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…Opposition Commissioners mull challenge to Persaud’s appointment as CEO
By Svetlana Marshall
The Opposition-aligned Elections Commissioners are mulling the possibility of legally challenging the decision of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to appoint Vishnu Persaud as the country’s Chief Elections Officer (CEO).
After hours of deliberation on Friday (December 10), Chairman of the Elections Commission, Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh voted with the PPP–nominated Commissioners – Sase Gunraj, Bibi Shadick and Manoj Narayan – to have Persaud appointed over Jamaica’s Leslie Harrow.
In distancing themselves from the decision of the Commission on the basis that Persaud lacks experience in Electoral Management, the Opposition aligned Commissioners – Vincent Alexander, Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman – did not rule out the possibility of them challenging the decision at the level of the Court.
“That is under advisement,” Alexander told reporters during a late afternoon press conference at Legacy House, South Ruimveldt, when asked whether the Opposition-nominated Commissioners would be mounting a legal challenge.
In defending her decision to appoint Persaud, Chief Elections Officer, Justice (Ret’d) Singh said based on the arguments put forward by the Commissioners and an endorsement by the former GECOM Chairman, Dr. Steve Surujbally, it is her belief that Persaud has the requisite institutional knowledge to manage Elections in Guyana having worked at GECOM for 17 years.
“During his tenure at the Commission, Mr. Persaud held the post of Public Relations Officer, Deputy Chief Election Officer for three (3) years, and acted as Chief Election Officer on several occasions,” Justice Singh said in a statement on Friday.
According to her, Persaud is knowledgeable not only with the understanding and management of the work of the CEO’s office and the operational functions of the Secretariat but also with the geography of Guyana’s ten (10) Administrative Regions.
But the Opposition-aligned Commissioners rubbished both the endorsement proffered Dr. Surujbally and the argument that Persaud has more than 10 years of experience and knowledge in the management of elections in Guyana.
Dr. Surujbally, in a 3-page Endorsement Letter to the Elections Commission on October 8, 2021, said between 2001 and 2017, he worked closely with Persaud in the preparation and implementation of Guyana’s General and Regional Elections in 2006, 2011 and 2015 and Local Government Elections in 2016.
During that period, he served as Public Relations Officer, Civic and Voter Education Officer, Deputy Chief Election Officer, Acting Chief Elections Officer, Assistant to the Legal Officer and Personal Assistant to the Chair of GECOM.
“Mr. Vishnu Persaud, having acquired knowledge in all areas of GECOM’s operations, was promoted to the position of Deputy Chief Election Officer/ Deputy Commissioner of Registration in August 2014.
The Chief Election Officer/Commissioner of Registration could not ask for a better Deputy. Vishnu immediately commenced with the review of existing electoral Work Plans and Manuals to improve methodologies and needed components for the 2015 General and Regional Elections. It is a fact that Mr. Persaud became quite knowledgeable with the day-to-day understanding of the CEO’s office, not lastly with Microsoft Projects, all of which resulted in improved efficiency in crucial components needed for the preparation and conduct of the General and Regional Elections and Local Government Elections,” Dr. Surujbally wrote in his Endorsement Letter.
But Alexander – the country’s longest serving Elections Commission – said Dr. Surujbally’s testimonial cannot supersede the basic criteria set out by the Elections Commission, which underscored the need for candidates to have a minimum of 10 years of experience in Electoral Management. It is Alexander’s opinion, as well as that of Corbin and Trotman, that Persaud only amassed three years of experience in Electoral Management while serving as DCEO between 2014 and 2017.
That aside, Alexander contended that Dr. Surujbally has always demonstrated a clear bias in favour of Persaud.
“Given the history of Mr. Persaud being invited in 2001 to apply for a position, which was not advertised and having acquired the position without qualification beyond ‘O’ Level; and given the fact that a memorandum was established saying that he should have had 12 years of experience, which he did not have; and given the additional incident in 2014, where he was confirmed in the position of DCEO when in fact he did not have the required first degree, we can hardly take as the basis for decision the testimonial coming from the same person who exhibited bias towards Mr. Persaud from the very inception,” Alexander told reporters.
Maintaining his long held position, Alexander said for the majority of his stint at GECOM, Persaud served as the PRO, which according to GECOM’s Organisational Chart, is not a senior managerial position integrally involved in management of elections.
