December 14, 2017

AG Sharma prepared to call in Police if necessary

– if GECOM does not act on report on radio purchases

The special audit into procurement discrepancies at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has progressed to the point where the Audit Office of Guyana (AOG) has submitted its report to officials at the agencies for responses.
But should his office’s findings be swept under the rug, Auditor General Deodat Sharma has no qualms with calling in the Guyana Police Force. This assurance was given by Sharma while speaking to members of the media on Friday.

Auditor General Deodat Sharma

“GECOM (audit) has been completed (and) the report issued to the Commissioners,” Sharma related, adding that “the Audit Act says I can send my report to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) and the police.”
And according to Sharma, this prerogative power will be used and an approach made to the Police if there is inaction on the part of the commissioners who were presented with the report.
According to Part Six, section 38 of the Audit Act of 2004, “If the Auditor General has reason to believe that an offence was committed, he shall request the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Commissioner of Police to take appropriate action and prosecute the offender if necessary.”
GECOM has been thrown into a tailspin by allegations of procurement rackets and press censorship being levelled at it. An audit conducted by the Audit Office of Guyana had found discrepancies, including with GECOM’s purchasing of 50 VHF communication radios for close to G$100 million.
These purchases were made prior to the May 11, 2015 general and regional elections, raising concerns over the extraordinarily high cost of the equipment.
The investigation’s scope had included contracts and inventories in addition to spending for the May 2015 General and Regional Elections.
It is understood that auditors were working from GECOM’s head office in High Street, Kingston. Besides the radios, some of the things that the State’s auditors were looking into were the purchase of a quantity of toners, pliers and batteries.
Based on reports, the radio sets were purchased for use during the 2015 General and Regional Elections, particularly in the outlying regions of Guyana. However, they were never put into use after it was discovered that many of them were not working.
Later, information surfaced that while the electoral body would have collected quotations from a number of suppliers, it handed the contract for the supply of the equipment to Mobile Authority, a company owned by a Water Street, Georgetown businessman.
But media reports later surfaced that some of the equipment purchased were obsolete and were not covered by warranty.
As a matter of fact, sections of the Guyanese media reported that the Australia-based manufacturer, Barrett Communications, through its European office, distanced itself from the purchase. The company made it clear that it had ceased to produce the equipment more than five years ago.
Barrett said it had also tendered through the Advanced Office Systems for the supply of new radio equipment for the 2015 elections; however, GECOM subsequently cancelled the order.
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has been calling for the release of the findings, in addition to questioning the deafening silence of GECOM’s then outgoing Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally, and Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield, on the matter. Both were in power at the Commission when the purchases were made.
But Surujbally has since retired, leaving GECOM headless. And since then, the task of replacing him has been a contentious one, as President David Granger has continuously rejected nominees for the post.
As required by the Constitution, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had submitted to President Granger a second batch of six nominees for the post of Chairman of GECOM in April last, after his first list was rejected. That, too, was rejected, and there is no word from the Government on the status of the third submitted list, except that it is being considered.
In a previous interview with this publication, GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj had said that allegations of corruption and other matters cannot be addressed by the members while GECOM is without a chairman.
“I can tell you that, without a chairman, we cannot have meetings,” Gunraj had said. “And in the absence of those meetings, we have not been receiving updates on anything that is going on at GECOM; absolutely no periodic updates on the finances of GECOM, nothing on the operations side or the audit,” he declared.