LETTER: Integrity testing needed at GECOM


Dear Editor,
One of the most important institutions in our country is the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). It has a great responsibility to not only hold free and fair elections, but it must also appear to be fair in the conduct of its business. In this regard, it is one of the most important institutions for the continuation of Guyana on a democratic path. While free and fair elections alone are not total democracy, it is at the heart of all democratic societies.
It has to instil confidence in the people of our country that it is discharging its functions without fear or favour.
Our people and the world should be assured by the conduct of the elections and GECOM’s day to day work that everything is above board and that elections are unquestionable.
Therefore, I would say that those who work in that institution carry an enormous national responsibility. It is expected that our national interests should come before personal political preferences. In a word, we need patriotic persons there.
These persons would determine if our country will move forward or go into another regression, as happened during the 1970s and 1980s, when Guyana was regarded as being undemocratic and even dictatorial. Our country has proven that there is a direct link between socio-economic progress and political democracy.
However, there are important cases where the attitude of GECOM’s Secretariat puts into question the ability of this organisation, as is presently composed, to discharge such a critical national function.
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) has put an elections petition to the court questioning the conduct of the May 2015 General and Regional Elections. Persons would recall that the A Partnership for National Unity was declared the ‘winner’ by a very small margin.
In most other democracies in the world, a recount would have been automatic. GECOM denied the requested recount. Even in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni), where a small amount of votes had to be counted, the PPP/C’s request for a recount of the votes there, where it ‘lost’ the parliamentary seat by one vote, was denied.
The PPP/C, in a meeting with GECOM before the declaration of the results, asked that at least 22 boxes be recounted.  This would have taken about two hours at the most. GECOM agreed to do the recount, but never did.
When the elections petition was put in court, one would have expected that GECOM, more than any other body, would have been anxious to prove the PPP/C wrong and to vindicate itself. Not so!
GECOM, through its Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, did everything to frustrate the court’s hearing of the petition. It went to court trying to get the PPP/C petition thrown out without a hearing. This action alone must raise suspicions as to why GECOM would not want the petition to be heard after a refusal of a recount!
Indeed, it is in GECOM’s interest to have that done. One cannot help asking what do they have to hide?
As if that alone was not enough to taint GECOM’s reputation, we see the other charges of massive corruption reportedly taking place at GECOM.
The media recently reported on the huge amount of toners brought by GECOM for millions were not used. We have also learnt, via the media, that millions more were spent on radios; again, not used. In these reports there is the strong suggestion of deals and kickbacks. Large amounts of batteries which were purchased at inflated prices are still on hand at GECOM.
It is probably why GECOM pushed the Cabinet, very late into the elections process, to buy ‘emergency’ supplies. Just to find out that the things that were brought under emergency, close to the elections, were not necessary because they were never used.
The media also reported earlier of tools and other items brought in large quantities at very high prices. Most were never used.
Alarmingly too, officials at GECOM were either hiding from the press or refused to comment.
GECOM staff is one of the best paid in the public service. One would expect the highest levels of integrity from persons working in this vital national institution.
Personal and professional integrity are important for employment there.
It is, therefore, unfortunate to hear that the names of top officials are being implicated in what appears to be a multimillion-dollar fraud.
I am sure that the thought going through people’s minds is that if we find corruption of that sort at such an institution and at such high levels, then it’s not a big step for such persons to participate in rigging of elections. This can do real harm to public confidence. Confidence of the public is vital for GECOM’s functions.
This type of behaviour would put election results into question.
Clearly, the nature and importance of GECOM is so great that integrity testing must be used on GECOM staff. This is important to know so that we have people with clean hands and persons who would act professionally at elections time.

Donald Ramotar
Former President



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