“It is disingenuous for anyone to say that, that is Electoral Management,” Alexander posited.
He said unlike Persaud, Leslie Harrow, who served as the Regional Manager at the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, has 15 years of operation experience at a senior managerial level. It was noted that during those years, he was responsible for the conduct of elections zonally and regionally.
“That apart, he had been called upon from time to time to operate at the very top level of the Commission in terms of training and other activities. There is no rational comparison between the experience documented by Mr. Harrow and the experience purported by Mr. Persaud,” Alexander posited.
Weighing in on the issue, Commissioner Corbin, said Persaud and Harrow, who were the only Candidates shortlisted for interviews for the position of CEO, were evaluated based on five criteria set out by the Elections Commission.
He said based on his evaluation, Harrow outperformed and exceeded Persaud in all five criteria.
“In all of the criteria that were outlined, in my own assessment, the candidate selected was second,” he told reporters.
It was explained that the first criterion dealt with certification for which both candidates were conferred with degrees – Persaud, a Level 5; and Harrow a Level 7.
Further, Persaud has a Master of Business Administration from the Anglia Ruskin University while 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).
The second criterion set out a requirement of a minimum of 10 years of experience in a senior management position overseeing and directing diverse operations aimed at achieving targets within specific deadlines; and another 10 years of experience in Management of National Elections and Election Systems.
“One candidate has over the years been involved in a hands on level moving from the lowest level of involvement in registration and elections to supervisory and managerial level, that is to say, the registration of persons in the field, in the management of office when registration is done, in the supervision of multiple offices, and in the conduct and execution of an actual election. In this regard, one candidate has under his belt, six national elections and five Local Government Elections throughout the country. That is to say one candidate has operational experience in the conduct of 11 elections across the country and nine constituency elections, that is by-elections where a single candidate has to be replaced,” Corbin detailed as he referenced to Harrow. He said on the contrary, Persaud has only two electoral experiences under his belt.
For his part, Commissioner Trotman said while it was argued that during Persaud’s 17 years at GECOM he interfaced with stakeholders at the highest level, during his many years of political activism, he never came across Persaud until 2015.
Trotman explained that though he only became an Election Commissioner in 2017, he had long interfaced with GECOM due to his political work.
“I began my interface with the Elections Commission in 1968 up to 2015, and in that period I functioned at several senior levels as a party activist with the Commission, including the level of election agent at the Election Commission, and I can say this without any apology is that the only time I ever came in to contact with Mr Vishnu Persaud is in 2015 when he was appointed DCEO, he might have been around but certainly the claim that they were making that he interface with stakeholders at the highest level of the process is not true,” Trotman said.
Trotman said throughout his interviews for DCEO position in 2017 and CEO position in 2021, Persaud has flip-flopped on his involvement in the Civic and Voter Education Programme, which according to Trotman, was a disaster.
“One has to be skeptical of Mr. Vishnu Persaud’s ability to be involved in this process. He is a stranger to the truth and I do not believe that when you look at what he said he has done, when you look at his qualifications, that he has the ability to represent GECOM in a way that will satisfy the public’s concern,” Trotman contended.
He opined that Persaud’s appointment does not augur well for the Commission.
“…We are attempting to set up a Secretariat that will give confidence to the populace at large not to GECOM but to the populace at large” Trotman said while alluding to the perception that as a result of the controversial 2020 General Elections there has been a drop in the public’s confidence in the Commission.
It was Trotman, who had recommended that an independent panel aid in the shortlisting and interviewing of candidates in the interest of transparency, however, despite similar pleadings by the Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon; the Deputy Speaker, Lenox Shuman and the Working People’s Alliance, the Chair of GECOM together with the Government-aligned Commissioners voted against the recommendation.
All three of the Opposition-aligned Commissioners have long argued that the process of appointing persons to key positions within the Elections Secretariat is highly flawed, hence the need for an independent body. With six more positions to be filled, Commissioner Trotman believes that the decision to appoint Persaud CEO will further undermine people’s confidence in the Commission to fairly appoint candidates.
The post for CEO and DCEO became vacant earlier this year after the Government-nominated Commissioners together with the Chair voted for the CEO, Keith Lowenfield; his Deputy Roxane Myers and the Region Four Returning Officer (RO) Clairmont Mingo to be fired over allegations fraud. These allegations are the subject of court matters, which to date have not concluded.