ERC received no evidence of ethnic preference in GECOM hiring

-but says probe ‘deliberately hobbled’ by non-cooperation

An Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) inquiry into the hiring practices at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) received no evidence of any particular ethnicity being given preferential treatment but qualified the finding by saying the Human Resources Manager’s refusal to cooperate did not allow for extensive deliberations to arrive at a more informed conclusion.

The probe also focused on the controversial appointment of Roxanne Myers to the post of Deputy Chief Election Officer (DCEO) and found that by all objective criteria and available evidence, the other candidate for the post, Vishnu Persaud, was the most qualified and that he was the first candidate in the history of GECOM who obtained the highest score and had not been appointed. That being said, it also noted that there was no evidence ethnicity played any role in Myers’ appointment.

The findings are contained in the 35-page Final Report on the Investigation into Employment Practices at GECOM and the Appointment of Roxanne Myers to the Post of Deputy Chief Election Officer, which was compiled by a sub-committee and handed over yesterday to representatives of the PPP/C, which had lodged a complaint.

The four-month inquiry, which ended on November 28th, 2018, saw several persons being interviewed, including the current and former Chairman of GECOM, the Chief Election Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield, Persaud and all six commissioners.

The report says Myers and Human Resource Manager Marcia Crawford did not respond to requests to be interviewed, while current Chairman James Patterson failed to provide promised documentation that he claimed informed his decision to use his casting vote to appoint Myers.

The report describes these actions on the part of the three individuals as “deliberate and willful.”

“Their refusal to assist the enquiry by their preference or by written submissions amounted to a deliberate hobbling of the sub-committee in the production of an informed report,” the committee stressed, before adding that it can also be seen as them “putting their own personal interest above their public duty.”

Specifically the failure of Crawford to assist in the investigation is cited as having prevented the Sub-committee from adequately examining and assessing the allegation of ethnic imbalance that formed part of the complaint concerning employment practices and as well as the allegation of discriminatory em-ployment practices prior to and post November 2017.

The report further says Crawford’s refusal to participate also prevented the examination of the organisational chart of the commission and the methodology used in the selection of a successful candidate for employment at GECOM.

In the case of Myers, the ERC noted that she knew her appointment was one of the principal subjects of the enquiry and that her qualification and experiences would be considered by the sub-committee.

The decision by the four members of the commission including Chairman Patterson to employ Myers instead of Persaud though he scored 76 to her 72 at an interview was highlighted by the opposition-nominated commissioners as an example of ethnic discrimination.

Commission Robeson Benn wrote to the ERC asking that this be investigated and publicly stated that 90% of GECOM’s managers were of one ethnicity.

The ERC explained that in normal circumstances, the onus is on those who complain to provide the evidence and told reporters no such evidence was provided by Benn.

Consequently, the report concluded that “from the material placed before us, it cannot be said that there has been any evidence of the deliberate hiring of Guyanese of one ethnicity rather than of another.”

No evidence

Meanwhile, although the report found that Persaud was the more qualified candidate for the position, it said there is no evidence that the decision to employ Myers was in any way influenced by ethnicity.

“Nothing has been presented to us which reveals, at least on paper, any attributes in Ms Myers that were capable of offsetting the clear paper advantage which Mr Persaud enjoyed over his rival,” it notes.

It, however, pointed out that 50% of the commission voted against Persaud’s employment as DCEO both in 2014 and 2018 “not on the grounds of ethnicity but on the absence of merit.”

The complaint, it argues, has its genesis not in the issue of ethnicity raised by Benn but in Dr. Steve Surujbally’s management of GECOM and the manner in which he guided Persaud from Public Relations Officer (PRO) in 2001 to DCEO in 2014.

“The issues that led to his elevation were seen as acts of favouritism,” the report says, before adding that 50% of commissioners voted unsuccessfully against his promotion to DCEO in 2014 and spoke against Persaud once a new Chairman arrived at GECOM.

At the time of his employment as PRO, Persaud possessed no qualifications in Public Relations. He subsequently acquired a diploma in the area. Further at the time of his employment as DCEO he did not possess a first degree which is one of the requirements of the post.

Commissioner Vincent Alexander told the sub-committee that Persaud claimed his Level 5 Certificate from the Institute of Management to be a first degree. Persaud has denied this allegation.

Following his appointment as DCEO, he earned a Masters of Business Administration from the Anglia Ruskin University. Myers in turn holds a Masters of Arts in Gender and Peace Building from University of Peace.

Persaud testified to the ERC that he was appointed PRO by Surujbally based on their interactions at the Ministry of Agriculture, where they were both employed prior to 2001.

“It was primarily out of this relationship [that] when Surujbally was appointed GECOM’s chairman that he was appointed by Surujbally as the PRO at GECOM on November 2, 2001,” the report states.

Following this appointment, Persaud was “burdened” with responsibility to simultaneously manage four substantive offices, including that of Personal Assistant to the Chairman.

Surujbally, according to the report, testified that Persaud’s performance as PRO and DCEO was very good.

Persaud, who according to the former Chairman, held the fort as CEO on several occasions, was also an excellent scribe for 12 years and was described as being “of good character, who employed tact, prudence, wisdom and honesty” in the discharge of his duties.

Surujbally further noted that Persaud has “vast institutional knowledge and memory” of the works of the commission and vouched for his academic achievements.

According to Surujbally, the former DCEO would therefore have had to be rejected due to factors outside of his “qualification, experience, performance and character traits which are well known by all Election Commissioners except the current chairman.”

‘Grossly discredited’

When the current Chairman appeared before the sub-committee, he testified that “there was some evidence of one particular candidate lying, not being faithful to the truth, that’s what I recall I think he said one thing which wasn’t true and he admitted to it and had some excuse for that. What I saw was the written evidence; he said he had Y and he didn’t….one candidate seems shifty, the other candidate wasn’t.”

Noting that he never met either Persaud or Myers, Patterson claimed to have “found him shifty on the paper record.”

But following his failure to produce this paper record, the chairman’s testimony was disregarded.

“Failure to produce the documentation on which he based his conclusion that Persaud was an unsatisfactory candidate has grossly discredited his findings (concerning)  Persaud’s shiftiness, unreliability, and dishonesty,” the report says, adding that the sub-committee found no evidence to suggest that Persaud made any misrepresentation with regard to his qualification to the commission.

CEO Lowenfield is also reported as having testified that he advocated for Persaud as the most suitable candidate.

Noting that he conducted Persaud’s performance appraisals, Lowenfield testified that he “did not find any flaw in his performance.”

“He has worn many hats in different times; it’s all part of understanding the totality of the organisation,” he stressed before adding that he presented the Chairman with Persaud’s file, which included these performance appraisals and gave him his personal opinion of the candidate.

“I did go and say to the Chairman that [Persaud] is a good guy and I am saying to you that this is the man who has to be evaluated. He worked with me close to 15 years and we have a very good working relationship… I [said] Vish and me are inseparable….I provided all the evidence,” Lowenfield told the sub-committee.

Lowenfield also testified that interview “scores provide a (parameter),” but only “high scores are taken to the plenary” since “scores provide the guideline to move applicants from sub-committee to plenary.”

“Scores provide the basic guiding principle as far as selection is concerned,” he was reported as telling the sub-committee while also noting that a sub-set of the scoring sheet is experience, so the score which emerges would have taken into consideration work experience.

The sub-committee that conducted the investigation was led by retired Justice Stanley Moore and included retired Deputy Police Commissioner Lloyd Smith, Human Resources Consultant Jairam Petam along with Deputy Chairman of the ERC Norman McLean and Commissioner Norman Witter.

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