GECOM’s Lowenfield grilled over pliers purchase, contract splitting

The Chief Election Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) was called upon on Monday to answer questions on overpayments and procurement at the organization, the latter including the splitting of an $82 million contract and justification for the purchase of nearly $15 million worth of pliers.

According to the Auditor General’s 2015 report, an examination of records found that a request for quotations was sent for high leverage, diagonal cutting pliers and narrow head, diagonal pliers. Quotations were seen from the four suppliers for six 5/16 inches narrow head, diagonal pliers and the lowest bidder was awarded the contract by the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) on April 2015, the report said.

Keith Lowenfield

According to the prices quoted by CEO Keith Lowenfield, the unit prices they received from the respective wholesalers were $6,195 from Standard Distributors,   $9,000 from Fix It Hardware, $9,000 from Kanhai’s Guyana Electrical and $13,420 from National Hardware Guyana Ltd.

Responding to PAC member Nigel Dharamlall’s query as to why so much money was spent on pliers, Lowenfield said that the pliers are used to open ballot boxes to prevent the tops of the boxes from being damaged as was the case in the past.

He stated that the purchases were made in 2006 and 2011, as decisions were taken then to “ensure that each presiding officer across the spectrum on polling day would have a kit”. Lowenfield assured that no new pliers were purchased for use during local government elections in 2016, as the ones bought during the aforementioned years were used.

This matter is currently under investigation by the Auditor General.

Contract splitting

Dharamlall also called out the CEO on contract splitting, asking him to relate to the committee why the procurement rules were breached in the purchase of $82 million worth of cartridges and toners from contractor MT Business Solutions.

Lowenfield explained that the items were procured during the elections period, noting that if items are not acquired within a specified time frame, it can have implications on the process and so they “do not lump the acquisition of materials required for the satisfaction of a sub-activity into the whole because of risks”.

“CEO, are you aware that you have actually broken the law? The procurement act is a law. Are you making an excuse that your critical path made you?” Dharamlall asked the CEO.

Lowenfield quickly dismissed this as his intention, stating that they had received approval for all of the contracts by the NPTAB and had satisfied the criteria, to which Dharmlall responded, “no they didn’t”.

Committee Chairman Irfaan Ali pointed out to Lowenfield that as highlighted in the AG’s report, all procurements exceeding $15 million in value need to be reviewed by  Cabinet, and he charged that the contracts were intentionally split to avoid Cabinet scrutiny.

According to the report, the nine contracts were awarded between February and May 2015, with full payments being made to the contractor. In some instances, several transactions were made in one day, for example, $29,688,000 on February 3, and $25,598,000 on May 21.

The Auditor General is currently conducting an investigation into the matter.

Meanwhile, having overpaid a contractor by $231,492 for the construction of a fence at the GECOM office located at Charity, Essequibo, Lowenfield was admonished for not following through on a promise to take legal action against the contractor.

According to the AG’s report, the contract had been worth $3.209 million but after physical measurements of the fence, the overpayment was found.

The CEO had told the PAC that the contractor had promised to “faithfully” make the payment but had not. As such, a letter dated April 13, 2017 was sent to him, giving him seven days to make the payment. He stated that after the period would have passed, he directed GECOM’s lawyer Roysdale Forde to take action against him, but said the contractor appears to be out of the jurisdiction.

“…you cannot continue like this Mr Lowenfield. You are responsible, you are before PAC, you are the accounting officer. You said that you wrote the man and gave him seven days…that takes you to April the 20th, we’re now in June. This man is not taking you seriously anymore,” Ali said.

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