GECOM heading into interviews with highly flawed process – Alexander warns

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…says Jamaican Leslie Harrow brings 15-years of experience in electoral management while questions still linger over Vishnu Persaud’s experience

By Svetlana Marshall

With approximately 15 years of experience in Electoral Management, Jamaica’s Leslie Harrow is well poised for the position of Chief Elections Officer (CEO), but in a highly flawed system, Vishnu Persaud, whose experience remains highly disputed at the level of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) can land in the top spot.

Harrow and Persuad have been shortlisted for the top electoral position from a list of 20 applicants, and are expected to be interviewed virtually this week by the Elections Commission and its Chairman, Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh.

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Ahead of the interviews, longstanding Election Commissioner Vincent Alexander told Political Scientist, Dr. David Hinds that the process of interviewing applicants remains highly flawed.

“Even as we go to interviews, I still have major concerns about the interviewing process. GECOM has been in the divide, left and right and center, with the contention that the Commissioners are partisan, and they represent political interest. Yet we are going to the process with those commissioners as the interviewers in a system where you simply score as you wish,” Alexander told Dr. Hinds during his appearance on Politics 101.

Due to the composition of the Elections Commission, Opposition-nominated Commissioner, Desmond Trotman had long proposed that an external panel aid in the shortlisting process to allow for fairness and transparency but though the recommendation was endorsed by the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC), and the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Lenox Shuman, the Chairman of the Elections Commission together with the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) aligned Commissioners voted against the establishment of an independent panel to shortlist the applicants.

Under the current system, those shortlisted, in this case Harrow and Persaud, will be interviewed and recommendations for recruitment will be based on the tally of their scores. Alexander said with limited checks and balances, a candidate can score as much as 100%, as was seen in the past, not because he or she is highly qualified but because of partisanship, though Commissioners are expected to be objective.

THE CANDIDATES
Harrow, a former Regional Manager at the Electoral Commission in Jamaica, was shortlisted by both the Opposition and Government aligned Commissioners for the position of CEO, while Persaud, a former Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO) at GECOM, was shortlisted by the Government Commissioners.

In assessing the qualifications and experience of the Candidates, Alexander said Harrow brings with him a wealth of experience while Persaud leaves much to be desired.

“Mr. Harrow…is highly qualified both academically, and in terms of electoral management… [he has] some 15 years managing over 18 offices in a constituency electoral system in Jamaica; managing the complete process of constituency elections, which are equivalent to an election in Guyana,” Alexander said.

Harrow has a Professional Masters in Operations Management from the City and Guild of London Institute and an Executive Masters of Business Administration from the Commonwealth of Learning/University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC).

Persaud, on the other hand, has a Master of Business Administration in Business Administration and Management from the Anglia Ruskin University and a Level 5 Certificate in Elections Management from the Chartered Management Institute in the UK.

In 2001, he was appointed Public Relations Officer (PRO) at the Guyana Elections Commission and by 2014, he was appointed substantive DCEO. However, when his contract expired in August 2017, it was not renewed, though efforts were made to do so. As such, it can be deduced that Persaud only served three years in a senior managerial position at the Elections Commission. Aside from working at GECOM, Persaud worked as the Personal Assistant to the Minister of Fisheries Crops and Livestock (1999-2001) under the PPP/C Administration.

In attempting to make a case on behalf of Persaud, the PPP/C aligned Commissioners have argued that Persaud has 10 years of experience Electoral Management as required by GECOM but Alexander, and the other two Opposition-nominated Commissioners beg to differ.

“There are those who contend that he did assignments relating to [electoral management], in my humble opinion, those assignments cannot and do not add up to 10 years, which was laid down by GECOM on the insistence of the nominees of the People’s Progressive Party. Other Commissioners at that time, I was not present, said that six years would have been sufficient. They argued that it should be 10, and we now fully understand why. The 10 [years] is to rule out all others, and can allow them to say that Vishnu’s 9-year stint as a PRO qualifies him as a senior manager,” Alexander submitted.

He said from the onset, Persaud may not have met the requirements to become the PRO.

“I cannot find a record which suggest that when he was offered that job, purportedly by the Commission, that he had the qualification that suited the job. But more importantly, there was the coinage of a Terms of Reference which did not specify a required qualification…but one of the things they specified was 12 years as a PR practitioner, I am yet to find any evidence that in 2001, Mr. Persaud had 12 years as a PR practitioner,” Alexander said.

It was noted that in 2004, Persaud acquired an online Diploma in Public Relations, and later his Level 5 Certificate in Electoral Management. According to Alexander, when Persaud applied for the DCEO post in 2014, a first degree was among the requirements for applicants, however the then Chairman of GECOM, Dr. Steve Surujbally had concluded that the Level 5 Certificate equated to a first degree.

Alexander contends that the certificate amounts to a foundation degree in the British Framework, “meaning a degree that equips someone to enter a Bachelor’s Programme, and is not in itself a Bachelor’s Degree.”

“So he became the DCEO under the pretext, not of his own doing, of having a first degree,” Alexander said.

The Elections Commissioner said when Persaud reapplied for the DCEO post in 2017 he secured the highest score though the now former DCEO, Roxanne Myers was more qualified.

“The most academically qualified person was the former DCEO Roxane Myers who has a Masters with a B+ average as oppose Mr. Vishnu Persaud’s Masters with a D average. And so we proposed her, and that was opposed by others, some of whom scored Vishnu as much as 100% in certain elements, and therefore the matter went to the full Commission, and with the intervention of the then Chair, Myers was employed as the most suitable candidate for the DCEO position,” Alexander recalled.

He said today, GECOM is once again faced with Persaud, who he believes does not possess 10 years of experience in a Senior Management Post or the 10 years of experience in Election Management.

“Even if one formally says it is a senior managerial position, when one looks at what the job requires, it does not involve the Public Relations Officer (PRO) in the actual management of the electoral process and therefore on that score I maintain he has not met the requirements,” Alexander maintained.

The Office of the CEO became vacant this year after the Commission, by a majority vote, took a decision to terminate the services of the then CEO, Keith Lowenfield as well as his Deputy CEO, Roxanne Myers, and Region Four Returning Officer (RO), Clairmont Mingo, over allegations of electoral fraud that stemmed from the 2020 General and Regional Elections. Applicants are also being shortlisted for six other positions including the post of DCEO.



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