With all bidders backing out of the project because of low budget allocation, the special bids and awards committee of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Tuesday declared a failure of bidding for the contract to refurbish 81,000 vote-counting machines for next year’s elections.
The bids committee, headed by Jubil Surmieda, came up with the decision to declare a failure of bidding after two of the three supposed bidders, Smartmatic-Total Information Management and Vertex Business Application, withdrew from the proceedings, while the third one, Indra Sistemas, did not show up.
“Two companies showed up and one of them is Smartmatic and they said that the ABC [approved budget for the contract]is not realistic,” Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said.
The Comelec en banc decided to slash the P2.88-billion contract budget to P2.07 billion only last week. No official could explain why the budget was cut.
Vertex had requested extension of time to submit additional questions and clarifications but it was denied.
Smartmatic president Cesar Flores said that with the budget reduction, the PCOS refurbishment project is no longer viable.
Flores explained that the refurbishing and upgrading process consists of taking all machines to the original manufacturing facility and proceeding with opening all units, replacing all necessary parts for refurbishment, placing all the new boards and repairing all the other parts necessary.
At the end of the process, he pointed out, all upgraded PCOS will be on the same level of performance required of the new PCOS in the others bids and will have a new warranty from the manufacturer.
“In all our years participating in government bids across the world, this is the first time that we have encountered a situation where a public bid of this magnitude finds its funds cut in such a considerable manner, only a few days before the submission of the bid proposal,” Smartmatic representative Filipinas Ordono said in a letter to the bids committee.
“It is with no small amount of regret that we inform the committee that Smartmatic TIM Corp. has decided not to participate in this tender. We hope the commission will consider this humble appeal and will revisit the reduced budget and adjust it accordingly,” he added.
Sources of The Manila Times hinted that the budget reduction was a calculated move to discourage the other bidders from pursuing the project in order to pave the way for procurement of brand-new voting machines, a variant of the controversial PCOS machines.
Bautista said the Comelec will decide on its next move next week.
“The question is how long does it take to have another public bidding? Those are the issues we are studying,” he added.
Last April, the Supreme Court (SC) voided an agreement between Comelec and Smartmatic for the P300-million diagnostics and repair of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines that will be used in the 2016 elections.
The SC said the Comelec “failed to justify its resort to direct contracting.”
Smartmatic was Comelec’s supplier of PCOS machines in the 2010 and 2013 elections.
Since the next elections are only less than a year away, Comelec said it is looking at two options–adjusting the ABC and going for “hybrid” polls.
“Bidding is a very long process… we don’t want to waste time while we’re evaluating the hybrid election system…,” Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim said.
Dasmariñas City (Cavite) Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., vice chairman of the House Committee on Good Government and Accountability, noted that the Comelec’s decision to cut the budget for the PCOS machine refurbishment was a signal that it is bent on adopting a hybrid polling system.
With LLANESCA T. PANTI