When the issue of the controversial purchase of 50 Very High Frequency (VHF) communication radio sets by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) for close to G0 million first broke, it sparked much criticism and prompted a special probe by the Auditor General’s Office into this and other similar transactions conducted by the organisation.This newspaper reported, a few days ago, that the special audit has progressed to the point where the AG has submitted his report to GECOM with the hope that the Commissioners would take the necessary actions against those found to be involved in any wrongdoing. AG Deodat Sharma has since taken a firm stance on the matter, and has wasted no time in sending a strong signal to the agencies involved: that, should they fail to act, he would not hesitate in calling in the Guyana Police Force, if he has to. He was clear in pointing out that “the Audit Act says I can send my report to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) and the police.”Over the years, GECOM’s procurement practices had come under the microscope after allegations of high-level corruption began to surface. In fact, the controversial radio sets’ purchase was the most blatant, and sparked public outrage by the political Opposition and other stakeholders. The purchases were made prior to the 2015 General and Regional Elections, raising concerns over the extraordinarily high cost of the equipment.Based on reports, the radio sets were purchased for use during the 2015 General and Regional Elections, particularly in the outlying regions of Guyana. However, they were never put into use after it was discovered that many of them were not working. As a matter of fact, sections of the Guyanese media reported that the Australia-based manufacturer, Barrett Communications, through its European office, had distanced itself from the purchase. The company made it clear that it had ceased to produce the equipment more than five years ago.Information also surfaced that while the electoral body would have collected quotations from a number of suppliers, it had handed the contract for the supply of the equipment to a company owned by a Water Street, Georgetown businessman.In addition to this most recent case, there were several other cases wherein concerns were raised regarding the methods employed by GECOM in procuring goods and services. In fact, at a previous press conference, one commissioner bluntly told the media that he believed corruption at the electoral body is deep-rooted with key players at many levels of the organisation.If we are to go by what some commissioners are saying, at least in the press, there are serious problems plaguing the organization, and those should be addressed forthwith, not only as they relate to transparency and accountability of public funds, but the overall management and delivery of credible elections.It is no secret that GECOM spends hundreds of millions of dollars, especially in election years or periods when there are heightened activities, such as continuous/house-to-house registration etc, and all efforts must be made to ensure that national procurement laws are followed in utilising those funds.The AG, on many occasions before, had highlighted many lapses in the system over the years, but it is not certain what actions are being taken by GECOM and the powers that be to ensure public funds are spent in a transparent and accountable manner.While many are anxiously waiting to see how the Commissioners would treat the findings and recommendations included in the AG’s probe on the radio sets’ purchase, it is our hope that GECOM would learn its lesson from this entire episode and take the necessary steps to ensure that it is never again caught up in this mess.We had stated before that, as an independent constitutional body, GECOM enjoys financial, functional and operational autonomy; and like every agency which is financed with public funds, it must account in a transparent manner for the expenditure of these funds. Further, principally due to the nature of its work, the organisation should do everything in its power to win the public’s trust. Being caught up in such controversies does not help in any way.
The GECOM probe