THE P268-million contract awarded to Smartmatic for the diagnostics and minor repair of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines for the 2016 elections is full of loopholes intended to cheat the government, according to an election watchdog.
The Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3E), through convenor Melchor Magdamo, disclosed on Sunday that no less than officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) who revealed the alleged grand design to defraud the government during a recent hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) on automated elections.
“It was a clear rip-off,” Magdamo said, adding that the job should cost the taxpayers no more than P30 million.
Comelec officials led by former Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. briefed the JCOC, headed by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd and Rep. Senen Sarmiento, on the scope of the contract involving diagnosis, preventive maintenance, repairs and replacement of machines that are unserviceable up to four percent of total PCOS machines, or around 3,300 units.
Brillantes signed the deal a few days before he retired on February 2.
Magdamo said the midnight deal gave Smartmatic blanket authority to dictate the terms of refurbishment to the disadvantage of the Comelec.
Details of the contract, he added, also revealed mind-boggling issues that need to be addressed by both Comelec and Smartmatic, including the controversial issue on who would determine how many machines are unserviceable.
“In that case, Smartmatic need not replace any PCOS machine and they would have easily earned P231 million because the contract guarantees payment regardless of the condition of the counting machines,” he said.
“Under any circumstances, we’ve been had. It was a swindle. The government is being robbed, and the people’s money is being spent on a grossly advantageous contract for Smartmatic,” Magdamo added.
He cited the confirmation from Smartmatic’s Cesar Flores at the hearing that not all 82,000 machines will be diagnosed but only those initially identified as having defective Mylar parts, referring to the electronic components that were allegedly the source of digital lines on the electronic image of the ballots.
The hearing uncovered the root of the anomalous deal: Despite the Comelec’s insistence that all Mylar components be replaced, Smartmatic rejected the proposal.
“We attempted to have all the Mylars replaced, Your Honor. But they [Smartmatic] were the ones who rejected that,” acting Comelec Chairman Christian Lim told the committee.
When Pimentel asked about the scope of the repair job, Flores replied: “Only those that are damaged.”
“Obviously, the Comelec rendered itself helpless when Smartmatic arrogated unto itself the authority to dictate the terms of the refurbishment project,” Magdamo said.
“Considering that the coverage of the contract involved only those damaged to the extent of 3,300 machines, it is simple robbery in broad daylight to pay P268 million to Smartmatic to do just a fraction of the job.”
Brillantes had earlier boasted of having secured a good bargain with Smartmatic for successfully reducing the PCOS repair cost from P300 million. “That was a callous lie,” Magdamo said.
But Brillantes maintained that the P240-million Comelec-Smartmatic contract was not a midnight deal, saying his critics probably did not understand how the Comelec functions.
“They have to understand the set-up of the Comelec. The resolution [approving the Smartmatic contract]was a resolution of the commission en banc. The chairman alone cannot sign any contract unless with the support of the Commission en banc,” he said.
“They were just picking on me because I was the chairman and I signed it. Whether I signed it on the last day or two days before I retired, there was no problem because the resolution was approved by the Comelec en banc,” the former Comelec chief said.