Comelec close to awarding P11.3-B contract

30 05 2009

By Marlon Ramos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:03:00 05/30/2009

Filed Under: Elections, Eleksyon 2010, Computing & Information Technology

MANILA, Philippines—After the lone surviving bidder in the P11.3 billion poll automation project hurdled 24 of 26 criteria, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Friday night said it was close to awarding the huge contract—if anyone deserved to win it.

The two tests still to be hurdled by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine of the remaining bidder—the consortium of the Smartmatic International and Total Informational Management Corp. (Smartmatic-TIM)—pertained to its capability to run on battery power for 12 straight hours and to scan and save 2,000 ballot images, according to Ferdinand Rafanan, chair of the Comelec’s Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC).

“We’re very, very near to finishing the testing of the machines and the awarding of the contract, if it will be awarded,” Rafanan told reporters.

He said Smartmatic-TIM’s machine had hurdled 24 of the criteria set by the SBAC’s technical working group (TWG).

Smartmatic-TIM is a Dutch consortium.

Rafanan said the TWG reported that the machine had correctly read all the 640 ballots that were fed into it.

The machine also recorded a 100 percent accuracy rate when 625 ballots were fed into it during an earlier test on Wednesday, Rafanan said.

Rival bidder

Rafanan brushed off insinuations that the SBAC should have disqualified the Dutch consortium after its PCOS machine emitted smoke during a test run on Thursday.

He said the smoke only came from a burned wire and not from the PCOS unit itself.

“The wiring of the battery was not part of the system,” he said.

Rafanan, however, said the SBAC would still have to rule on the motion for reconsideration filed by the consortium of AMA Group of Companies and Election System and Software before they could decide on the awarding the contract.

As of 8 p.m., the five-member SBAC had yet to issue its ruling on the request of AMA-ESS to participate again in the bidding.

“If the financial bid of AMA is lower, then we will open their bid documents and test their machines,” Rafanan told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).

Text message

With the bidding process almost over, allegations of bribery involving the head of the Comelec procurement committee surfaced in media circles.

An anonymous text message sent to journalists covering the dry run of the ballot scanning machines insinuated Rafanan received P2 million in bribe money to help the Dutch consortium.

“Smartmatic machine broke down last night and the Comelec still want to award the deal to the Venezuelan government-owned corporation. Was it because Rafanan got P2 million bribe from Smartmatic? Please pass,” the message read.

The normally calm Rafanan almost lost his cool as he vehemently denied the allegations.

“That is false. That is malicious. I deny that categorically,” a visibly incensed Rafanan told reporters.

“I never received anything. I never asked for anything and I have no intention of receiving or demanding anything.”

Smartmatic denial

The Dutch consortium also dismissed the allegations.

Cesar Flores, Smartmatic’s sales director, also clarified that although the company maintains an office in Venezuela, it is entirely owned by private individuals and that its main holding company is based in The Netherlands.

“We are going through very strict and stringent proceedings of qualification made by the Comelec. We deny any type of wrongdoing,” Flores said.

Rafanan challenged his accusers to show evidence about the purported bribery.

“You are cowards and liars. I’m challenging you to come and show your faces,” he said, raising his voice.

Locsin’s challenge

Rafanan was the subject of an earlier video footage which supposedly showed him aiding a disqualified bidder in signing documents inside a male restroom. Rafanan denied he was the man in the video.

The SBAC chief lashed back at the individuals behind the spread of the “malicious” text messages. He surmised those responsible only wanted to discredit the whole bidding process and tarnish the image of the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM.

Makati City Rep. Teodoro Locsin, who personally inspected how the ballot-scanning machines function, said of the machines and their technology: “Hell, I can’t think of anything better. However, I suppose if I was a master of manual cheating, I’d be very unhappy because I won’t be able to do my business anymore.”

Locsin belittled the claims of some quarters that the machines were vulnerable to hacking and tampering.

“I challenge any of them. I give them 50 years to do it, to hack into an ATM (automated teller machine). None of these idiots in Congress who talk about ‘garbage in, garbage out’ can even hack into their computers,” he said.

When asked if holding automated elections next year was possible, he said: “Absolutely, as I said here repeatedly.”

“If an asteroid hits the earth, we don’t know. Let us hope an asteroid does not hit the earth,” he jested.

Source: Inquirer.net

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