Forms International Enterprise Corp.

18 contentious deals taint Comelec image

18 contentious deals taint Comelec image
GOTCHA By Jarius Bondo
The Philippine Star

How can the Comelec properly automate — when rackets distract it? Since 2008 at least 18 big-ticket expenditures have brought the poll body shame:

• ARMM poll automation 2008 — Bidding for the P600-million project flawed. Only Smartmatic-SAHI qualified at first; the only other bidder Sandz Solutions failed. Later Smartmatic-SAHI flunked technical tests. Still Comelec awarded it the contract for direct recording electronic (touch-screen) voting in Maguindanao.

• ARMM election paper — Supply of voter registration and election forms won by lowest bidding newcomer Advance Paper Corp. Then, Comelec debarred Advance because allegedly blacklisted — a falsity. Contracts handed out to higher bidders Consolidated Paper Products, Philand Industries, and Forms International, three of nine firms that have been cornering Comelec deals. Comelec lost P8 million. Ex-chairman Ben Abalos and successor Jose Melo were sued last week for approving and implementing the transaction.

• Automated Fingerprint Identification System, 2009 — P1.6-billion fingerprinting of 50 million voters supposed to be rushed in time for May 2010 election. Bidding reportedly rigged for NEC-Japan, partner of Unison, one of the nine frequent Comelec contractors. Soon after signing the deal, Comelec lengthened implementation period to three years, giving NEC-Unison P600 million in savings. But contract price stayed the same. Paper and printing contract given to Consolidated Paper.

• Carbonless paper — P180 million-P400 million worth of paper for Election Returns, Statements of Votes, and Certificates of Canvass for manual balloting. Contract reportedly given to Noah Paper Mills, one of the nine. All this will go to waste since Comelec opted for full automation.

• Watermarked paper — P800 million worth of paper for manual ballots awarded to one of the nine. No clear bidding. Now also useless with automation.

• 2010 Automated Election System — Bidding for P11.2-billion project faulty. Five bidders debarred for incomplete submissions, but Smartmatic-Total Information Management passed even if also lacking. Bid was P7.2 billion, 36 percent lower than agency budget, grounds for rejection under old Public Bidding Act. In test run, battery wire of the precinct count optical scanner shorted and burned. Still Comelec awarded contract. After which, Filipino-owned TIM nearly backed out for being eased out of control by Barbadian Smartmatic. They then reincorporated as 1920 Business Inc. In Hong Kong last Sunday the PCOS in one of 20 voting precincts rejected all ballots, resulting in 5-percent failure rate. Automation law requires 99.995-percent accuracy.

• Ballot boxes — P243,367,740-fabrication of 77,000 boxes awarded to Smartmatic without bidding, on lame excuse that only it knows the exact size of its PCOS. Original design was for transparent polycarbonate, but Comelec switched to opaque plastic to avoid sunlight soiling ballot ultraviolet markings. Boxes thus became like common trash bins. Yet price remained at P3,160 apiece, thrice costlier than the old P900-metal box.

• Ballot paper — While part of Smartmatic’s commitments under its P7.2-billion offer, the Comelec is mum if the supplier is again one of the favored nine.

• Ballot redesign — Smartmatic saved two to three inches in ballot length — consequently tons of paper — when listing of candidates was made horizontal instead of vertical. Yet Comelec did not renegotiate price cut.

• Late PCOS delivery — Smartmatic missed by two weeks its deadline to deliver first batch. Under the contract, it should have been fined one percent of contract price, or P72 million, per day of delay. But Comelec exempted it.

• Performance bond — The contract required Smartmatic to post one-percent performance bond, or P1.12 billion, based on approved budget, for the duration of the procurement. Smartmatic took out a letter of credit from HSBC in the equivalent $25.3 million to obtain Comelec’s notice to proceed. Then, with no legal basis, Comelec let Smartmatic withdraw $21 million and leave only $4.3 million.

• Ballot transport — First batch of 12 million printed ballots trucked from Quezon City to Manila for P92 million. No bidding.

• Voter education — P240 million nearly awarded sans bidding to Comelec communication consultant who owns ad agency.

• Packing paper and services — for Optical Mark Reading ballots. P180-million contract allegedly went to Synergy Corp., one of the nine.

• Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) — P480 million went to security barcode instead, but for the same low effectiveness.

• Ballot-secrecy folders — P700 million awarded to OTC Paper Corp., one of the nine, to fabricate 1.815 million “special” covers for Election Day. No bidding, only unsolicited proposal with no clear Swiss Challenge. Work was for 22 folders in 82,500 precinct clusters, when there are only 76,340 clusters. En banc approved contract on say-so of Comelec Bids and Awards Committee, then rescinded it when poll watchdog PPCRV protested.

