GECOM hiring practices
…says 1st time in history top-ranked candidate overlooked
By Devina Samaroo
Some six months after he was overlooked for the position of Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO) at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), an investigation has found that Vishnu Persaud was in fact the most qualified person for the job.
“Mr Persaud was the first candidate in the history of GECOM who had obtained the highest score and had not been appointed,” stated the report on the findings of the probe, which was conducted by the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC).
The report was handed over to the complainants, the Opposition-nominated GECOM Commissioners on Monday.
Commissioners Robeson Benn, Bibi Shaddick and Sase Gunraj had accused GECOM of favouring one particular ethnic group in its hiring practices. The situation escalated when in June 2018, Persaud – who worked at GECOM for 12 years, including in the capacity of DCEO – was overlooked for that position, even though he emerged as the highest scored candidate, with a score of 76.
Roxanne Myers came in at second with 72.
Despite Persaud being the top-ranked candidate, the Government Commissioners voted for Myers to be appointed while the Opposition Commissioners voted for Persaud. Chairman, Retired Justice James Patterson used his deciding vote in favour of Myers.
During an interview with investigators, Justice Patterson said he did not support the return of Persaud as DCEO because he was “shifty”.
In fact, Justice Patterson admitted that he had never met nor interacted with Persaud, but he had a feeling that the top-ranked candidate could not be trusted.
“… he came over to me as shifty and unreliable, that is constant in my mind and I was not going to recommend him in place of somebody who I think was … I saw sufficient to raise a red flag or more than one red flag that this gentleman does not come up to basic standards of character and honesty that I like to have working with me,” Justice Patterson is quoted as saying in the report.
He was asked to submit evidence to support his claims but failed to do so, despite reminders from the ERC investigators.
The investigation found that Justice Patterson’s “failure to produce the documentation on which he based his conclusion that Mr Persaud was an unsatisfactory candidate has grossly discredited his finding concerning Mr Persaud’s shiftiness, unreliability, and dishonesty”.
In fact, the ERC report expressed that “throughout the course of this investigation, the Sub-Committee found no evidence to suggest that Mr Persaud made any misrepresentation with regard to his qualification to the Commission”.
Furthermore, the GECOM Chairman’s judgment of Persaud vastly differed from those expressed by individuals who actually worked with him.
Former GECOM Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally described Persaud as a good character, who employed tact, prudence, wisdom, and honesty in the discharge of his duties.
The Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield also described Persaud as having good interpersonal relationships, good work performances, and undertook various responsibilities.
The Government Commissioners, Vincent Alexander, Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman contended that Myers was better qualified than Persaud.
Corbin told the investigators that Myers had “superior qualifications and potential to perform”.
But documents contained in the report show that Myers had only a Masters of Arts in Gender and Peace Building from the University of Peace, Costa Rica (September 2003- June 2004) and her only listed work experience is an association with the Media Monitoring Unit of the ERC.
On the other hand, Persaud possessed a Master of Business Administration – Anglia Ruskin from the United Kingdom (May 2014-June 2017) as well as a Level 5 Certificate from the Institute of Management, UK, and a Diploma in Public Relations from the Institute of Public Relations, UK.
For work experience, it was outlined that he was Public Relations Officer at GECOM from November 2001 to August 2014, then Personal Assistant to the Chairman, and then DCEO from August 2014 to August 2017.
Under the assessment of working knowledge, Persaud had good working knowledge of computers and is very familiar with the data requirements at GECOM while Myers had none.
Similarly, Persaud attended elections-related conferences in India and England, while Myers had no exposure to such conferences.
In fact, Myers has been openly supportive of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition on her Facebook page – a development which caused many to question her integrity to serve as DCEO.
When this question was put to the GECOM Chair, he saw no problem with that, stating: “Roxanne Myers’ involvement in politics has no concern for me. It is her constitutional right to do so.”
Types of hiring
In addition to the matter with Persaud versus Myers, the ERC was asked to do a probe into the general hiring practices of the elections body.
GECOM utilises two different processes when it comes to hiring employees. Managerial employees are interviewed by four Commissioners (two from the Opposition and two from the Government). After interviewing and assessing their eligibility, the four Commissioners would present their findings to the full Commission, which would then vote. Non-managerial staffers are hired by the Human Resources Department.
However, the ERC was unable to assess the hiring practices as it relates to non-managerial staff, since there was no cooperation from the relevant authorities.
The investigation was conducted by 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.