‘GECOM’s harum scarum approach’

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Let me see if I understand this correctly. In the third decade of the 21st century, three members representing one political party on the seven member Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), who have already publicly condemned him, brought a motion to dismiss the commission’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and others. The CEO and the others in question were requested to show cause why they should not be dismissed for the commission to debate and make a determination. The chairperson of the commission is willing to go along with this process in which all the individual commissioners have publicly taken one side or another. Generally, but particularly in a divisive context such as Guyana and at GECOM, one would have expected that an effort would have been made to establish an objective and impartial opinion that the commission as a body could present as the basis for its decision to the public or a court.

It is very sad that, for better or worse, this kind extremely questionable management contraption must again be settled in the courts, but perhaps that is precisely the intention. The fact that a commission of biased people believes that they can morally and legally sit and judge their employees without recourse to any objective opinion and recommendations suggests that GECOM is either yet to appreciate the gravamen of the process in which it is involved or there is a preference for the accused contesting unfair dismissals in court while the PPP takes control of the commission.

I have argued before that GECOM is a constitutionally established body intended to run elections in Guyana and that as such it should be able to investigate and come to conclusions about perceived wrongdoings, be they illegal voting, the existence or non-existence of electoral documents, the culpability of its officers and employees, etc.  The only question is how such a process should be structured to properly protect the ‘good name’ of the institution and the natural and legal rights of all the parties.  In labour relations, where concerns about corporate misbehavior or misconduct of directors or senior employees are concerned, the usual and just way forward is firstly to undertake an independent internal investigation with a mandate to make recommendations.

‘In organizing a board-driven investigation, it is typical for a standing or special committee to provide oversight to the outside counsel hired for the matter. The composition of the board committee should be independent of the company and the potential investigation targets and key witnesses. In addition, the directors should be disinterested to the extent possible. They should not be directly involved in the actions that are the subject of the investigation …. it is highly likely that the board will rely on outside counsel who will report directly to the board or the applicable standing or special board committee. … The determination that a board-driven investigation is necessary will imply that outside counsel … should conduct the investigation.’ (‘Board-Driven internal investigations,’ (may-2016-practical-law-journal)

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Since Singapore is persistently given as an example for Guyana to follow, its human resource approach may be useful. ‘One common pitfall that employers may commit in the rush to conclude an investigation is to conduct an inquiry without transparency and then terminate an employee based solely on the findings of such an internal investigation. Even though the statutes and regulations in Singapore do not prescribe a fixed procedure for internal investigations, [it is] advised that as a general guide the following principles should be adopted: Firstly, the employee under investigation should be told of his alleged misconduct. Secondly, the employee should be given the opportunity to present his case. Thirdly, the person or persons hearing the inquiry should not be in a position, which suggests bias’ (‘Best Practices in HR Internal Investigations’, Singapore).

It is noted that ‘Having a clear record of independence and lack of conflict of the board committee, its delegated authority and the scope of responsibilities, its ability to hire counsel and make decisions, is key to establishing credibility. A clear record of the findings of the investigation and the outcome with respect to remedial measures is also crucial’ (Ibid; may-2016-practical-law-journal).  This is either missing from the conception of many commissioners or suggests corporate misbehaviour. Indeed, the need for an independent enquiry is altogether absent!

As previously indicated, this suggests that some in the commission perceive the process as merely an opportunity for them to claim that the accused were given an opportunity to be heard, condemn and dismiss them and leave them to respond as they believe necessary. The fact that in such a high profile matter a harum scarum approach that could affect employment in every sector of society has gained traction is yet another indication that Guyana is a special case.



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