It is the Chief Election Officer not the IT section that has the legal responsibility to ‘ascertain’ the results of an election

Dear Editor,

In reference to the letter under the name of Mr Gocool Boodoo, former Chief Election Officer (Stabroek News of Monday, July 29), it is incumbent upon me as Public Relations Officer of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to respond to those issues which are classified as technical/official and not the accusations which relate to Dr Steve Surujbally, Chairman of the Commission. Accordingly, please note the following:-

 

Declaration of the results

Mr Boodoo’s letter states that the fact of the matter is that the results presented to the Commission for ratification were what was presented to him by the Information Technology Section. This did not happen. Here is what is written in a document which is titled ‘Procedure for the Ascertainment of the Election Results – General and Regional Elections 2011,’ and signed by Mr Boodoo on 26.09.2011:-

Source: Representation of the People Act, Cap. 1:03; Sec. 96

(1) The Chief Election Officer shall, after calculating the total number of valid votes of electors which have been cast by each list of candidates, on the basis of the votes counted and the information furnished by returning officers under Section 84 (11), ascertain the result of the election in accordance with Section 97 (Allocation of Seats) and 98 (Membership of the National Assembly).

(2) The Chief Election Officer shall prepare a report manually and in electronic form in terms of Section 99 for the benefit of the Commission, which shall be the basis for the Commission to declare and publish the election results under Section 99 (Declaration of the Results).”

It must therefore be unambiguously clear that the Chief Election Officer, in this case Mr Boodoo, had the legal responsibility to “ascertain” the results of the election. Definitely not the IT Section. Further, the IT Manager has stated categorically that he had no role in the preparation or calculation of the results which were presented to the Commission by Mr Boodoo for ratification.

 

Publication of vacancy for information technology manager

The Commission had instructed Mr Boodoo to publish the vacancy for IT Manager in the Economist and in the Caribbean.

Mr Boodoo was asked at least twice during subsequent Statutory Meetings of the Commission whether the vacancy was published as instructed and he misled the Commission by replying in the affirmative. Mr Boodoo reported to the Commission that the vacancy was advertised specifically in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados (Minutes of the 381stStatutory Meeting). This never took place.

At the 382nd Meeting, Mr Boodoo was again instructed by the Commission to advertise the vacancy for an IT Manager in Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica and in the Economist. Again this never took place. However, at the 383rd Meeting, Mr Boodoo reported that the cost for advertising in the Economist was in the vicinity of $200,000 per publication and the Commissioners felt that this was too expensive. The Commission was never informed that a cheque had actually already been prepared to pay for this. The Commission never withdrew its instruction for the vacancy to be published overseas and always held the view that this was done based on what Mr Boodoo reported when asked specifically.

 

The issue of toners

Mr Boodoo claims that the report on the internal investigation into the appearance of two new toners in printers at GECOM pointed to a particular person and was “ducked for obvious reasons.” This was at a time when GECOM needed toners to commence the production of ID cards, but had none in stock. Consequently, efforts were being made to purchase new toners at exorbitant prices. The Commission intervened by stopping the purchase and sought and received permission to purchase the toners overseas. Suddenly thereafter, two toners appeared in two printers in GECOM’s ID Production Section.

GECOM’s Chief Security Officer was mandated by the Commission to conduct an internal investigation pertaining to the sudden emergence of the two new toners.

The report did not identify anyone as being responsible for the placement of the toners in the printers nor was the report ever ducked. The report was shared with Mr Boodoo and all of the members of the Commission.

Here is essentially what is documented in the 3rd paragraph of page 12 of the report on the internal investigations:-

“It is the view of the investigator that some person or persons unknown outside of the ID Production Section, collaborated with someone within the Section to clandestinely plant the toners in the printers… The motive for doing so is unclear.”

The members of the Commission were clearly disappointed that the report on this matter did not find anyone culpable.

In view of the foregoing on this matter, it is obvious that the report did not point to anyone, nor was it “ducked.”

 

The issue of films

Mr Boodoo asked that Dr Surujbally tell the nation about the $31 million worth of films provided to a local firm based on a contract which was a two-paragraph document in favour of the company. This request insinuates that Dr Surujbally was in some way involved in some kind of skullduggery associated with this matter. The following would dispel this implication.