• Ultraviolet lamps — P28-million deal first awarded to OTC Paper Corp. as lowest bidder and consolation for scrapping of P700-million folders. Precinct officers will use the lamps to read secret ballot U/V marks. This is because Smartmatic switched off the PCOS U/V reader when it couldn’t get the right mix of ink during ballot printing. Thus, this should be paid for by Smartmatic, not Comelec. After public scrutiny, Comelec called for re-bidding because the three bidders, including Philand and Embu Integrated Trading Co., had insufficient papers after all.

• Indelible ink — P77-million contract given to Texas Resources Corp. for ink to mark voters on Election Day. When PPCRV exposed Texas’s ink to be erasable, Comelec said it would hold new bidding. Then it claimed the mix was indelible after all when inkbottle was shaken before use. No, really.

*      *      *

“Life is not what you see on the surface; it is lived in the depths of your experience and love.” Shafts of Light, Fr. Guido Arguelles, SJ

*      *      *

E-mail: [email protected]

Abalos, 10 others charged with graft for 2008 polls

Abalos, 10 others charged with graft for 2008 polls
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Former elections chairman Benjamin Abalos and 10 other officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) were charged with graft before the Office of the Ombudsman yesterday in connection with the procurement of election forms for the 2008 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Reached by The STAR, Abalos denied having any involvement in the allegedly anomalous transaction since he was no longer with the Comelec when it took place.

Abalos resigned as chairman in October 2007, five months before the supposed bidding process was undertaken.

“Definitely, I don’t know anything about it,” he said.

Five members of the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) accused Abalos and the poll officials of entering into an anomalous transaction for the procurement of election forms and supplies for the 2008 elections in the ARMM.

The complainants said bloated prices approved by Comelec commissioners and members of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) caused the government to lose P8.5 million.

Among those charged for alleged violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act were Commissioners Jose Armando Melo, Nicodemo Ferrer, Rene Sarmiento, Moslemen Macarambon Sr., Lucenito Tagle and Resurreccion Borra.

BAC members Jose Tolentino Jr., Thaddeus P. Hernan, James Arthur Jimenez, and Ma. Norina Tangarao-Casingal were also named respondents.

Lawyer Harry Roque and the CCM members said the Comelec officials committed graft in causing undue injury to Advance Paper Corp. and the government by giving undue advantage to three other private firms who lost the bidding process for a procurement contract on March 24, 2008.

Apart from giving unwarranted benefits to the losing bidders, graft was also committed when the poll body entered into a procurement contract that was allegedly “manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government,” according to the complainants.

The complaint said Advance Paper Corp. won the public bidding for “Forms and Supplies for the Resumption of the Continuing Registration of Voters” in the ARMM after giving the lowest and most advantageous bids for five specific items or forms.

However, after the process, the Comelec disqualified the firm for allegedly being a sister-company of Advance Computer Forms Inc., a blacklisted company.

The only trivial basis for the accusation was that the companies shared the name “Advance,” the complaint added.

On March 25, 2008, Advance Paper Corp. filed a motion for reconsideration with the Comelec BAC to show that based on corporate documents, the two companies had different stockholders, and that they were not subsidiaries or affiliates of each other.

Despite the evidence presented, the poll body, three days later, issued Notices of Award (NOA) in favor of losing bidders Forms International Enterprise Corp.; Philand Industries, Inc., and Consolidated Paper Products, Inc. “instead of resolving Advance Paper Corporation’s motion for reconsideration.”

Roque and the CCM members said the awarding of the procurement contracts for supplies to the three other firms resulted in bloated prices and the loss of more than P8.5 million to the government.

“From the foregoing, it could be seen that the Comelec BAC caused undue injuries to Advance Paper Corporation and to the government by first, unjustifiably disqualifying this corporation by merely alleging that it was related to a blacklisted company. The unfounded and whimsical decision of the Comelec BAC denied the government of a cost-effective bid for election documents offered by Advance Paper Corporation,” read the complaint.

“Second, the Comelec BAC, with manifest partiality and evident bad faith as shown by the unexplainable indifference to Advance Paper Corporation’s pending motion for reconsideration, awarded overpriced procurement contracts to losing bidders who gained unwarranted benefits, advantages and preferences causing undue injuries to Advance Paper Corporation and to the government.”

Comelec urged to purge BAC

The Comelec was urged yesterday to purge its ranks in the wake of mounting controversies on the conduct of the elections on May 10.

Lakas-Kampi-CMD senatorial candidate Raul Lambino said the poll body must examine and discontinue questionable deals made by members of the BAC.

“This is already a question about the integrity of the Comelec,” he said.

“The public might doubt the Comelec every time it procures something. It could also be flooded with accusations of poll cheating after the election period because of this latest scam.”

Lambino said it is not too late for the Comelec to implement corrective measures to win back the trust and confidence of the people.

“One of them is to effect a reshuffle of its BAC members and relieve all its officials implicated in the ballot secrecy folder scam,” he said. – Michael Punongbayan, Jaime Laude