Independence: More than meets the eye

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What is that hidden force that absolutely influences the attainment of transparency in conducting national and local elections? It is neither related to legal nor information and communications technology aspects of automated election law (i.e. RA 9369)!….That hidden force is all about the right application of management concepts.

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Let’s refresh our memory about Article IX of the 1987 Constitution. Section 1 therein stipulates that the Constitutional Commissions, which shall be independent, are the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Elections (Comelec), and the Commission on Audit. The Comelec shall exercise the powers and functions to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum, and recall for the purpose of ensuring free, orderly, peaceful and credible elections independent; that is, including the promulgation of implementing rules and regulation for the implementation and enforcement of RA 9369 which has been pending since 2007.

However, there’s a weakness on being a nonpartisan electoral administrator like Comelec. Schaffer (2008, p.91) explained in his book that former Comelec Chairman Christian Monsod wrote of the body he once directed: “Because of the constitutional wall around the Comelec as an independent commission, a chairman or commissioner can be vindictive, arbitrary and incompetent, and maybe even crooked, without too much risk of disciplinary sanction or removal. This is the downside of independent constitutional bodies.”

Schaffer mentioned the impeachment case of past Commissioner Luz Tancangco about her verification and mapping project which violated the intent of the 1996 Continuous Voter Registration Act. Schaffer wrote that the House of Representatives turned down the case as many of them were reluctant to support the complaint out of fear that Comelec might rule against them in future electoral disputes thereby hindering accountability.

Further, Schaffer cited a Comelec commissioner, who was caught on secretly recorded telephone conversation, orchestrating an extensive vote padding and shaving scheme in the 2004 presidential race. Hence, Schaffer concluded that administrative exclusion in places like the Philippines, Venezuela, etc., was allowed to happen as safeguards were not in place to ward off abuses of inept or manipulative election officials. Therefore, Schaffer said that excessive independence is a problem and that not all nonpartisan electoral bodies are equally independent and neutral.

On another perspective of excessive independence as experienced in the 2010 and 2013 elections, the non-compliance with provisions of RA 9369 and the Bid’s Terms of Reference (TOR) and the non-transparency of Smartmatic solutions as the technical provisions and specifications of the said law and TOR were disregarded and the PCOS machines could not provide credible election results, respectively.

AES Watch simply pointed out that one of the main causes is mismanagement of Comelec’s Project Management Office (PMO) in the past two elections. The PMO failed to perform its function to properly manage the deficiencies of Smartmatic’s solution in 2008 (i.e. ARMM elections), the 2010 and 2013 elections resulting in poor execution of the Automated Election System project.

Heaven forbid that it should happen in the 2016 elections and beyond.

Project management is not a matter of deciding which part of the AES project should be bid out and then leave everything to the supplier once awarded. Project management is not fence sitting! It is instead the proactive involvement of the PMO in the whole AES project implementation which encompasses project planning (i.e., what technologies to use and their corresponding specifications, etc. as the Bids and Awards Committee only gets instructions from the PMO on what to bid), project risk management, time management, resource management, change management, problem management, contract management (i.e., vendor’s conformance with the contract vis TOR/RA 9369), etc.

Have we heard any critical remarks from the PMO about Smartmatic since 2008? No! When the 76,000 CF cards were “recalled” in 2010 during the final testing and sealing of the PCOS machines on May 3, 2010, did we hear PMO recommending the postponement of the elections because the PCOS machines malfunctioned and should pass through independent and thorough testing by the Technical Evaluation Committee for some weeks to recondition the machines? No!

So how competent is our Comelec’s PMO? How can they decide to have the project management component be handled by the supplier or by an independent team? Of course, it is incumbent upon the supplier to have its own team! The PMO should have an independent professional project management team working with the supplier side by side to complement whatever their shortcomings are in terms of management and technical skills; an enhanced version of PMO (ePMO)! The PMO should not be independent with a “don’t mind” attitude vis suppliers’ deliverables. The ePMO should be independent in terms of validating what’s going on whether the suppliers or service providers are doing things right or even doing the right things!

Again, how competent is our Comelec’s PMO? How can they allow Smartmatic to bid for the transmission project when in fact it’s not their core competency???!!!

Why did the telcos not bid directly? This is the reason: the telcos in the past congressional hearings manifested that they could not do that as they need an integrator, which was Smartmatic!

Are there no other companies other than Smartmatic?

If this saga would continue in 2016, it’s best for Comelec to invoke its power to deputize the National Telecommunications Commission and the telcos as stipulated in the Constitution and Omnibus Election Code. Has this been forgotten? It’s in the law, and it states, “The Commission may, during the election period, supervise or regulate the enjoyment or utilization of all franchises or permits for the operation of transportation and other public utilities, media of communication or information…” AES Watch is recommending that Comelec collaborate with the Philippine Electronics and Telecommunications Federation or the Institute of Electronics and Communications Engineering of the Philippines as to who could be the competent integrator.

The ePMO is therefore an independent entity and partner of Comelec En Banc in attaining transparency of election results through professional project management coupled with independence in pushing the suppliers and service providers to perform what are expected from them! It’s about checks and balances! It’s neither about the law nor the technologies. It’s about Mintzberg’s (1973) functions of Management and these are planning, leading, organizing and controlling.

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3 Comments

  1. jesus nazario on

    The PMO does not even have a single true, certified and competent Project Manager. The highest skills among its supposedly technically-skilled members are Programmers, not even true Systems Analysts. The PMO head is not a technical/technology-management man but a lawyer with technical skills not exceeding that of an MS Word and Excel user. Nobody in the PMO even has any significant skills to have facility in any of the project management software such as MS Project. One middle level officer who tried to impose the use of MS Project and a formal Project Management Methodology once in one of the national elections was laughed at and ignored. They still use either Word or Excel to draw up project schedules and activity management up to now. Imagine managing projects that cost several billions with Word and Excel ! So, what can we expect from this pitiful PMO ? Sabog galore !

  2. Amnata Pundit on

    The hidden force in your question at the top of your article is that one whose headquarters is found in Langley ,Virginia.

  3. Eddie de Leon on

    Thank God, Mr. Celis, the Supreme Court has unanimously REJECTED the Comelec-Smartatic midnight deal. Now your suggestions can, we pray, be implemented and we Filipinos can have transparent and correctly-counted and correctly-transmitted precinct election results.