At the 174th Statutory Meeting of Tuesday, March 20, 2007, while Mr Boodoo was on leave, the Commission learnt for the very first time via Mr Calvin Benn– then CEO (ag), that the Secretariat was in possession of about 90 cartons of film valued at about G$35 million. This film had been purchased from ACME with the expiry date of April, 2007. He said that he had requested of ACME that the company should repossess the film for resale and that when the need arose, GECOM could be compensated by way of ACME replenishing the stock of film. Further, Mr Benn pointed out that the CEO had imposed a penalty of in excess of G$2 million on ACME for failure to supply some specific items for the 2006 elections. He said that ACME had indicated a willingness to retake possession of the film, but that it was requesting that the penalty be waived.

Mr Benn acknowledged that the film, because of its nearness to expiry, would have to be sold at reduced cost with the result being that less than 90 cartons would be returned to GECOM. Mr Williams suggested that a GECOM team comprising members of the Secretariat and Commission meet with ACME to flesh out a mutually favourable arrangement regarding the situation outlined by Mr Benn.

The Commission agreed that the team would comprise Commissioner Robert Williams, Mr Calvin Benn and Mr Tyrone Semple, Administrative Manager. Mr Williams’s nomination to act on behalf of the Commission stemmed from his cordial relationship with the management of ACME in his position of Deputy Mayor of Georgetown.

This was a Commission, and not a Surujbally, decision which led to GECOM entering into an agreement with ACME to return the film to ACME to avoid loss by expiry. As with all matters relating to GECOM assets, the Chairman has had no involvement. It is essential to note that the Chief Election Officer is the Accounting Officer and the custodian of GECOM assets.

The agreement between GECOM and ACME provided for the film to be returned to the ACME Photo Studio for resale before expiry. GECOM was entitled to claim replacement film from ACME or any other material(s) being offered for sale by ACME Photo Studio which could be used by GECOM, providing the Commission paid the applicable VAT. The contract did not provide for cash to be refunded to GECOM with respect to the resale of the Polaroid film. The agreement with ACME Photo Studio was arranged in good faith with input from Commissioner Williams.

At the 214th Statutory Meeting of Tuesday March 18, 2008, Mr Boodoo reported to the Commission that ACME had managed to sell $8.1 million worth of the film which GECOM had returned to this company with the understanding that the Commission could access necessary items like printer toners, etc, to this value from the company, in keeping with the agreement between GECOM and ACME. It was later reported that a letter dated 03.09.2007, from ACME General Store as written to the CEO delineating the details associated with the Polaroid film that was returned by GECOM to this company and showing that GECOM at that time actually had a credit of $8,069,600.

At the 241st Statutory Meeting of February 17, 2009, Mr Boodoo reported that internal calculations had revealed that ACME Photo Studio owed GECOM more money than the amount this company had admitted to being liable for. He said that correspondence had been dispatched to ACME indicating the actual amount owed, requesting that the company’s records be adjusted accordingly, and that the money be paid to the Commission.

At the 241st Statutory Meeting of February 25, 2009, Mr Boodoo reported that he had no new information from ACME Photo Studio regarding the outstanding money this company owed GECOM. He undertook to follow up this matter to bring it to satisfactory closure ‒ to no avail.

GECOM had considered instituting legal proceedings against ACME to recover the total value this company owed the Commission, but was advised by Mr Boodoo to stay this course of action and that he would try to negotiate with ACME. After this failed GECOM again, in 2012 considered taking legal action against ACME, but was advised by lawyers that the time for so doing had elapsed.

It is important to note that ACME General Store wrote a letter dated 4thMay, 2007, and captioned ‘Proposal for the sale of Polaroid 669 films’ to Mr Boodoo, detailing the status of the films returned to this company to be “salvaged to the loss of dead stock due to their limited shelf life.”

The letter provides information on (i) the amount of films which had already been resold, (ii) stocks which were classified as damaged, (iii) expired films, (iv) remaining films, and (v) value that would be applied to GECOM as credit in regard to films already and about to be sold. Further, the last paragraph invited Mr Boodoo to confirm the outlined details by signing on the document (the letter) in the space provided for him to so do. Mr Boodoo signed the letter so confirming, and applied his official stamp thereon.

This is a matter of which the Ministry of Finance, the Auditor General’s Office and the Public Accounts Committee is aware.

All of the above is authentic and verifiable from the relevant records at GECOM.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Persaud
Guyana Elections Commission

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