LIKE in the past two elections, technology provider Smartmatic Corp. has again emerged as the biggest winner after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc decided to use brand-new Optical Mark Reader (OMR) machines for next year’s polls.
Smartmatic will supply the 93,977 OMR machines.
“After exhaustive consultation with stakeholders and with due consideration of the current circumstances, particularly issues relating to cost, timeliness and technical risk, the commission unanimously decided to choose the more prudent approach of leasing all new 93,000 plus [OMR] machines for the 2016 elections,” Chairman Andres Bautista announced in a news briefing with the six other commissioners in attendance.
“The Commission believes that this is the most viable, practical and safest option to pursue in our efforts to ensure the credibility of the 2016 elections,” the poll chief said.
The en banc’s decision was arrived at after two failed biddings for the repair, refurbishment and upgrade of the existing 81,896 units of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines, which Smartmatic also provided.
The difference between cost of refurbishment and lease of new OMR machines is around P2.5 billion.
But the lone bidder in the second failed bidding, the Joint Venture of Stone of David, Avante and Dermalog (JV), was declared ineligible by the Comelec’s Special Bids and Awards Committee 2 (SBAC2) for its failure to comply with some documentary requirements.
The joint venture, however, appealed its disqualification but the SBAC2 turned it down.
“We wish to present to the public, through your professional and unbiased reporting, that we have the expertise and capability to refurbish the PCOS machines, and have [them]ready or operational and functional use in two months, and save the Filipino people five billion pesos against purchasing new PCOS machines,” JV representative Jocelyn Magcale said in a letter addressed to the media.
In a statement, Smartmatic claimed that the contracts for the 23,000 and 70,977 OMR machines have an average price of P40,676.61.
“Given that the going rate of OMR machines in the international market is around P220,000, we are pleased that these contracts will realize significant savings for the government,” said Cesar Flores, Smartmatic’s president for Asia Pacific.
The Comelec’s decision, Flores added, had once again underscored the fact that Smartmatic is in the “best position to provide top quality election systems at the most advantageous price to the government, in stark contrast with our competitors who have constantly submitted bids that are way above the budget.”
The PCOS refurbishment project has an approved budget contract (ABC) of P3.130 billion against the P7.867 billion for lease, with the option to purchase the 70,977 new OMR units.
The choice between the use of the old PCOS and the 70,977 OMRs was meant to augment the earlier 23,000 OMRs worth P2.503 billion, which Smartmatic won in an earlier bidding.
Under the law, the Comelec is allowed to directly negotiate after two failed biddings but Bautista explained that lack of time has restrained the Comelec from pursuing the available remedy.
The Comelec Advisory Council has suggested an option of leasing new machines,
refurbishing and upgrading of existing PCOS but Bautista said there were potential legal and commercial issues if the poll body were to reduce the award for the supply of 70,977 OMR units.
“Supplier can only commit refurbishment/upgrade of 10,000 machines by January 2016,” Bautista said.
He added that the supplier assured the delivery of all 93,977 OMRs by January 2016, with initial delivery by October 2015.
The timeline for the delivery of the OMRs, Bautista said, would give the Comelec enough time for testing to determine if the new machines were configured to address problems encountered in the 2010 and 2013 elections.
Bautista assured that the old PCOS would not be wasted, because they would still be used in the 2019 mid-term elections.
“We will bid out the refurbishment/upgrade contract with a longer time. We will utilize the 81,000 plus PCOS machines for the 2019 elections,” he said.
At deadline time last night, the Comelec is yet to release a copy of the approved resolution.