Urgent staff audit of GECOM needed

Dear Editor,

Justice (Ret’d) James Patterson has made my point, emphatically, about the perverse ethnic and political domination, and lack of diversity and racial exclusion in the make-up and hiring practices of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), in his considered – but irrational –  decision to reject the top ranked candidate, Vishnu Persaud, for the post of Deputy Chief Election Officer (DCEO) of GECOM.

Persaud emerged as the highest-ranked candidate out of an interviewing and review process which imposed surprising double jeopardies on him. The facts are as follows: Persaud served in the position, for over three years; Persaud was in employment at a senior level, for several more years; Persaud has had ‘very good’ performance appraisals, from Chief Election Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield; Persaud acted in the position of CEO on a number of occasions; and Persaud has exceeded the requirements for the job, as advertised, greatly. 

In fact, the position should not have been advertised in the first place as the gentleman should have been rightfully reinstated to his post. The post only fell vacant due to the absence of a full commission.

The hung vote across the table, however, meant that the Chairman Patterson had to cast his vote. A three (3) week delay for decision yielded his ‘considered’ position that Roxanne Myers, the second ranked candidate, was his choice for the DCEO position.

I repeat here my assertions that the decision is gross, irrational, lacking in fairness, and is an injustice, not only to the individual it negatively impacted but, also, to the whole Guyanese society.

The arguments of meritocracy, which were proffered by some, in defence of the ethnic dominance and skewed culture at GECOM, have been thrown out of the window by the Chairman’s action. Here we have had a candidate, who clearly merited due, fit and proper consideration, cast out in spite of having been ranked the highest of all those interviewed.

Even worse, the decision validates persistent claims that a group of Guyanese, representing perhaps 50 plus percent of the population, have no merit in the considerations for fair employment also at GECOM.

The decision has, I have heard, left a bitter taste, also, in the mouths of Afro-Guyanese employees at GECOM who felt that the Persaud was unfairly treated. And here, I repeat my assertion that GECOM at the top management level is dominated by up to 90 percent Afro- Guyanese. If the same were true for similar dominance by Indo- or any other group of Guyanese it would still be wrong, and unhealthy, and must attract similar condemnation and efforts for redress.

We have to deal with uncomfortable truths fairly. I have referenced the Lawrence Inquiry, which deemed the British Police as being ‘institutionally racist’ as a reference point for similar situations and behaviour elsewhere.

I insist that critical institutions of the state, such as GECOM, become reflexively racist, sometimes without knowing it, but, also, become victims and pawns for the undertaking of sinister actions, by some, to the detriment of fairness, justice, public good and sustainability of the nation. And, this goes for whichever group dominates in any similar institution of the state.

The continuance of the denial of fair employment on the basis of race, ethnicity, and association in critical institutions of the state, such as GECOM,  is a manifest denial of the civil rights of citizens and is injurious to a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural  and yet fragile nation.

Some of us, therefore, should not beat the drums in support of civil rights and justice, for groups discriminated against in other countries, while we support and/or undertake discriminatory practices against groups of fellow Guyanese. Moral equivalency matters in this issue.

An urgent staff audit of GECOM must-be-undertaken to answer questions of lack of diversity, ethnic suppression and exclusion, and political dominance at the institution. Such an audit has to take account of geographic imbalances and imbalances at various employment levels.  Furthermore, the stakeholders have to arrive at formulations to address these matters, as they relate to the hiring of temporary staff and contractors for elections when these issues become even more exacerbated.

GECOM CEO Lowenfield has to have the courage to dispassionately map the agency for unusual employment anomalies said to be also existing representing family and membership of particular churches. Explanations for any such anomalies must be offered to allay negative public perceptions and anxieties and to allow for redress.

GECOM, as a matter of urgency, has to draft, invite public comment and, thereafter, adopt a Corporate Social Responsibility Charter (CSRC), and a Governance Charter, which speak to its ethos and commitment in respect of its constitutional mandate to prepare for and conduct free, fair and transparent elections for Guyana. These should come out of a risk assessment process using acceptable matricies, and they should be regularly monitored, and reported on, for compliance.

In the meantime, much needed ethnic sensitivity training is required to deal with complaints of disdainful treatment at all levels of engagement with the Commission. The ongoing deliberate, open and, also, surreptitious stacking of GECOM senior staff with persons of a particular group and of a particular political preference, have been just confirmed via Facebook  and Twitter posts – now being rapidly taken down. This event also supports charges that GECOM has been ‘captured’ by one political entity.

There is now the feeling that there is complete destruction of any general perception of fairness, integrity and transparency at GECOM. Commissioner Alexander should really be making better and positive use of his time and intellect rather than rushing in to the support the indefencible, both for the specific case and for the general issue here. He seems to have appointed himself both as the wordsmith and the mouthpiece for GECOM’s Chairman.

There are no other options left, given the preferred position at the highest levels at GECOM, but to refer the current matter to the Ethnic Relations Commission and to bring the scrutiny of relevant international bodies on GECOM. He has become ‘the source’ of mis-representations and half-truths appearing in sections of the media. It is indeed regrettable that he is the main person advancing the case of the ‘deplorables’ both at GECOM and in the media

And, if GECOM, as has been stated, has ‘dirty laundry’ the only place it must be washed is in the full view of the Guyanese public and the international community.

Yours faithfully,

Robeson Benn

GECOM Commissioner



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