Lack of quorum stalls finalisation of shortlisting for GECOM’s DCEO

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Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairperson, Retired Justice Claudette Singh was forced to adjourn a meeting on Thursday after only one Opposition-nominated Commissioner turned up.

The meeting was set for the seven-member Commission to finalise the evaluation criteria ahead of Monday’s interview with the two shortlisted candidates for the position of Chief Elections Officer (CEO), former DCEO Vishnu Persaud and former Jamaican election official Leslie Harrow.

Additionally, GECOM was slated to shortlist candidates for the post of Deputy CEO.

However, this could not be done after only Commissioner Vincent Alexander showed up. With the no-show of Alexander’s Opposition-nominated colleagues Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman, the meeting lacked a quorum.

This was revealed by Government-nominated Commissioner Sase Gunraj.

“Only Mr Alexander showed up to the meeting today (Thursday)… So, we didn’t get to do any discussions on the shortlisted DCEO candidates today,” he told Guyana Times.

Last month, four candidates had been shortlisted for the DCEO post – Melanie Marshall, Neil Bacchus, Mohamed Arjoon, and Deodat Persaud. The Commission was expected to discuss and select the final candidates from this list to be interviewed for the post.

Meanwhile, as it relates to the CEO post, Commissioner Gunraj informed this publication on Thursday that they were “going straight to the interviews on Monday”.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the seven-member Commission selected Persaud and Harrow from a group of six shortlisted candidates to be interviewed for the top position at GECOM.

Gunraj had explained that the Commission determined that these two were the most qualified candidates “academically and experience-wise”.

Persaud, who was employed as GECOM’s DCEO from 2014 to 2017, was overlooked for appointment when he sought to return to the position in 2018.

In fact, his non-appointment sparked controversy and even an investigation by the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), which had concluded six months after that he was overlooked and was more qualified than the person who was chosen over him for the position, Roxanne Myers.

On the other hand, news reports in Jamaica revealed that Harrow was up until May employed as Head of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) in Jamaica. He previously served in several junior and senior positions at the Electoral Commission of Jamaica over his 18-year tenure there.

Meanwhile, with the selection of Persaud and Harrow, GECOM Information Technology Manager Aneal Giddings; GECOM Assistant Registration Officer and former ERC Commissioner Deodat Persaud, Dr Kurt Clarke from Texas, and Eugene Godfrey Petty from St Kitts have been removed from the race for the new GECOM CEO.

When GECOM had put out the advertisements to fill these positions in October, over a dozen persons – both local and foreign – had applied for the post of CEO.

Meanwhile, the electoral body is also looking to fill several other key senior positions within the Elections Secretariat including Assistant Chief Elections Officer, Chief Accountant, Legal Officer, Logistics Officer, and Civic and Voter Education Manager.

These posts are being filled following the removal of CEO Keith Lowenfield; his deputy, Roxanne Myers, and Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo. They were on August 12 dismissed from their respective posts at the Elections Commission.

The embattled trio are currently before the courts facing a number of electoral fraud 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.

Lowenfield’s election report claimed that the then governing APNU/AFC coalition garnered 171,825 votes while the then Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) gained 166,343 votes.

How he arrived at those figures is still unknown, since the certified results from the national recount exercise supervised by GECOM and a high-level team from the Caribbean Community (Caricom) showed that the PPP/C won with 233,336 votes while the coalition garnered 217,920.

The recount exercise also proved that Mingo heavily inflated the figures in Region Four (Guyana’s most populated voting district) in favour of the then caretaker APNU/AFC regime – which was defeated by a No-Confidence Motion in December 2018.

Against this backdrop, the three Government-nominated GECOM Commissioners – Gunraj, Manoj Narayan and Bibi Shadick – on June 1, 2021, brought motions calling for the dismissal of Lowenfield, Myers and Mingo.

Following several delays and legal proceedings, the GECOM Chair announced their terminations, after weeks of deliberation on the motions, effective August 18, 2021.