CONTROVERSIAL technology provider Smartmatic Corp.-Total Information Management Corp. (Smartmatic-TIM) has won the bidding for the P660.741-million bidding called by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to refurbish its almost 100,000 vote counting machines (VCMs) for the 2022 polls.

Smartmatic-TIM clinched the contract after the only other bidder, Pivot International Inc.-Power Serve Inc. (PII-PSI), was disqualified by Special Bids and Awards Committee-Automated Elections Systems (SBAC-AES).

Documents showed that PII-PSI’s bid of P490 million is below the P170,741,660.47 budget ceiling of P660,741,660.47 and lower than the P637,443,308.45 offer of Smartmatic-TIM.

In its notice of disqualification dated December 11, the committee informed PII-PSI that it was disqualified because it failed to indicate a “zero” or “dash” in column 8 of Annex G-2 pursuant to Section 32.2.1 of the updated 2016 revised implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Republic Act (RA) 9184 or the “Government Procurement Reform Act” (GPRA).

It added that the bidder did not specify the price of the cleaning sheets and the SD cards main and worm SD.

Smartmatic-TIM, meanwhile, submitted a single calculated bid for the refurbishment of 97,345 VCMs, 109,745 SD cards (main), 109,745 worm SD (back-up) and 250,000 cleaning sheets, the committee said.

In a letter dated December 14, PII-PSI asked the bidding committee to reconsider its ruling.

It argued the ruling was premised on the wrong interpretation of Section 32.2.1 (a) of RA 9184 and that “the rule simply states that a bidder is required to indicate a price per item, and a zero or a dash as the price if the item is being offered for free.”

The bidder also said that contrary to the committee’s interpretation, the “cost of incidental services” is a mere component of the price per item, adding that “there are only four items under column 1 (item) and 2 (description) if Annex G-2 submitted by the PII-PSI.”

“Even assuming, however, that the cost of incidental services is an item, we believe that SBAC-AES nevertheless erred in disqualifying the PII-PSI,” it said.

The rule under Section 32.2.1(a) of the 2016 GPRA IRR specifies “a zero or dash only applies to required items in the bidding documents,” it added.

“In other words, a zero or dash should be written only when the bidding documents require a bidder to indicate a price for a specific item,” it said.

It pointed out that the committee also erred in its second ground for disqualification because “the bidding documents, as amended by supplemental/bid bulletin 1 and 2, do not contain any requirement that the bidder must indicate a separate price for the cleaning sheets, SC cards and worm SD cards.”

PII-PSI said its bid will bring “substantial savings to the Comelec in the amount of P147,443,308.45.”

Smartmatic-TIM has won all the Comelec biddings since 2010 when it bagged the election automation project.

That year, Smartmatic-TIM and six other bidders were all initially disqualified. All of them filed motions for reconsideration but only Smartmatic-TIM passed the SBAC’s eligibility, technical and financial requirements.

In 2015, Smartmatic-TIM was also post-disqualified in the P2.503-billion contract for the supply and lease of 23,000 precinct-based optical mark reader (OMR) counting machines for not submitting valid articles of incorporation and the failure of its demo unit to meet the system requirement.

The voting machines were to be used in the 2016 national and local elections to augment the existing 82,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, which were also supplied by Smartmatic

In that project, only Smartmatic-TIM and Indra Sistemas, S.A. participated, but both were disqualified for submitting nonresponsive financial proposals.

Both bidders appealed their disqualification but the SBAC rejected it. The SBAC decision was eventually reversed by the Comelec en banc, and the project was eventually awarded to Smartmatic-TIM.