– after 3-month-long wait since sacking of former CEO
After a rollercoaster search for the next Chief Elections Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) that has ended with two being shortlisted, the interviews of these prospective candidates are slated to kick off today.
The two shortlisted candidates currently vying for the position of CEO are the former Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO) Vishnu Persaud and former Jamaican election official Leslie Harrow. They are the product of combined lists of candidates submitted by the two sides of the GECOM divide.
It is expected that they will be interviewed by the seven-member Commission, composed of Sase Gunraj, Bibi Shadick and Manoj Narayan on the Government side and Vincent Alexander, Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman on the Opposition side and Chairperson, Retired Justice Claudette Singh acting as the tie breaker if necessary.
In the past, appointees to the CEO or DCEO post were hired based on an interview with the Commission, during which they would be evaluated and ranked based on a score sheet. The candidate with the highest score would be appointed.
A meeting of GECOM on Thursday, where the evaluation criteria for today’s CEO interview was supposed to be decided, had to be aborted because only one Opposition Commissioner, Vincent Alexander, showed up.
The absence of his two Opposition colleagues, Trotman and Corbin, meant that the meeting lacked a quorum. In response to questions from this publication, Gunraj revealed that the evaluation criteria will be discussed before the interview starts today.
Vishnu Persaud, who was employed as GECOM’s DCEO from 2014 to 2017, was overlooked for appointment when he sought to return to the position in 2018. In fact, his non-appointment sparked controversy and even an investigation by the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), which had concluded six months after that he was overlooked and was more qualified than the person who was chosen over him for the position, Roxanne Myers.
On the other hand, news reports in Jamaica revealed that Leslie Harrow was up until May employed as Head of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) in Jamaica. He previously served in several junior and senior positions at the Electoral Commission of Jamaica over his 18-year tenure there.
Meanwhile, with the selection of Persaud and Harrow, GECOM Information Technology Manager Aneal Giddings; GECOM Assistant Registration Officer and former ERC Commissioner Deodat Persaud, Dr Kurt Clarke from Texas, and Eugene Godfrey Petty from St Kitts have been removed from the race for the new GECOM CEO.
When GECOM had put out the advertisements to fill these positions in October, over a dozen persons – both local and foreign – had applied for the post of CEO. Meanwhile, the electoral body is also looking to fill several other key senior positions within the Elections Secretariat including Assistant Chief Elections Officer, Chief Accountant, Legal Officer, Logistics Officer, and Civic and Voter Education Manager.
These posts are being filled following the removal of CEO Keith Lowenfield; his Deputy, Roxanne Myers, and Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo. They were on August 12 dismissed from their respective posts at the Elections Commission.
The embattled trio is currently before the courts facing a number of electoral fraud charges for their alleged attempts to sway the results of the March 2020 General and Regional Elections in favour of the then ruling A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government.
Lowenfield’s election report claimed that the then governing APNU/AFC coalition garnered 171,825 votes while the then Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) gained 166,343 votes.
How he arrived at those figures is still unknown, since the certified results from the national recount exercise supervised by GECOM and a high-level team from the Caribbean Community (Caricom) showed that the PPP/C won with 233,336 votes while the coalition garnered 217,920.
The recount exercise also proved that Mingo heavily inflated the figures in Region Four (Guyana’s most populated voting district) in favour of the then caretaker APNU/AFC regime – which was defeated by a No-Confidence Motion in December 2018.
Against this backdrop, the three Government-nominated GECOM Commissioners – Gunraj, Manoj Narayan and Bibi Shadick – on June 1, 2021, brought motions calling for the dismissal of Lowenfield, Myers and Mingo.
Following several delays and legal proceedings, the GECOM Chair announced their terminations, after weeks of deliberation on the motions, effective August 18, 2021.