THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) has virtually awarded to the joint venture of Smartmatic-TIM Corp. the P2.503-billion voting machine procurement contract after it reversed a decision by the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) that disqualified the Venezuela-based firm and another bidder, Indra Sistemas, S.A., for submitting non-responsive bids.
The project involves the lease of 23,000 units of precinct-based Optical Mark Reader (OMR) that the Comelec will use in the 2016 elections to augment the 82,000 units of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines, which were also supplied by Smartmatic and are currently the subject of a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court (SC).
Smartmatic was disqualified after it left several items in the bidding form blank or filled them out with a dash, which the BAC considered as incomplete, while Indra submitted a bid that exceeded the approved budget for the OMR machines, which is P2.5 billion.
Indra did not contest its disqualification.
In a 10-page decision, the Comelec en banc gave credence to dissenting opinions of BAC members—lawyers Charlie Yap and Divina Blas-Perez—when the BAC denied for lack of merit Smartmatic’s motion for reconsideration.
In opposing Smartmatic’s disqualification, Yap explained that “specifying a “0” or a “—” for an item would mean that it is being offered for free to the government,” while Blas-Perez maintained that the BAC “shall consistently accord respect to GPPB-GPM (Government Procurement Policy Board-Generic Procurement Manual) opinion.”
“The Government Procurement Policy Board has already explained in several resolutions that in the evaluation of bids, a dash (—) should be interpreted as equivalent to a “0” or “zero,” to mean that such item is being offered for free to the government,” the Comelec said.
“Wherefore, the instant protest is hereby granted. Accordingly, the Commission hereby declares that the financial proposal submitted by the Smartmatic JV during the second stage of the competitive bidding for the lease of election management system and precinct-based Optical Mark Reader system of the joint venture of Smartmatic- Tim Corporation, Total Informational Management Corporation, Smartmatic International Holding B.V. and Jaritech International Corporation is complete and responsive,” the Comelec en banc ruled.
With the decision, Smartmatic, being the lowest calculated bidder, will undergo a post-qualification evaluation, which is nothing more than a formality prior to the awarding of the contract.
It is also the supplier of the old 82,000 PCOS units that Comelec used in the past three elections.
Last January 31, or two days before the retirement of former Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr., the poll body approved a P268-million contract with Smartmatic for the diagnostics, refurbishment and repair of the old 82,000 PCOS machines.
The contract was deemed a “midnight deal,” which prompted the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the election watchdog Automated Election System Watch to question it before the SC. This led to the issuance of a TRO.
As the lowest OMR bidder, the joint venture still needs to undergo the post-qualification evaluation to verify that it has complied with all legal and technical requirements.
Failure to pass the legal and technical requirements shall be ground for forfeiture of the bid security and disqualification of the bidder, which is most unlikely according to observers who cited Smartmatic’s past deals with the Comelec.