yesterday’s (Tuesday) meeting… as far as I’m concerned, Mr. Hetsberger is the personal assistant to someone who no longer (works) at GECOM,” Shadick said.
Efforts to contact Lowenfield for a comment on the issue proved futile.
Following several delays and legal proceedings, Lowenfield, Myers, and Mingo, were on August 12 dismissed from their respective posts at the GECOM following a vote by the seven-member Commission.
In a statement announcing the terminations, which she said came after weeks of deliberation on the motions, GECOM Chair, Justice Claudette Singh, indicated that the services of Lowenfield, Myers and Mingo will be terminated effective August 18, 2021, and they would be compensated in accordance with provisions in their contracts.
To this end, Justice Singh disclosed that CEO Lowenfield was dismissed via Clause 9 of his contract, which stipulates that his services can be terminated by giving him three months’ notice, or payment in lieu thereof.
Regarding the DCEO and the RO, their contracts similarly state that the Commission may, at any time, terminate their employment by giving them three months’ notice or payment in lieu thereof.
Gunraj and his fellow Government-nominated Commissioners Bibi Shadick and Manoj Narayan, on June 1, 2021 had brought motions calling for the dismissal of Lowenfield, Myers and Mingo from GECOM.
The trio are before the courts for a number of electoral charges for their alleged attempts to sway the results of the March 2020 General and Regional Elections in favour of the then ruling A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government.
Hetsberger were among the electoral officials who were investigated in this regard, although he has not been charged.