GECOM Commissioner Dr Keshav Mangal yesterday released correspondence showing that Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally had not responded to a long list of concerns about the 2011 general elections that he raised on January 19th, 2012.
In a letter to Stabroek News, Mangal said that he had followed up the correspondence with the Chairman on February 11th, 2013 but there had still been no reply. The release of the correspondence by Mangal, appointed by the government, is a further manifestation of the tension that has gripped the Guyana Elections Commission following the majority decision not to renew the contract of the former Chief Election Officer (CEO), Gocool Boodoo.
Surujbally’s vote with the opposition-appointed commissioners formally ended Boodoo’s quest for a new contract despite support for the CEO from Mangal and the other two government-appointed commissioners. In recent days this has led to a flurry of correspondence and statements from Boodoo and Mangal attacking Surujbally on a series of old matters and also enmeshing a former British High Commissioner to Guyana. ( See letter by Surujbally on page 6.)
According to Mangal’s letter to Surujbally, the Commissioners discussed a number deficiencies and defects at their statutory meetings during the preparation for the November 28, 2011 elections, and on Election Day during compilation, tabulation and transmission of results.
Mangal said that the Secretariat failed to provide the Commission with list of personnel for possible appointment as Presiding Officers (P.O.) and other Polling Day Staff for their advice and approval by Commission as required by law “in spite of repeated requests and assurances that it would be done.”
The Secretariat, he said, failed to provide the Commission and political parties with the list of places selected for polling places and any last minute changes in a timely manner.
He said that the Secretariat failed to educate polling day staff fully on the Second Folio to be provided for use by Party Polling Agents and the refusal by some P.O’s to make this available to Party Polling Agents. He said that the Secretariat failed to insert the above Folio in the Training Manuals in spite of repeated requests and assurances by Secretariat that this would be done as an addendum.
Further, Mangal said that the Secretariat failed to respond to all applications for training and employment as polling day staff and there were inconsistencies in marking and selection of polling day staff. He said that there was movement of staff at the last minute from areas they were familiar with, and replacement by others from other areas leading to possible difficulties with electors and possible disenfranchisement.
According to Mangal, the Secretariat failed to respond to queries by Commissioners as to reasons why some applicants for training were not invited “even though some had all the necessary qualifications and may have worked before.”
He said too that there a failure of supervisors to attend at appointed times to swear in selected staff to work on Polling Day and replacement by others, including GECOM staff to work on Polling Day.
He added that there were “gross irregularities in use of Proxy applications and glaring and unlawful practices in granting of Proxy applications and failure to fully investigate same as was reported by a Political Party when this was a Commission decision.”
Mangal accused the GECOM Secretariat of providing inconsistent advice to Polling Officers that accredited Party candidates may relieve their Polling Agents during Polling Day and at the count. He also spoke of the absence of “Oath of Identity Forms” etc. at some polling places, when the Commission was assured that there was a check list in use during packing of ballot boxes for dispatch. He said that there were mix ups up in placement of ballot box covers on some ballot boxes by GECOM staff leading to incorrect Polling Division Nos being written on the Statements of Poll (SOP). He said too that the serial numbers on ballot boxes were written on the SOP instead of polling division numbers.
Mangal accused the Logistics Officer of refusing to provide the Commission with the procedure for the transmission of the SOP to the Deputy Returning Officer (DRO), Returning Officer (RO) and Command Centre – in spite of repeated requests at many Commission meetings. He accused the Secretariat of “inadequate advice to Commissioners on all procedures relevant to receipt of SOP’s at Command Centre, scanning procedures and delivery to the Chief Election Officer, “and of the removal of the R.O. for Region 4 – Mr. Mohabir and replacement by Mr. Ramlall at the last minute mainly by coercive method by the Chairman to satisfy external forces when both Chairman and Senior Secretariat staff were previously in full support of Mr. Mohabir – as clearly noted in our Statutory Minutes – and leading to confusion in the largest Region.”
Said Mangal, “In this regard I reported to the Full Commission that Mr. Mohabir had revealed to me that he was asked to sign an undated letter of resignation to the Chairman and when I explained to him that he was not employed by the Chairman, he subsequently wrote another letter of resignation to the Chief Election Officer as R.O. for Region 4. It is now relevant to find out whether Mr. Mohabir is still employed at GECOM, and in what capacity and what his emoluments are. The pay sheets must have this information.”
He also pointed to the departure from agreed procedures for release of preliminary results from SOPs to the Media Centre without consultation with Commissioners and of departure from the usual practice for storage of Containers with doors adjacent to prevent entry as was done in previous Elections and resulting in breaches of containers at Coldingen – and seriously undermining the integrity of sensitive election materials.
“As a result of the above observations and as I stated at our Statutory meeting held on January 17, 2012, I therefore wish to disassociate myself from your own statement as in para 2.3 of our Statutory Minutes dated 20th December, 2011 namely “the best elections ever” – and which I expect will not be omitted from our Minutes,” said Mangal, addressing Chairman Surujbally.
The continuing acrimony portends bruising battles at the Commission at a time when decisions may soon be taken about local government elections and amid calls for a revamping of GECOM itself.