ERC to meet GECOM commissioners over employment complaint

The Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) has invited the Opposition-nominated Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) commissioners to a meeting tomorrow in relation to their complaints about “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.”

Commissioners Robeson Benn, Bibi Shadick and Sase Gunraj wrote to the ERC on June 13 asking for the ERC to conduct an inquiry at the earliest opportunity and that their report be made public.

Benn told Stabroek News that the ERC had acknowledged receipt of their letter on June 15 and has followed up with a request for them to meet with the ERC commissioners tomorrow.

Apart from the issue of the ethnic composition of the staff, Benn told Stabroek News that he has other concerns including GECOM’s lack of concern at the creation of new Neighbourhood Democratic Councils ahead of Local Government elections due later this year.

He said he raised the issue at the last GECOM meeting and expects that it will be discussed at tomorrow’s statutory meeting. 

The opposition-nominated commissioners based their request for the inquiry by the ERC 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 (Development Programme).”

Benn, in a presentation in observance of Guyana’s Independence anniversary, had, “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 Chairman retired Justice James Patterson highlighted Benn’s reported comments and disputed the figure.

Government-nominated commissioner Vincent Alexander, the opposition-nominated members 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.” 

At a meeting of the Commission held on June 12, the Opposition-nominated commissioners said that “when questioned on the source and accuracy” of a Kaieteur News report showing a pie-chart in a report purportedly showing percentages of the ethnic composition of the staff at GECOM, “the Chairman was unable to give a proper account therefor.”

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,  Shadick,

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.”

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