Local Government and You

By Neil Kumar along with Mr. S and Mr.A

The March 2017 exit of Dr. Steve Surujbally from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) came suddenly and swiftly given his previous indicated resignation, but, further questionable prolonged accommodation by the APNU/AFC Government. The disquieting departure after this troubled tenure leaves most Guyanese and many staff members of the organization with more questions than answers.
After months of written and other public protestations by the main opposition PPP/C and other citizens, the justified demonstrations, which stressed a significant lack of confidence in Surujbally as GECOM’s Chairman, bore fruit around September 2016. He announced his intent to use up outstanding accumulated annual leave, following which, his impending resignation would become effective.

The then proposed departure date was November 30, 2016.

However, even amidst the tremors of the falsified elections results evidenced by the existence of: false Statements of Poll (SOPs); improper conduct by some GECOM staff; the ongoing court matter; as well as the ongoing audit, which indicates many improper undertakings, President Granger requested and authorized that Surujbally stay on to facilitate a ‘smooth transition’.

Transition to what is the obvious question.

So far, there is a frivolous rejection by Granger, of the List of Nominees recommended by the Opposition Leader in keeping with Section 161 of the Constitution. At the same time, there is no evidence that Surujbally’s continued presence at the Commission, even during his period of annual vacation leave and thereafter, was of any national benefit. Even the members of staff at GECOM were suspiciously alarmed as to why he was visiting the Office so frequently; and for such extended periods; along with the Chief Executive Officer, Keith Lowenfield who was also on leave.

The full explanations may never be willingly made available publicly as to the full nature of these engagements. However, reliable sources and other public media have provided earth shattering news about the millions of taxpayers’ dollars lost through theft and the serious level of corruption at GECOM office. It is also clearer now that a genuine effort to cover-up by removing the evidence of many frauds is being accommodated, perhaps as part of the payback scheme.

The scandalous situation is beyond imagination!

Worse of all is the employment of staff chosen to work during the run-ins periods by the notorious GECOM Secretariat. The organization stinks of nepotism, favoritism and a majority race employment of known PNC hawks.
At the same time, issues related to the padding of the pay-roll at GECOM are daily accusations and recurrent discussions by staff and the populace at large; which evidences a misuse of, and the blatant hiding by the GECOM principals, behind the autonomy granted under the constitution.

The situation affirms the vicious assault being perambulated through a deliberately weakened financial accountability system. One lacking sufficiently appropriate oversights and counterchecks under the leadership of Surujbally and Lowenfield. It is notable that some senior staff members are calling for a full accountable list of all the persons who were employed during the continuous registration periods, and moreso, the full list of the staff that were employed during the 2015 General and Regional Elections and the 2016 Local Government Elections.

In the context, the Auditor General’s report must in addition to the other discovered deficiencies, focus on the heavily padded payroll as there are many indicators that millions of dollars were siphoned off to the political crones. The facts indicate that GECOM staffs were not only involved in blatant rigging of elections, but many are implicated in other improprieties. This position is supported by information received which suggests that expenditures were inconsistent with what was purchased and what were received by the organization.

The deceptive position of ‘Information Clerks’ to Polling Stations, was created under the pretext of the necessity for advising and guiding electors, as well as providing information on the respective Polling Stations, where such persons should go to cast their ballots. Instead, and too frequently, most of those assigned as Information Clerks, were puppets of the APNU/AFC, who manipulatively, were positioned to deliberately misguide, misinform and frustrate electors into not casting their ballots, especially in PPP stronghold areas.

These violations are intolerable and the audit should also pronounce on GECOM’s staffing functionality, both permanent and temporary, for which the names, qualifications and background must be made available for scrutiny. In addition, those that were connected to the recent, mass misappropriation and procurement violations must also be revealed and the necessary disciplinary action pursued.

It is also the view of this column that Surujbally’s lapses along with the Chief Elections Officer have intimately contributed to this debacle, and in the case of the latter, he should be asked to resign; and or face prosecution over the unaccountability saga that had left GECOM as the most embarrassing institution in this Country.

Surujbally, in an interview prior to his parting speech, had praised the staff of GECOM and referred to some as his close friends. His praises highlight the old adage “show me your friends and I will tell you who you are”, which is most applicable to his bunch of fraudsters and election riggers.

Indeed, the disclaimers were proffered by both Surujbally and Lowenfield against any wrongdoing or involvement in the observed malpractices which occurred at GECOM.

In the circumstances, where they both have the highest functional responsibility in the running of the organization, could they be believed?

Your guess is as good as mine!

It is irrational that as the functional heads in charge of GECOM, such lack of awareness regarding the operations as claimed would have been allowed. If not then what were they managing?

Outcries of ignorance in this case tilt the scale many times over the incompetence balances. Guyana cannot afford to burden the future of our citizens and country with such worthless administrators.

Remedying GECOM must commence with appointing strong untarnished and trustworthy leadership.
Surujbally has departed and so must Lowenfield.

The exposure of the situation at GECOM in respect to corruption must have been the root cause why Dr. Surujbally had decided to leave GECOM. Although he tried to present the image that his departure was of his own call, the perhaps largest political showdown loomed as to the necessity for his removal. What the situation ultimately confirms is that albeit the existing legislation, no one should be allowed such power without a leash of appropriate audits and counterchecks.

Notwithstanding, prior to his historic departure and having refused to call any Commission meetings to discuss matters of more significance and importance, he unsurprisingly called a special meeting to endorse and renewed the employment contract of Lowenfield. It is a vindictive attempt at driving nails in the coffins of all who objected to him and to leave a cover over his many improprieties. It is one that even Surujbally knows would not last and the power of the people will ultimately prevail.

Finally, in the interest of transparency and balance, the matter of GECOM staff recruitment at both the permanent and temporary levels, must be returned as a Commission function and not a Secretariat function as was allowed to happen during the Surujbally’s tenure at GECOM.

Further, the Secretariat and Lowenfield has continuously failed the nation by pursuing a recruitment drive which targets hiring persons of partisan politics and exclusively of one ethnic background who are mainly supporters of the APNU/AFC.

Yet, Surujbally has paved the way for Lowenfield to continue at GECOM as the Chief Election Officer.

Is he really a loyalist to our county or a related friend indeed to Lowenfield?

These relationships on every occasion MUST be delinked as accountability and transparency requirements in this critical organization. Paybacks and dark secrets must have no bearings.

Our citizens call for the APNU/AFC Government to establish the Local Government Commission NOW.