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…work to be done on other discrepanciesSince being launched last year after millions of dollars in discrepancies were discovered with purchasing of electronic items, the audit into the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is yet to be completed.According to Auditor General Deodat Sharma, the process has been one involving extensive interviews with officials. And he said that at least one report which examined purchases of Very High Frequency (VHF) radios was completed.“One report, the one on the radios, has been completed and sent to the Commissioners,” Sharma stated in an interview with this publication. “We are still continuing the other aspects (of the audit). That (includes) the purchase of the pliers and the toners.”The Auditor General affirmed that the work of his office has not been impeded by officials from GECOM. While he could not give a definitive end date for the audit, he stated that it would soon be completed.The special audit was launched last year after the Audit Office of Guyana reportedly noticed some discrepancies with the purchasing of 50 VHF communication radios by GECOM for close to $100 million. The purchases, which had occurred prior to the May 2015 General and Regional Elections, raised concerns over the extraordinarily high cost of the equipment. The investigation’s scope had included contracts and inventories, in addition to spending for the May 2015 General and Regional Elections.It is understood that auditors were working from GECOM’s head office in High Street, Kingston. Besides the radios, some of the things that the State’s auditors were looking into were the purchase of a quantity of toners, pliers and batteries.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 many of them were not working.Later, information surfaced that while the electoral body would have collected quotations from a number of suppliers, it handed the contract for the supply of the equipment to Mobile Authority, a company owned by a Water Street, Georgetown businessman.But media reports later surfaced that some of the equipment purchased was obsolete and was not covered by warranty.As a matter of fact, sections of the Guyanese media reported that the Australia-based manufacturer, Barrett Communications, through its European office, distanced itself from the purchase. The company made it clear that it had ceased to produce the equipment more than five years ago. Barrett said it had also tendered through the Advanced Office Systems for the supply of new radio equipment for the 2015 elections; however, GECOM subsequently cancelled the order. The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has been calling for the release of the findings, in addition to questioning the deafening silence of GECOM’s then outgoing Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally and the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, on the matter. Both were in power at the Commission when the purchases were made.SlowdownThe proposed budget for the Audit Office of Guyana had been slashed by the Government side in the National Assembly during consideration of the 2017 Estimates of Expenditure, and subsequently, the situation had forced the Audit Office to grapple with not having adequate staff, or adequate funds to pay them.The Audit Office has a wide remit, and is responsible for auditing the public accounts of Guyana and presenting reports of those audits to the Finance Minister, thence to the National Assembly. As laid out in Article 223 of the Constitution of Guyana, the Audit Office is authorised to audit all officers and authorities of the Government, including Commissions.Questions have thus been raised about the effect the reduced staffing would have on the work of the Audit Office.The proposed estimate for the Audit Office in the last budget was $771.2 million for that constitutional agency, which is tasked with auditing ‘the State apparatus’, but Finance Minister Winston Jordan had decreased this sum to $754.9 million, owing to claims of financial restraints.