Call in the police

-Auditor General’s Office says after probe of GECOM radios purchase

-majority of equipment not in use up to last September

A special investigation by the Office of the Auditor General of GECOM’s purchase of 50 radio sets for the 2015 general elections has revealed procurement breaches among a host of other problems and a recommendation was made for the police to be called in for an in-depth probe and criminal charges if necessary.

To make matters worse, the $99.5m sets were taken possession of just days before the May 11th 2015 general elections and up to September 14 last year, 88% of the sets were yet to be used. The administrative procedures employed by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) for the purchase of the sets appeared to favour Mobile Authority though another interested supplier had the most responsive bid.

Though it had proceeded to procure the 50 radio sets from Mobile Authority, GECOM then entered another arrangement with the United Nations Development Programme for the supply of 12 satellite phones on the grounds that “security reasons” prevented the use of the 50 radio sets on election day.

GECOM disputed the majority of the findings in the report including that the police should be called in.

A Barrett radio

According to the audit report which was submitted to Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield on Monday and which was seen by Stabroek News, the special investigation had its genesis in August 2016, when the audit office’s team noticed discrepancies as it related to the purchase of High Frequency (HF) radios. The matter was drawn to the attention of the Auditor General Deodat Sharma who instructed that a special investigation be done covering the period January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2015.

Damning conclusions were made by the team.

It found that only five of the 50 radio sets were issued before the 2015 general elections. Forty-five sets (fifteen Barrett and thirty ICOM) valued at around $89.6m were not used for the general elections.

Further, up to the time of the Audit Office’s inspection of the radio sets in September 2016, 44 radio sets (15 Barrett and 29 ICOMs) valued at $87.6m were yet to be used by GECOM. This would mean that they were also not employed at the March 2016 local government elections which were held countrywide.

Six of the radio sets purchased from Mobile Authority and valued at around $11.9m were inoperable as at September, 2016.

The audit team also found that GECOM did not utilize public tendering for the purchase of the radio sets as it cited time constraints. Nevertheless, 88% of the sets were not used in either the 2015 general elections or the 2016 local government elections.

According to the report, requests for quotations (RFQ) were sent out by the Administrative Department of GECOM to three suppliers for the supply of 50 HF Barrett radios.  However, the administrative department of GECOM recommended the award of the contract to Mobile Authority which had quoted on April 16, 2015 for two different brands and three types of radios, in contravention of the RFQ. Another bidder, Advance Office Systems Inc had complied fully  with the RFQ on April 15, 2015 but was not selected. The special investigation report said that the GECOM Administrative Manager said that the recommendation was based on the lowest contract price and not the types or brand of radios. The third bidder was Massy Technologies whose quotation was dated a year earlier, 21 April, 2014, a conundrum the audit office was unable to resolve during the investigation.

In addition, the audit team determined that GECOM sought approval from the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB)  for the use of selective tendering but only after it had sought quotations from the suppliers and even evaluated them. “This is a breach of the procurement process”, the report declared.

Since the contract with Mobile Authority for the supply of radio sets was signed a mere six days before the 2015 general elections, it would have been impractical to use the radios as purchased, the report pointed out. It added that the functions of examining payment vouchers and releasing payments in IFMAS (Integrated Financial Management and Accounting System) was done by the same person. “This is seen as a weak internal control mechanism”, the auditor general’s report contended.

The recommendations that were then made by the Office of the Auditor General were as follows:

  1. a) Internal control systems be strengthened particularly as it relates to the examination of payment vouchers and the release of payments in IFMAS;
  2. b) Appropriate disciplinary action be taken against any culpable officer/s for negligence/wrongdoing;
  3. c) The Guyana Police Force should be called in to do an indepth probe.

 

GECOM’s response to these recommendations was that the observation in relation to internal control systems was incorrect but notwithstanding this a complete review of internal control systems had been initiated.

Further, GECOM said that it had been poised to take appropriate disciplinary action against any officer found culpable but could find no aspect in the report where this was warranted.

GECOM said given its assessment and the lack of evidence to take any further internal action, “it would be incomprehensible for us to engage the Guyana Police Force to pursue criminal indictments”.

The Office of the Auditor General however maintained its stance in the face of GECOM’s responses and called for the police to undertake an indepth  probe citing the questionable authenticity of the Massy Technologies quote,  the recommendation by GECOM to award the contract to Mobile Authority which the audit office said could be deemed arbitrary and the six apparently inoperable radio sets valued $11.9m which were received and taken into stock.

 

 

 

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