At a time when the country’s elections body is expected to employ more staff for the imminent General and Regional Elections, concerns about its hiring practices still linger as the Ethnic Relations Commission’s investigation at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is yet to be completed.
According to ERC Chairman, Dr John Smith, while the probe was expected to be wrapped up since last year, this was not done.
“We out-sourced the investigators… [But] they needed some more time and I gave them the time… No [I can’t say how long more they need], but the report has to come back to the Commissioners and then we will inform the public,” Dr Smith told Guyana Times on Wednesday.
Retired Justice Stanley Moore, who had served as Home Affairs Minister under late President LFS Burnham during the People’s National Congress (PNC) regime, along with former Deputy Commissioner of Police Lloyd Smith and human resources consultant Jairam Petam, was recruited to inquire into claims made by People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) GECOM Commissioners Bibi Shadick, Sase Gunraj and Robeson Benn, that there was an ethnic imbalance at the elections body and hiring practices were being manipulated in favour of one group.
The team was supposed to complete the probe in three weeks during October. However, the time was extended as the probe widened and to date, there has been no indication as to when it would be concluded.
“I can’t say exactly in terms of timing [when the report will be available]… There is not really [any revised deadline], because they encountered some difficulties and that stalled the whole investigation and getting out the report,” the ERC Chairman stated.
When asked about the difficulties that are delaying the investigation, Dr Smith opted not to go into detail, telling this publication that they would be known when the report was completed.
Last year, the Elections Commission was embroiled in controversy after it was alleged former Deputy Chief Elections Officer Vishnu Persaud was overlooked for the position because of his ethnicity despite him being the top ranked candidate.
The Commission went ahead and hired the second-ranked candidate Roxanne Meyers, after GECOM Chairman, Retired Justice James Patterson broke the deadlock and voted in favour of her.
Since then, there have been allegations that candidates applying for posts at GECOM were being rejected and accepted based on their ethnicity and political alignment.
After these claims were made, the ERC had scheduled a meeting with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, where the matters were raised. The ERC also met with President David Granger at that time.
At a press conference prior to the probe, the GECOM Chairman had said that qualifications ultimately trumped race when filling vacancies. When asked whether deliberate efforts to achieve racial diversity were being made, Patterson had contended that deliberate efforts were being made to get the best people and that he had “no apologies” for that.
The ERC is a constitutional body. It works with persons and agencies to promote harmonious ethnic relations. The Commission also deals with complaints, promotes training in racial harmony, and fosters a sense of security, among all ethnic groups.
Meanwhile, the PPP/C Commissioners had also registered complaints of Chairman Patterson using his post to muzzle them on the issue of hiring practices. During a statutory meeting, Commissioner Benn had highlighted issues regarding the ethnic composition of the workforce at the GECOM Secretariat, having pointed out that the perception was that the vast majority of the staff of the Commission were persons of one ethnicity.
The PPP/C Commissioners had said that the Chairman prevented Benn from further defending his position and when challenged, adjourned the meeting for over half an hour.
Their allegations followed by an earlier statement by executive member of the PPP, Dr Roger Luncheon who made allegations against GECOM on the same issue.