Opposition GECOM Commissioners stage walkout after member who probed ethnic diversity in hiring practices ‘prevented from participating’

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The Opposition nominated Commissioners of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on Tuesday walked out of a meeting with the entity’s Chairman after being disallowed from probing the observation that majority of the staff within the Commission are of one ethnic descent.

Justice (retired) James Patterson, was unilaterally appointed Chairman of GECOM by President David Granger

According to a press statement by the three Commissioners- Sase Gunraj, Bibi Shadick and Robeson Benn- on Tuesday, the Chairman of GECOM, James Patterson raised the issue of a public statement made by Benn regarding the ethnic composition of the workforce of the Secretariat of the GECOM.

In responding to the Chairman, Commissioner Benn attempted to justify his assertion and in doing so, pointed out that the perception was that the vast majority of the staff of the Commission were persons of one ethnic descent. The Chairman disputed Commissioner Benn’s claim without offering any evidence to substantiate his position,” the statement said.

Moreover, it was disclosed that Patterson proceeded to prevent Benn from defending his position and when challenged, adjourned the meeting for over half an hour. 

However, it was upon resumption, that Patterson announced that Benn would not be recognized and therefore prevented from participating in the remainder of the meeting. 

Former Minister of Public Works and Opposition Commissioner of GECOM Robeson Benn

“We were therefore forced to walk out of the meeting. We view this as a blatant attempt to censure and muzzle discussion on critical and important issues at the Commission in general and in particular contributions on issues regarding ethnic diversity in hiring practices at the Commission. We have a constitutional mandate to execute and do not serve at the pleasure of the Chairman of the Commission. We hope that this is not an attempt to alter the delicate balance contemplated by the Constitution in the composition of the Commission” the statement from the Opposition nominated Commissioners posited.

Just yesterday (Monday), Executive member of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), Dr Roger Luncheon made several damning allegations against the GECOM, particularly as it relates to the process of selecting staff for various positions within the Commission’s headquarters.

The former Cabinet Secretary said in a statement that it was brought to his attention from several sources that the People’s National Congress (PNC) Commissioners at GECOM are allegedly engaged in a process to eliminate candidates for advertised positions at the GECOM Secretariat.

In addition to that, the former Head of the Presidential Secretariat also alleged that the Commissioners were finding extraneous reasons for eliminating top candidates of Indian origin from appointment to positions at the GECOM Secretariat. He said if these disclosures are confirmed, “it would reveal that the practice continued of excluding some ethnicities from GECOM’s Secretariat.”

“Once confirmed the PPP condemns this practice in the strongest possible terms and will urge the aggrieved candidates to approach the Ethnic Relations Commission on the ground of ethnic discrimination,” Luncheon added.

Vincent Alexander

In a subsequent press conference called by the GECOM Commissioners on the Government side, when asked directly about the ethnic composition of the staffing at GECOM,  Commissioner Vincent Alexander stressed that the ethnic makeup remained the same as previous election years.

However, he could not provide figures to support that information. In fact, Alexander said that the burden of proof lay with the Opposition.

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