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…Commissioner says Chair broke tie to allow for persons with 10-year experience in electoral management
By Svetlana Marshall
The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) was divided on the criteria for the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) post but it was the Chairman, Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh, who broke the tie, mandating that applicants must have not less than 10 years experience in the Management of National Elections and Elections Systems – a requirement if followed through will automatically disqualify the majority of the 20 applicants vying for the post and puts the controversial Gocool Boodoo ahead.
In an interview with the Village Voice Newspaper, Elections Commissioner Desmond Trotman said it was the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) nominated Commissioners – Bibi Shadick, Sase Gunraj and Manoj Narayan – who had proposed that a 10-year experience in Electoral Management forms part of the criteria for the top position. In a counter-proposal, the Opposition Commissioners present – Desmond Trotman and Charles Corbin – recommended six years.
Trotman and Corbin had made the counter-proposal on the basis that the country has a five-year-electoral cycle which would allow persons to acquire the requisite experience during that period. When the proposals were put to a vote, the Chairman of the Elections Commission together with the PPP/C nominated Commissioners voted in favour of the 10-year requirement.
However, Commissioner Trotman strongly believes that the 10-year requirement places significant strain on Guyanese, in particular, who may reach the other criteria such as having a Post Graduate Degree in Public Administration, Law or Management, in addition to 10 years experience in Senior Management.
Weighing in on the issue, Vincent Alexander, the country’s longest serving Elections Commissioner, said greater emphasis should have been placed on competency and not necessarily years of service.
“My own position is that, we should emphasise competence more than years on the job because years on the job do not necessarily add up to competence and so I don’t support the idea of 10 years. I think if somebody has a good degree and the person has exposure to management, given that elections are a five-year cycle, that person coming on board, two, three years before the elections, working with a team, doesn’t have to have all of that experience,” Commissioner Alexander told Village Voice News in a separate interview.
The seven-member Elections Commission led by Justice (Ret’d) Singh was scheduled to meet last Tuesday to consider the applications for the top post, however, due to internet difficulties they were unable to do so.
Though the Commission has not discussed the applications to date, Alexander said a quick assessment of the applications reveals that the majority of the applicants do not have 10 years experience in the Management of National Elections and Elections Systems.
“It is obvious that the majority has not reached the criteria particularly the 10-year criteria, it is obvious,” he told this newspaper.
Commissioner Trotman is of the opinion that the 10-year requirement was strategically set by the Government-nominated Commissioners to narrow down the applicants to a single individual – Gocool Boodoo.
“I believe that when they proposed 10 years, they believe that the only person who would fit that criteria locally was Gocool,” Commissioner Trotman told this newspaper. However, he made it clear that he is not prepared to consider Boodoo for the post.
Boodoo – a former Chief Elections Officer whose tenure came into disrepute after he allegedly miscalculated the results of the 2011 General Elections to give the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) a one-seat majority in the National Assembly, is among 20 persons who have applied to the Elections Commission for the post of CEO.
Back in 2006, Boodoo was also accused of misappropriating a constituency seat at the level of the Regional Democratic Council in Region 10. But notwithstanding the controversies that engulfed his tenure, which resulted in the non-renewal of his contract in 2013, Boodoo is hoping to make a return to Office.
It was Commissioner Alexander who had exposed Boodoo’s alleged attempt to manipulate the results of the 2011 General and Regional Elections. Alexander said given Boodoo’s track record it would be extremely difficult for the Commission to appoint him CEO.
Alexander said it is almost unbelievable that Boodoo would reapply to the Commission given the controversies that surrounded his tenure at the Elections Secretariat.
“There is documentation to show what Boodoo did in 2011. Who dares him? And how could a commission, the people who have been talking about electoral officers being funded and all of that, preside over the employment of someone whose character is undoubtedly questionable in terms of his behaviour as an electoral officer,” Alexander questioned.
Aside from Boodoo, the other applicants include Omar Shariff – former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Presidency; Vishnu Persaud – one of GECOM’s former Public Relations Officers (PROs); GECOM’s Information Technology Manager Aneal Giddings and Attorney-at-Law and Leader of the National Independent Party, Saphier Husain.
Leslie Oliver Harrow from Jamaica; Eugene Godfrey Petty from St. Kitts and Dr. Kurt Clarke from the US are among the other applicants vying for the top electoral post.
Though concern over the 10-year requirement set, Alexander said he would await the shortlisting of the applicants before determining whether the post should be re-advertised.
“I would only take a position when the hard facts come to me, so while I am saying that you don’t have a lot of applicants who reach the criteria, I would not as yet pronounce whether we should go over the process,” he said.
A number of persons have also applied for the DCEO position as well as for the Assistant Chief Election Officer, Chief Accountant, Legal Officer, Logistics Manager and Civic and Voter Education Manager positions.
When the Commission meets, it is expected to determine whether an independent panel will assist the Commission in shortlisting the candidates for the top positions as proposed by Commissioner Trotman.
Trotman, in his proposal, recommended that an independent panel of external persons be tasked with interviewing candidates for the high-level posts, and based on their assessments, make recommendations to the Commission for its consideration and finalisation.
Currently, the commissioners conduct interviews of candidates and recommendations for recruitment are based on the tally of their scores.
However, there is concern about the lack of impartiality on the Commission given its composition.
The PPP-nominated Commissioners have expressed concern that the panel may usurp the constitutional responsibility of the Commission, but both Alexander and Trotman have maintained that the role of the independent panel would be to advise and not appoint.
“At the end of the day, that panel will only be making a recommendation; the responsibility still resides in the commission to make a final determination. So those who say they are not giving up their responsibility, they don’t understand processes,” he told this newspaper.
The Working People’s Alliance (WPA), in a statement earlier this year, supported the call for an independent panel to shortlist the applicants. It said the existing process has attracted much criticism with critics contending that it is driven by subjectivity that tend to mirror the partisan bias of the commissioners.
“The accusations of political bias and attempts of fraud on the part of GECOM staff at all elections since 2006 can be traced right back to the interviewing process.
In the circumstances. WPA feels that the removal of the commissioners from the interviewing process could go a long way towards addressing this problem and restoring some degree of confidence in GECOM staff,” WPA submitted.
It said while political parties may try to indirectly influence the process, freeing the commissioners of the burden of being actively involved in the interviewing process allows them to better police it.
The vacancies within the Commission for the top posts were created after the services of Keith Lowenfield, the former Chief Elections Officer (CEO), were terminated on August 18, in addition to those of the Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO) Roxanne Myers; and Region 4 Returning Officer (RO), Clairmont Mingo.