The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), one of the most important institutions that must guarantee the survival and strengthening of Guyana’s democracy, has been hijacked by the People’s National Congress (A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change). All those who remained silent when President Granger unconstitutionally used arbitrary powers to appoint his hand-picked Chairman must now realise their folly. President Granger has led the transformation of GECOM – one of the protectors of Guyana’s freedom and democracy – into a creature of the PNC to carry out a coup d’etat in Guyana. One of the instruments is filling GECOM with politically and racially biased staff.
The Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) desperately ran from this truth. In spite of the spin and desperate efforts to run and hide from the truth, the ERC still could not exonerate GECOM. That in itself is devastating and condemning. The truth was so palpable in one case the ERC highlighted that, even with its obvious reluctance to speak the truth, with its clear posture of not speaking truth to power, the ERC could not let GECOM off the hook. GECOM, first by not renewing the contract of Vishnu Persaud as the Deputy Chief Elections Office and; second, by refusing to appoint him even though he scored the highest points in GECOM’s evaluation, clearly discriminated against Vishnu Persaud. Only the gullible and those who desperately want to deny the truth will not see GECOM discriminated blatantly against Persaud on the basis of his race.
Persaud had been Deputy Chief Elections Officer with an outstanding record in several positions at GECOM. Former Chairman of the Commissions, Steve Surujbally, highly vouched for the professionalism, hard work and competence of Persaud. He should have had his contract renewed when it came to an end. This was the standard practice at GECOM – many officers who have performed well have had their contracts renewed, none had to reapply in a new search to fill the position. In this case, under the leadership of the then new arbitrarily-appointed Chairman of the Commission, Persaud’s contract was not renewed, but had to re-apply for his position.
Interviews were conducted by the Commissioners from both the government and opposition sides and Persaud scored the highest points, by far. He was not appointed, instead, a candidate with close ties to the PNC was appointed. The experienced candidate with a distinguished service in the same job, having been ranked #1 after the interviews and assessment was rejected by the Commission, as the three government commissioners and the Chairman voted to not appoint Persaud. In spite of the PPP-appointed commissioners’ objection, GECOM appointed a candidate that had no experience and whose only obvious strength for this position was that she was on the right political side. Calling a spade a spade, she was also the right ethnicity, being an Afro-Guyanese.
Persaud had impeccable qualifications for the position of Deputy Chief Elections Officer, being the most academically qualified candidate, the one with the most experience, one who had performed the duties of Deputy Chief Elections Officer with a distinguished track record, performing his duties professionally without any political and racial bias, but he was disqualified. The one obvious truth is that he is also an Indo-Guyanese, an ethnic group that has been shamefully subjected to bias, discrimination and harassment since May 2015.
The most shameful part of the ERC’s report is the behaviour of GECOM’s Chairman. The Chairman’s reason for voting against Persaud was that in his encounters with Persaud, he found Persaud was “shifty”. I am assuming by “shifty” he meant Persaud was untrustworthy. When asked how many times he met with Persaud, he confessed he had never seen Persaud. Did the ERC find Persaud “shifty”? How could a man who claimed falsely that he was once the Chief Justice of Grenada simply dismissed a man as “shifty” during encounters that never happened? How can such a man be “fit and proper” for a position that is a deal-breaker for the health or death of Guyana’s freedom and democracy?
The treatment of Persaud is a clear case of racial bias and discrimination, no ifs, ands and buts. The ERC’s investigation of racial bias at GECOM was one requested by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Commissioners at GECOM. Robeson Benn had accused GECOM of racial policies in the appointment of staff with the claim that more than 90 per cent of the staff at GECOM are of one race – Afro-Guyanese. Walk into GECOM and you would think Guyana is a racially homogenous country, with only one race. After many months of investigation, the ERC ran from the truth by insisting that Benn had the obligation to provide proof. They gave GECOM a pass by allowing GECOM’s defence on the basis of a refusal to provide the records of employees, even though they promised on several occasions. The ERC was never looking for the evidence.