The Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) has acknowledged receiving a letter from the Opposition-nominated Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) commissioners asking it to conduct an inquiry into the “unfair and discriminatory employment practices at GECOM in general, and the recent vote by the Chairman of GECOM in favour of a second ranked candidate, in particular.”
Opposition-nominated commissioner Robeson Benn yesterday told Stabroek News that the ERC in a letter dated June 15 and signed by Chairman, Reverend John Oswald Smith, acknowledged receiving a letter that he and commissioners, Bibi Shadick and Sase Gunraj wrote on June 13 asking for the inquiry to be done at the earliest opportunity and that their report be made public.
Benn quoted the ERC’s letter as saying, “Please be informed that the commission will soon meet to address same and to decide on the way forward.” No date was given when the ERC will meet.
The Opposition-nominated commissioners based their request on an “An allegation (that) was raised (on June 5) by Commissioner Robeson Benn about the lack of ethnic diversity in the composition of the workforce at GECOM, particularly senior management.”
This issue, they said, “was canvassed several times at Commission meetings, including at a meeting between the full Commission and an electoral needs assessment team from the United Nations (UNDP).”
Benn, in a presentation in observance of Guyana’s Independence, they said, “claimed that up to 90 per cent of the senior management of GECOM is of Afro-Guyanese descent and that this was unhealthy.”
The comment was reported in the media and at the June 5 GECOM meeting, GECOM Chair-man retired justice James Patterson highlighted Benn’s reported comments and disputed the figure.
Government-nominated commissioner Vincent Alexander, at that meeting, they said, claimed publicly in the media that day “that it was impossible to have figures regarding ethnicity of GECOM employees as no such records were kept”
On June 6, they noted that the Kaieteur News published a pie-chart in a report purportedly showing percentages of the ethnic composition of the staff at GECOM.
“These percentages along with additional numbers were published in the weekend edition of other newspapers.”
At a meeting of the Commission held on June 12, the Opposition-nominated commissioners said that “when questioned on the source and accuracy of this information, the Chairman was unable to give a proper account therefor.”
They said, “Several explanations were proffered by the Chairman, including that he received the numbers from Face-book and another external source and gave same to the Human Resources Manager to verify.”
They said, “It was later revealed that a report was done by the Human Resources Manager by examining photographs of the staff members and this report was presented to the Chairman on 6th or 7th June, 2018, that is, after the numbers were published in the Kaieteur News.
“On the 12th June 2018, the Chairman opted to make a casting vote on the appointment of the Deputy Chief Election Officer.”
The chairman’s vote, they explained, was a result of deadlock that arose in the recruitment process conducted by members of a subcommittee in which commissioners Benn, Bibi Shadick,
Vincent Alexander and Desmond Trotman were responsible for interviewing and ranking the candidates.
The report of the subcommittee concluded with Vishnu Persaud, who served as deputy chief election officer for three years, as the first ranked candidate, and Roxanne Myers, as the second ranked candidate.
The Opposition-nominated commissioners said, “In all other instances of recruitment in the recent process, all the first ranked candidates were appointed.”
The issue, they said, “is clearly indicative of a larger issue” at GECOM “which has an adverse effect on ethnic relations and harmony in Guyana.”
GECOM, they said, “no doubt, has the mandate to conduct the inquiry as requested, pursuant to Article 212D (a) (d) and (p), of the Constitution of the Republic of Guyana,” which provide for equality of opportunity between persons of different ethnic groups and to promote harmony and good relations between such persons, foster a sense of security among all ethnic groups by encouraging and promoting the understanding, acceptance and tolerance of diversity in all aspects of national life and promoting full participation by all ethnic groups in the social, economic, cultural and political life of the people, and “investigate on its own accord or on request from the National Assembly or any other body any issues affecting ethnic relations.”
They are prepared, they said, to provide any additional information that may be required in relation to their request.
Meanwhile, Benn said that after reading the interview in the June 19 Stabroek News which was conducted with Myers, the second ranked candidate for the position of deputy chief election officer in which she gave the impression that she had already been given the job, he called the Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield and GECOM Chairman Justice James Patterson to find out about Myers’ status.
He called because on June 13, the day the Opposition-nominated commissioners walked out of GECOM’s statutory meeting to protest Patterson’s vote in favour of Myers, they also wrote him asking that his decision “be stayed and reviewed.”
Lowenfield informed him, he said, that a job letter was to be sent to Myers yesterday, while Patterson told him that the matter was “dead and buried.” Benn said, Patterson also told him that “he did not have to reply to my letter.”