Public Bidding Act

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]