After Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairman Justice (retd) James Patterson cast a crucial vote yesterday for the selection of a Deputy Chief Election Officer (DCEO), the three PPP/C-nominated commissioners once again walked out of a statutory meeting and alleged ethnic bias in the process.
PPP/C commissioners Robeson Benn, Sase Gunraj and Bibi Shadick told an emergency press conference at the office of the Opposition Leader yesterday that Patterson cast a vote in favour of hiring Roxanne Myers, after they were deadlocked with the APNU-nominated commissioners on rehiring former DCEO Vishnu Persaud, who had been the highest ranked candidate.
As a result, they said they walked out of the statutory meeting in protest. They added that they would be lodging a complaint with the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) and would also raise the situation with the international community.
It was the second walkout in as many weeks by the commissioners due to alleged bias in the hiring process.
Last week, a clash between Patterson and Benn on the ethnic composition of the Commission’s Secretariat saw the same three commissioners walking out and the meeting being abruptly adjourned.
Benn had publicly claimed that “up to 90%” of the staff at the GECOM Secretariat was African Guyanese—an assertion which Patterson has said is unsupported by data from GECOM’s Human Resources Department.
At the press conference following yesterday’s walkout, the opposition-nominated commissioners claimed that after the application and interview process, Persaud emerged with the highest average score of 76 points, which was four points ahead of Myers, the second ranked candidate.
Despite this, they said the APNU-nominated commissioners rejected Persaud’s appointment and voted instead for Myers. A standoff ensued and they said Patterson was called on to cast the deciding vote, which he did in favour of Myers.
Attempts last evening by Stabroek News to make contact with Patterson and the APNU-nominated candidates were unsuccessful.
According to the aggrieved commissioners, they repeatedly pointed out that Persaud not only managed to survive the evaluation process, but he functioned in the position for several years, had positive performance evaluations during those years and was eminently qualified.
“Persaud was forced to re-apply for a job he held since his contract was not renewed because there was no functioning Commission, following the resignation of former GECOM Chairman, Dr. Steve Surujbally. The contracts of the Assistant Chief Election Officer (ACEO), the Logistics Manager and others were also not renewed for this reason,” they explained in a statement.
Benn noted at the press conference that the APNU Commissioners had not raised objections to Persaud’s application until he emerged as the top-ranked candidate, at which time they made claims which were “spurious” and “had no basis in fact.”
Shadick labelled the decision an assault on the principle of meritocracy and pointed out that of all the candidates interviewed for five advertised posts, Persaud was the only Indo-Guyanese to emerge as a top-ranked candidate and he was the only top ranked candidate to be denied the post for which he had applied.
The other four posts, ACEO, Logistics Manager, PR officer and Legal Officer have been filled by the top-ranked candidates, all of whom appear to be Afro-Guyanese, they said.
In the case of the Legal Officer and Secretary to the Commission, Shadick raised concerns about what she noted to be a display of possible bias by Patterson. She noted that the GECOM Chairman made his preference for one candidate clear and even sat in during the panel’s interview of that candidate.
“The state of affairs represents a failure to respect and adhere to the principle of meritocracy and does not facilitate greater diversity in the hiring done by GECOM,” the opposition nominated commissioners further said in their statement.
Additionally, the Commissioners also raised concerns about a published pie chart which claimed to show the ethnic makeup of GECOM’S staff.
According to Gunraj, Patterson has claimed that the he released the information after having been provided with it by “a source” but the Chief Election Officer, Keith Lowenfield, informed commissioners that the Human Resources Manager reviewed the photographs of staffers and compiled the data based on what the persons looked like.
“The PPP/C-nominated Commissioners asked for the source documents used by the HR Manager to be provided, but this has not yet been provided…there is much confusion as to the source of the information, the accuracy of it and the timeline regarding its dissemination,” he explained, before concluding that the position of the PPP/C-nominated Commissioners is that the controversial GECOM Chairman continues to act in a manner that does not inspire confidence, particularly given that his decisions are not informed, rational or fair.